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How to Go Paraben Free – And What to Use Instead

Parabens. You may have heard the word bantered about, but are parabens bad? Just what are those nasty little buggers anyway? Should you go paraben free?

Parabens are a class of chemicals commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics and personal care products. They help to inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeasts, and mold, giving products a longer shelf life. That alone sounds fine and dandy, but unfortunately, there is a dark side to these antimicrobial chemicals.

We have an entire post dedicated to the dangers of parabens, but today we’re going to talk specifically about getting the parabens out of the house and going paraben free for good.

Applying beauty products to hands

Why Go Paraben Free?

Although not necessarily part of your kitchen routine, personal products are “consumed” in a way by your skin, so they must be taken into account when trying to make positive nutritional changes (and be good to the Earth).

When it comes to what I put on my skin, I figure I can use the same philosophy on the outside of my body as I do the inside: if it’s brand new and not tested over many decades (if not centuries), I am very wary.

Parabens fall into that category, and I’ve banned them from my household cleaning and personal care products.

This is a big step.

When I’ve talked before about greening up one’s personal and cleaning products, I always go with the philosophy of making small changes, getting used to the idea, and “using what you have.”

With parabens though, I got to the point where I was ready to move on. I decided to just draw the line. Parabens are proven hormone disruptors, and I’m finished with letting my kids be exposed to them in our own home.1

I had enough with using up what I had and a family move afforded me a great opportunity to really consider what I would and would not use. Attempting to fit an entire household of worldly possessions into a 10×20′ storage unit has a way of making priorities very clear.

I think I threw away or gave away at least 50 bottles of such-and-such personal and cleaning products with parabens (or other junk) in them, and then continued once the move was over as I unpacked and got settled into the new house.

My frugal nature made it difficult – every cell of my body was saying, “Just keep it if you need it.” Perhaps that’s my inner packrat even more than my frugal nature, but whatever. Splitting hairs. Hairs that do NOT need parabens to keep them clean, thank you very much.

I realized that for every bottle I picked up: household cleaners, lotion, shampoo, baby wash, more lotion…I already had a favorite natural alternative in the house. I didn’t need this junk, and my kids’ bodies didn’t either. I tossed them and didn’t look back.

Making the Switch to Paraben Free Products

When it comes to the health of my family, I prefer to err on the side of caution. I follow the precautionary principle which states “when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.” 

Here’s the bad news – parabens are everywhere. You can find them hiding in sunscreen (check out my top recommended natural mineral (reef-safe) sunscreens!), shaving products, makeup, haircare, and lotion, just to name a few. They can even be found in food and drink products.

Fortunately, many product manufacturers agree that parabens are risky business and have voluntarily removed parabens from their products. Let’s hope that parabens are next on the FDA’s hit list and that they will eventually be banned altogether.

In the meantime, there are some easy ways you can eliminate or greatly reduce your paraben exposure. The best place to start is to evaluate what you already have on hand.

Cleaning Products

Finding Parabens on Product Labels

My first step was just to start reading ingredients in my shampoos, deodorants, soaps, etc. to look for parabens. I was amazed at how pervasive they are.

According to the FDA, “On a product label, the ingredients are listed in order of predominance, with the ingredients used in the greatest amount first, followed in descending order by those in smaller amounts.”2

Because of this, you will typically find parabens listed at the end of the ingredient label. Parabens are added to products in small amounts as preservatives and are usually listed by slightly longer names like methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, and butylparaben. 

I learned to use the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). However, that got to be frustrating because it seemed that every product in my home had a bad score!

The most simple approach is this — if you see “paraben” as any part of any ingredient, get rid of it! Especially if it’s a product young children might use.

Close up of woman and baby washing hands

How Do I Find Paraben Free Products?

To take a simple step to change, I tried to find market products (in stores) that did not contain parabens, which is entirely possible to do but takes some work.

Many companies have made strides to voluntarily remove parabens from their products. As a result, it is getting more and more common to see the words paraben-free on the product label.

