It is common to find the claim ‘parabens-free’ on a label these days. Such claims can be specifically found in some cosmetic products. The question, then, is: what are parabens and why has the claim that something is ‘parabens-free’ become an important and differentiating factor? Is it because parabens are harmful for us?
Parabens are a group of compounds widely used as preservatives in pharmaceuticals, food products, and cosmetic and personal-hygiene products.
Some parabens occur naturally in nature.Methylparaben is a pheromone (hormone) secreted by some insects. Parabens such as propylparaben and butylparaben are naturally found in some plants and insects. All commercially used parabens are synthetically produced, although some are identical to those found in nature.
- Cosmetics: Moisturisers, lipsticks, lip balms, foundations, concealers, eye makeup, makeup removers, etc.
- Hygiene products: Shampoos, conditioners, hair dyes, soaps, toothpastes, topical ointments, deodorants and anti-perspirants, shaving gels, sunscreens, etc.
- Food products: Salad dressing, mayonnaise, mustard, processed vegetables, frozen dairy products, soft drinks, baked goods, jellies, pickles, jams, etc.
- Pharmaceuticals: Topical medications, ointments, etc. Parabens are commonly used as a preservative in parenteral pharmaceuticals – that is, pharmaceuticals that are injected intravenously or intramuscularly in the human system.
- Methylparaben (E218)
- Heptylparaben (E209)
- Apply a cosmetic product containing paraben on their skin
- Apply topical drugs containing paraben on damaged or broken skin
- Ingest food products that have paraben
- Consume medicines containing paraben
- Parabens cause endocrine disruptions
- Parabens cause cancer
- Premature ageing a result of Parabens
Although the jury is out on the connection between parabens and human health, there is a growing band of products claiming to be parabensfree. Apparently, products that claim to be parabens-free use alternative preservatives such as phenoxyethanol, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, neolone, optiphen plus, hydantoin, glycacil, natrulon and benzethonium chloride.
As per the compendium on Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011, the following parabens and derivatives are permitted to be added in food products as food additives:
- Sodium propyl p-hydroxybenzoate: It is the sodium salt of propylparaben and is also identified as E217.
- Sodium ethyl p-hydroxybenzoate: It is the sodium salt of ethylparaben and is also known as E215.
- Methyl p-hydroxybenzoate: It is also known as methylparaben (E218)
- Heptyl p-hydroxybenzoate: It is also known as heptylparaben (E209)
The 2016 amendment in the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, states the name of the preservative used in the drug or the cosmetic product should be mentioned on the label.