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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 detox 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 detox period consisting of increased sweating and more intense body odor. (I know – I’m really selling this, right? haha) This detox 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.
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:
- Throw it away
- 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
- 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!
- 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
- Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives & Colors. (2004, November). Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/food-ingredients-packaging/overview-food-ingredients-additives-colors#qalabel