Since the late ‘90s I have been a staunch user of products that are labelled as containing no parabens and sulphates – from skin and haircare through to household products.
Recently when I was chatting to someone about this, I realised I actually have no clue what either of these chemicals are, what they do and why I am avoiding them. So I am going to take you on my journey of discovery so that you can find out too.
What Are Parabens?
These synthetic chemicals have been used in products, and food and drugs, since the 1950s. Parabens are synthetic preservatives to prevent bacterial and fungal growth. They are used in many of the products that we Western folk use everyday, such as toothpastes, shampoos, moisturisers, face cleansers, sunscreens, hair gels, foundations, toners, mascaras, shaving products, perfumes and deodorants.
The most commonly used ones are methylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben and alkyl parahydroxy benzoates, and they’re often used together in one product in various combinations to strengthen protection against microorganisms.
Oh, and they’re cheap, which is another reason why big manufacturers like them.
Alarmingly, parabens in consumer products – like cosmetics – are not regulated because the FDA is not yet satisfied that parabens are harmful.
Are Parabens Safe?
Research continues by the FDA and scientists examining hazards and side effects of using parabens, how they act in the human body, health effects, as well as seeking out and testing safer preservatives. In particular, studies are researching links between parabens with everything from obesity, birth defects, miscarriage and premature births, as well as bone density. In a 2013 study of pregnant women, researchers discovered that the levels of parabens present in the women’s urine had a direct correlation with the volume of paraben-containing products she was using at that time.
And more than a few feathers were ruffled when Dr Philippa Darbre from the University of Reading released her 2004 study entitled Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours, and asserted a link between breast cancer tumours with parabens having been found in the tumour tissue. She followed up her study, with new findings released in 2012, in which she stated:
“These results are of concern because parabens have been shown to mimic the action of the female hormone oestrogen and oestrogen can drive the growth of human breast tumours. Many of the concentrations of the parabens measured in these breast tissues would be sufficient to drive the growth of oestrogen-dependent human breast cancer cells in the laboratory.”
Despite a dearth of conclusive evidence, researches agree that parabens do impact oestrogen pathways, which has been associated in humans with everything from insulin resistance, endometriosis and even lowered sperm counts. For more info on estrogen dominance click here.
What Are Sulphates?
Like parabens, you’ll find sulphates (also written as ‘sulfates’) in your everyday health, beauty and skincare products, from body washes, toothpaste, shampoo, hand soaps and more. Essentially, sulphates are cleansing and foaming agents which combine with water to emulsify grease so it rinses off down your drain. But sulphates are not actually necessary other than to create frothy shampoo, soaps and toothpaste, which we’ve become so conditioned to see and feel.
The most popularly used sulphate is sodium lauryl sulfate. Natural alternatives include the plant-derived ethylhexylglycerin, and the naturally-derived ether alcohol, phenoxyethanol.
Are Sulfates Safe?
Sulphates are known to break down protein and potentially cause cell membrane damage. Testing on pour old lab rats has not been favourable, with scientists recording that when sulphates are present to a level of 15% for a prolonged duration harmful effects ranged from skin irritation, laboured breathing to diarrhea and even death. Yikes!
When we humans use shampoos containing sulphates, some containing up to 15%, research shows that we can develop scalp irritation, excessive drying of hair and skin (due to the sulphates stripping your essential, naturally occurring healthy oils), as well as hair loss, and even fading of your expensive new colour. Oh hell no!
Scientists have even found sulphate residue in organs, including the brain, lungs and heart. And as with paraben research, sulphate research is ongoing.
The Myths and Marketing Surrounding Parabens and Sulphates
Natural health advocate and New York Times best selling author Dr Mercola has stated that our bodies can absorb as much as 2.3kgs of chemicals from using skin, beauty, haircare and household products annually. So it’s little wonder that dubious marketers have been labelling products as paraben-free, or sulphate-free even when some products needn’t contain these chemicals in the first place, such as pure oil-based products or ones that contain a lot of oil..
Sounds like a greenwash to me.
Tailor’s Ingredients Are So Good You Could Eat Them!
Rest assured, Tailor Skincare does not use parabens or sulphates in any of its gorgeous, natural products. And never will. Instead, Tailor’s products contain naturally derived ingredients known for their antibacterial and antifungal properties to keep your skincare safe for your skin and body.
For a full ingredients list, click here.
Finally, a shout out to Breast Cancer UK for its ongoing #DitchTheJunk campaign, which invites people to limited exposure to potentially harmful chemicals in everyday products providing loads of helpful tips and resources. Props too to Breast Cancer Action for encouraging the use of paraben-free cosmetics, which it lists on its website.
Better to be safe than sorry, right?