You can also look for products that include certain seals of approval from the Natural Products Association, Whole Foods Market Premium Body Care, or USDA Organic. If you see these, you can be sure the product is paraben free. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee the product doesn’t include other nasties, but it’s a good place to start.

USDA Organic, Whole Foods Market Premium Body Care, and Natural Products Association Certified Logos

Ultimately, I had to get out of the stores to find products with “real” ingredients. There are many Etsy sellers who offer natural body products, and you can read their ingredients, which sound like a recipe. If it’s food, it’s certainly safe for my skin!

And don’t forget about your local craft shows. Handmade soaps and other personal care products are often available. Just be sure to ask about the ingredients or check for an ingredients label.

One of my sponsors, MadeOn Hard Lotion, has incredible products made from safe ingredients. And I do have a few tried and true products that I find I consistently recommend.

Paraben Free Shampoo and Conditioner

Paraben Free Make up

Aluminum and Paraben Free Deodorant

Paraben Free Cleaning Products

To see all my product recommendations in one place check out our Kitchen Stewardship® Resources Page

The Alternate Route for Going Paraben Free

The surest way to avoid parabens AND all the other potential hazards in home and beauty products is to make your own or skip the product altogether. Here are a few changes you can consider:

Make Your Own Cleaning Products

Baking soda, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide – These three products, alone or in combination with other ingredients, are featured predominantly in many recipes for green and natural cleaning products. And for good reason! They are powerful cleaners, readily available, and very inexpensive.

RELATED: This is my favorite 30-second all purpose cleaner!

If you are using conventional products to do your household cleaning, picking even one area or one product to switch to a more green option will make a difference.

Wear Less Makeup

Is it time to embrace your natural face? Thanks to celebrities like Alicia Keys, going makeup-free is a growing trend. As an at-home mom, I found this to be a great solution. If you embrace this trend you may even notice, like me, that your skin will start to clear up and look brighter even without makeup.

Makeup brushes and eye shadow

I still like to wear makeup on occasions when I want to dress up or look a little more polished and, over time, began researching more natural makeup and even homemade face powder options.

More natural cosmetics can be a little harder on the budget, but making the switch in combination with a decision to use less eases the impact on the bottom line.

Use the “No ‘Poo” Method

Baking soda really is such a versatile product. It’s making an appearance again here with the “no ‘poo” method. Be sure to read through this post on washing your hair without shampoo for all the details, but the quick and dirty explanation is that you use baking soda to cleanse your scalp and diluted apple cider vinegar to rinse and clarify your hair.

Similar to making the switch to homemade deodorant, making the switch to “no ‘poo” will come with a short withdrawal period. Your hair may be a little extra greasy during this time, but many people find the transition takes less than 2 weeks.

This method is not very convenient to use while traveling, but you could consider using a shampoo bar or another natural shampoo product as a backup.

Use Homemade Deodorant

Homemade deodorant is very easy to make and uses ingredients many people already have in their pantry like coconut oil and baking soda (yes, again with the baking soda).

Variations on the basic recipe are numerous with some adding essential oils for smell or corn starch/arrowroot powder for dryness. Keep in mind it may take a little experimenting to get the exact right ratio of ingredients for you.

Depending on what you are switching from, there may be an armpit healing period consisting of increased sweating and more intense body odor. (I know – I’m really selling this, right? haha) This period is temporary. Many people find that within a few weeks they sweat much less and are naturally less stinky. Some even get to the point where they no longer need to wear deodorant at all.

Simple Steps to go Paraben Free

Take the Challenge – Go Paraben Free

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to start reading labels on your personal products, looking for parabens.

It’s time for you to put the smack-down on your linen closet, your cupboard under the bathroom sink, and your nightstand drawers.

Find the cleaning and personal products that have parabens in them and do one of the following:

  1. Throw it away
  2. Offer it to a friend or family member – but ONLY if you know they’re using the same stuff anyway, and it won’t make any difference to the earth or their health by providing freebies
  3. Put it on Freecycle or donate to an organization that serves the poor (but only if it’s unopened)

This project will have two benefits – you won’t be tempted to use junk AND you’ll have more room in your cupboards.

