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.
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).
A Dirty Secret: Parabens
Parabens. You may have heard the word bantered about, but just what are those nasty little buggers anyway? 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. Numerous studies have shown that parabens are endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with the normal action of hormones in the body. Specifically, parabens mimic the hormone estrogen, potentially disrupting hormone function, which can lead to reproductive issues as well as cancers and even immune and neurological disorders.
They’ve been found in breast cancer tumors, and the urine of nearly all U.S. adults. While no studies have directly linked exposure to parabens to breast cancer, we do know that parabens can be absorbed through the skin and can persist and accumulate in breast tissue.
Why are parabens allowed in beauty products?
Good question! The fact that parabens have been found in breast cancer tumors is a dirty secret in the beauty industry. The FDA and most of the cosmetics industry insist that parabens are safe in personal care products. However many consumer advocacy groups, including the Environmental Working Group (EWG) advise people to steer clear of these potentially harmful ingredients.
Who to believe? 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.” 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.
Getting the Parabens Out!
Meanwhile, each and every one of us can take action to get the parabens out of our lives and out of our bodies! Micaela from Mindful Momma provides some practical information and ideas for getting the parabens out of our beauty routines, including:
- What types of products contain parabens
- How to find parabens on a product label
- Knowing which product certifications ban parabens
- Ideas for making your own beauty products
Micaela also has a book, Practically Green: Your Guide to Ecofriendly Decision-Making that could be very useful to someone just beginning to learn about more earth-friendly alternatives to conventional 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.”
I’m ready to move on – are you coming with me?
Enough with using up what I had. Moving afforded me a great opportunity to really consider what I would use and not use, because if it wouldn’t be used, I wasn’t going to take up space in the 10×20′ storage unit our worldly possessions called “home” for 5 months.
I think I threw away or gave away at least 50 bottles of such-and-such personal products with parabens (or other junk) in them, continuing here at the new house as I unpack things we pulled to stage the house.
Here’s what I offered to my neighbors:
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 pack rat 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: 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.
The Challenge to Remove Parabens From Your Household
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 smackdown on your linen closet, your cupboard under the bathroom sink, and your nightstand drawers.
Find the cleaning and personal products that have nasty stuff in them: bleach, triclosan, ammonia, parabens, 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.
For me, I got rid of all the bleach and triclosan many moons ago (and have challenged you to do the same), but I didn’t even realize how many products in my house still had parabens in them until I started unpacking and carefully evaluating if we would use something.
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.
Parabens are usually under slightly longer names, like methylparaben or propylparaben, but if you see “paraben” as any part of any ingredient, get rid of it, especially if young children might use the product.
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. I learned to use the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). That can be frustrating because it seems that every product in my home had a bad score! 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.
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! I also found a local work-at-home-mom who sells great all natural products, Natural Momma. One of my sponsors, MadeOn Hard Lotion, also has incredible products made from safe ingredients.
Leaps of Faith
The surest way to avoid parabens AND all the other potential hazards in beauty products is to make your own or skip the product altogether. Here are the changes I’ve made in the past 2 years:
- I wear less makeup now.
- I use homemade deodorant.
- I use the “no ‘poo” method instead of shampoo to wash my hair and the NaturOli shampoo bar as a backup.
- I’m experimenting with the oil cleansing method for my face.