Take some time to research and source green and natural products or make a few of your own and then get started!


Read skim notes for this video here.

My Current Fav Paraben-Free Non-Toxic Products and Brands

  • Wellnesse, founded by Katie of Wellness Mama, is a culmination of her 10+ years making homemade beauty products and finally bringing them to production for those of us who aren’t “DIY” mavens. Our family immediately fell in love with the toothpaste and shampoo and can’t wait for products to continue to be added!
  • Earthley is a company totally committed to pure ingredients and keeping their prices down, and I’ve lost count of how many of their products I use! From face to body to hair and beyond, have fun browsing! See my lists of favs here.
  • MadeOn for lotion is 1000% my bestie, and they often have goat milk soap in stock, too. My MadeOn review.
  • Branch Basics soap concentrate is the easiest handsoap option IMO – be sure to use foaming soap pumps to stretch the soap with these instructions!
  • Soap nuts for laundry are the most budget-friendly, natural option out there!
  • And of course, for sunscreen, a BIG paraben risk, check out my reviews of over 120 natural mineral sunscreens to find the best safe sunscreen for your summer!
What steps will you take to avoid parabens?

Sources:

  1. Nowak, K., Ratajczak-Wrona, W., Górska, M., & Jabłońska, E. (2018). Parabens and their effects on the endocrine system. Molecular and cellular endocrinology, 474, 238–251. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mce.2018.03.014
  2. Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives & Colors. (2004, November). Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/food-ingredients-packaging/overview-food-ingredients-additives-colors#qalabel

46 thoughts on “How to Go Paraben Free – And What to Use Instead”

  1. OOPS! I forgot to comment on makeup. I am venturing out into making my own makeup and just received most of the products and containers will be here today. Mommypotamus.com has posts on making your own eye shadow, lipstick, cheek color and foundation. I am always looking for the cheapest way to do things and this way is very affordable. My daughter is very excited about doing this with me, even though she is not old enough to wear makeup yet. LOL! Makeup is not something I will be wearing every day, but we have a wedding coming up and I would like to look a little nicer for the day. I will have to say that since I stopped wearing makeup my lips and face now have natural color to them and no more ghostly appearance. 🙂 The Lord knew exactly what he was doing when he created women. We just have to learn to trust Him more in all areas. Of course there is not harm in accentuating his work with makeup either.

  2. This is a great post! I just wanted to comment on the deodorant. I learned that if you use lime or lemon juice under your arms it controls odor for 24 hours. Ideally you should use it from a fresh organic lime or lemon, but that could get expensive. I am using organic lemon juice from a bottle because we use it in a lot of recipes. It seems to do the same. You may not want to use right after shaving though, I learned that the hard way. LOL! Too bad we can’t all have lemon or lime trees in our yards. 🙂

  3. Parabens are banned in this house too! I did the no poo thing for awhile but then noticed that I was having lots of little flyaway hairs–that were actually broken hairs! I did some research and found that baking soda is VERY hard on hair. I even saw some places that compared it to perming your hair each time. I’ve been trying out shampoo bars and natural liquid shampoo and my hair has been much healthier.

    1. Carolyn @ Kitchen Stewardship

      I did no poo and stopped for the same reason. I’ve been experimenting for years with my hair and I’ve found it to be much healthier using shampoo as well. I only wash once a week and then I don’t overwash and I can afford the natural shampoo that works for me!

  4. Just randomly came across this and thought I have to comment. I had massive allergic reaction contact dermatitis on my face about 6months ago. It had been ongoing for awhile and then suddenly I was waking up to a severely swollen face and context dermatitis. Had a patch test done and found I have a sensitivity to paraben. I cannot use anything on my face with it. It was in all my makeup and skin care, now all removed from my life. I’m sure this issue will become more frequent!

    1. Carolyn @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Oh wow, I bet you’re right that sensitivities like this are getting more common from so much exposure.

  5. Dani via Facebook

    Arbonne is also a paraben and pthalates free brand (there’s many more things that they DON’T put in their products too).

  6. Amy via Facebook

    Yep, I hear ya. I have called and emailed BB, and was told the fragrance is all from essential oils! no artificial fragrance at all.

  7. Lisa via Facebook

    Still, not all of Burt’s Bee’s products are non-toxic (see www.ewg.org/skindeep) , but yes, at least they all seem to be free of parabens. I also avoid the generic ingredient fragrance since 75% of the time they include pthalates.

  8. Oh! You will never believe this coincidence – I was checking out the bonuses for the upcoming bundle (my fav part of these things!) and MadeOn lotion is offering glittery lip balm!! What up?? The glitter is mica, and for now it’s only available through the bundle, so I’m not even sure if I’m allowed to say it nevertheless link to it…but be on the lookout in the next few weeks for more info! 😉 Beth Steenwyk Lora Tonne Owings Amy Haapala Murray

  9. Amy via Facebook

    Lisa, I heard that BB was bought by Clorox, but it is still controlled by the original makers and scientists on the inside. Non of the ingredients in the products have changed. I do read labels 🙂

  10. I hear you Kellie Holliday!! That shocked me too a few years ago when we went GF and I was trying to find a good corn tortilla…sheesh!!!

  11. Beth via Facebook

    Thanks! Maybe I’ll try to find some edible glitter (I wonder what those ingredients are) to add to my next batch of lip balm. Thanks for the other ideas too.

  12. Lisa via Facebook

    Beth I would be happy to share info on Ava Anderson Non-toxic or invite you to check them out via a Facebook page. They are on a mission to educate consumers and provide safe and natural alternatives. Amy, Burt’s Bees was bought out by Clorox. It is all about the ingredients–read them and understand what to avoid! 🙂
    Thanks for helping spread awareness, Katie!

  13. Amy via Facebook

    Beth – Stardust organic lip gloss from Lemongrass Spa is wonderful! Just a nice shimmer. I love to layer it over our organic creme lipstick or just use it plain. You can see more at www.ourlemongrassspa.com/2406 or send me a message if you have any questions!

  14. Lora via Facebook

    Beth – lip balm is really easy and inexpensive to make and I add edible glitter to some for my daughter. There are loads of recipes on pinterest and other places.

  15. Beth via Facebook

    Any ideas of clean brands?? My daughter LOVES her sparkle lip gloss. Sigh. I don’t plan on buying more when it runs out. I have some good chapstick that she likes, but oh, the gloss and the sparkles! Any suggestions would be great.

  16. Kellie via Facebook

    I was so disappointed and shocked to see methylparaben as an ingredient in whole grain corn tortillas! IN FOOD is definitely not something I was prepared for…

  17. Wow just starting to realize what is in my food and skin care products! Thanks for the great information. I have Discoid Lupus and I need to start allpying a daily suncreen. Does anyone have a product suggestions?

  18. I have recently changed so many personal care items. It’s a shame that there is so much yucky stuff in them! My new motto, if I can’t eat it, I don’t want it on my skin!

  19. I’ve recently converted my personal care products, but hadn’t yet looked for paraben. Problem is, in doing so my face is breaking out horribly. Ugh. It’s plagued me my entire life. So I’m using my prescription benzoyl peroxide to help clear up again.

    1. Kim,
      What a tough one to troubleshoot! Could be diet, newness in general, ??? Are you using totally natural products? I’m getting wrinkles and zits, too. It’s crappy to have both – what am I, old or young, you know? I hope you can figure out the right balance for you!
      Katie

  20. Great post. I had many things with paraben in my house. They’re gone now. I also used the DEEP SKIN website to check if some of my other beauty products weren’t bad for me.
    .-= kanmuri´s last blog ..Mountain of Boxes =-.

  21. I am slowly learning about the harms of parabens and I am thankful for the info you ladies are giving to all of us!

  22. Hi Micaela, thanks for your great natural care giveaway on Mindful Mama, and thanks to KS for introducing me to your blog! I am now a subscriber.

  23. Starving Student Survivor

    I’m scared of anything that will influence the way the hormones work in my body. Thanks for the info.
    .-= Starving Student Survivor´s last blog ..Investing in Exercise =-.

  24. Melissa @Cellulite Investigation

    There’s lots of parabens in most anti-cellulite creams, too. Yet another post I will be linking to on your site, Katie!
    .-= Melissa @Cellulite Investigation´s last blog ..Colon Cleanse Products, Chapped Lips, and the Anti-Cellulite Diet =-.

  25. I have eczema really bad as well as other health problems and went on a mission to get all chemicals out of my life and skin care products over the last few years. I don’t know if I am allowed to post company names but the following products I have found and use that contain no chemicals. I tell you I did quite a lot of research…
    1. make up – I like 3 different mineral makeup brands. Meow Cosmetics, Everday Minerals, and Zosimos Botanicals. I order it online and have heard that mineral make up contains a natural sunscreen. I find that it does not dry out my skin at all.
    2. face care- I use a daily moisturizer that also has a sunscreen from Devita. I cleanse my face at night with Aubrey Organics facial wash and toner. I use Real Purity’s facial moisturizer for nighttime.
    3. body lotion- I use Aubrey Organics on my body and hands, too. It does not flare my eczema, but I live in Arizona and am looking to find a more concentrated moisturizer.
    4. shampoo/conditioner- I have very thick curly hair and I use Real Purity’s chamomile shampoo and Lily of the Valley (?) conditioner.
    5. misc- I like Real Purity’s deoderant and liquid make up and blushes, too.
    Hope it is ok to list these companies. I apologize if not. I am passionate about living healthy and well and love to share my “research” with others if it will help. I also am a girly girl and want to look good, too. These companies have made the transition no problem for me. I can completely relate to the eczema Kim. It is frustrating and miserable and I have been dealing with it my whole life. Taking fish oil and cleaning up my skin care routine, as well as avoiding fabric softeners, antibacterial soaps and using a natural detergent have kept my virtually eczema free for the last 10 years!
    Hope this helps. Blessings!

    1. Rebecca,
      I don’t mind you sharing this research at all – it’s good for folks to have options and brand names to watch out for. Be sure to check out this week’s giveaway, too, from one of KS’s sponsors, MadeOn Hard Lotion: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2010/04/20/lotions-without-parabens-a-comparison-and-giveaway/
      Thanks for sharing!
      🙂 Katie

  26. Wow, I’ve never heard of parabens before! Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I checked some of my products and it seems to be in everything!
    .-= Debbie´s last blog ..How I cut a whole chicken =-.

  27. I have terrible eczema that wrecks havoc on my hands in the winter. My poor children inherited from me as well. 🙁 A more natural way of helping out with the dryness would be wonderful!

  28. Good post – I was intrigued enough to follow the link to the followup post. Thanks for sharing WHY manufacturers put parabens in products in the first place…I always wonder why they expose us to junk!

  29. Lauren @ Just Add Lauren

    Thank you for this post! I love reading about ways to remove these toxins from my life..although it can be a little overwhelming at times. I do appreciate your tagline about taking baby steps!
    .-= Lauren @ Just Add Lauren´s last blog ..Summer is Approaching! =-.

  30. Thanks for sharing about this. It is great to get the word out and make other conscious of what they are putting on their skin!
    .-= Stacy´s last blog ..Have you checked out the new Simple Living Media sites? =-.

  31. Simple in France

    I know very little about parabens, but understand they’re often found in sunscreen. . .that’s the one cosmetic I feel I can’t quite do without. Although giving yourself cancer with parabens probably doesn’t make a lot of sense if your plan is to avoid skin cancer. . .
    .-= Simple in France´s last blog ..Risks you’d take to live your dream =-.

    1. My family has successfully found sunscreen without parabens in the ingredient list. Good luck!
      .-= becca banana´s last blog ..Thought for the Day =-.

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