Article by: Perry Romanowski

This post was originally written for a consumer website but it is relevant to cosmetic chemists.

As a cosmetic chemist who is responsible for formulating skin and hair
care products, I often get the feeling that some people think chemists
are trying to kill them.  They must believe we are sociopaths, hell
bent on using ingredients that will cause cancer just to increase the
profits of the evil corporation who pay our salaries.  Or perhaps they
think we’re  powerless stooges manipulated into using toxins by said
evil corporations.  Either way, it’s a bit depressing and wrong.

No cosmetic chemist I know is trying to kill people.

One of the most contentious type of ingredients used by cosmetic
formulators are parabens.  Some people believe that they are
unnatural, toxic, carcinogenic, poisons that have no business being in
cosmetics.  These people are wrong.

Why use parabens?

Parabens are put in cosmetic products to prevent contamination from
bacteria and other microorganisms.  Without some kind of preservative,
cosmetic and personal care products would be dangerous to use.
Parabens have also been used for over 40 years and are deemed so safe
that they are allowed for use as preservatives in food.  There are no
other preservatives that have been tested for safety more than
parabens.  This is why cosmetic chemists choose to use them.  For many
cosmetic formulations, there are no better alternatives to parabens.

What is the problem with parabens?

So where did the furor about parabens and cancer come from? In 2004,
Dr Philippa Darbre at the University of Reading published a study in
the Journal of Applied Toxicology that said her group tested 20
different human breast tumors and found parabens in all of them.
Neither she nor anyone else could explain how they got there or why
they were there. They also couldn’t say whether normal tissue had
parabens. She suggested that this raised the possibility parabens
could have something to do with the cancer, although in the paper they
admit that there was no causal link.  Since then, the study has been

Should consumers be concerned?

Since people are inundated with false fears about parabens, it is not
surprising that some skepticism and fear remains.  Governmental groups
like the FDA have looked at the available data and concluded that
parabens are safe for use in cosmetics.  And outside the United
States, the independent scientific body SCCP (Scientific Committee on
Consumer Products) in the EU
has also determined that parabens in cosmetics are safe.  The
consensus of the scientific community is that parabens use does not
represent a significant risk to consumers.

Living in fear

If you are afraid of chemicals in your cosmetics, there is a simple
solution.  Stop using cosmetics.  They are not necessary to live a
healthy life.  You won’t look or smell as nice but you’ll reduce your
risk of chemical exposure from cosmetics to nothing.  This won’t make
you measurably safer but it might make you feel better.  Just know
that the alternative preservatives have even less safety data and are
possibly more risky to use than parabens.

Are you trying to kill or harm people with your cosmetic formulations?  Leave your comment below.


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  3. Avatar

    I am one who has been sucked in by the uneducated voices on parabens via the internet. It is awful. My reasoning and logic tell me that all of these old ladies who used crappy makeup for so long and are still around must mean something. Especially if so many of our products contain parabens. I am confused about something tho. Is the point about healthy breast tissue not being studied referring to the breast cancer participants in the study or any breast tissue from anyone? And now, is tissue from current breast cancer patients being dissected comparing both healthy as well as cancerous tumors for parabens?

  4. Avatar

    I was diagnosed with breast cancer about 18 months ago. After that shock I started hearing about all the “chemicals” were exposed to, especially through cosmetics. Calling all this fear mongering is an understatement. I am also an RN, and would sooner take my chances with a paraben-containing eye cream, than take an unnecessary antibiotic; but I can’t convince my patients of that.

    Thanks for some clarity on this issue.

  5. Avatar

    I’ve been one who of those who were very fear motivated. One day, I began thinking… Why am I only reading the dangers of certain chemicals. I began googling keywords that will show me other perspectives on this allegedly “dangerous” chemicals and I stumbled upon your site.

    Thanks for giving us the other side.

  6. Avatar
    Anne Dardick

    By the way, you should really look into a share button for social media–I’d retweet for sure! But you gotta make it easy 😉

    1. Avatar

      Thanks for the suggestion! I’m going to do that. Great idea. Can’t believe I haven’t done that yet.

  7. Avatar
    Anne Dardick

    I’m constantly trying to get solid information into people about skincare, and parabens are pretty much the biggest issue–with the amount of false info and fear-mongering about them, it’s definitely an uphill battle to show people they are safe and always have been. that in fact they are THE safest option we have.

    The way I see it, the more we talk about parabens and safety, and replace some of those google hits that lie about it, the better it is!

    Thanks for the post.

    1. Avatar

      all products have a lifaspen as far as i know. there should be expiration dates on the bottles usually on the back by the label or on the bottom. if it’s too faded to read or you can’t find one then toss it. it usually will just have the month and year. nivea Q10 wrinkle cream in the jar along with regular use of cocoa butter,aloe,and vitamin E are some of the best defenses against aging. avoid too much sun, use sunscreen. Q10 is vitamin A so a supplement with vitamin A is helpful. be aware however although it’s great to make skin stay young and supple, lookup the side effects of using the creams and don’t overuse vitamin A. you may find that your eyes get really light sensitive and make sure you’re not allergic or get rashes from it. i always used Q10 along with a lotion containing cocoa butter, aloe, and E everyday and always got compliments about my skin. now i’m a mommy and don’t have the time to do such lol. best of luck and it worked for me.

  8. Avatar

    The only time one of my formulations has harmed anyone, was when a compounder spilled a couple of gallons on the floor and slipped in it. “Oh dear” he said*

    *This quote may have been edited slightly.

    Joking apart, When I’m formulating I try it out on myself before letting anyone else near it. I want to assess it for skinfeel and performance. Its part of the job. I’m not going to put anything in there that I’m not happy with, or something that is going to cause me hassle defending it later. I’m a simple chap who wants to develop and test with the least amount of hassle. Everyone I’ve worked with has the same attitude.
    As for the parabens issue? The Darbre Paper was so full of holes and poor methodology, that it was gutted within weeks. I use them in hypoallergenic skincare. I’m not going to change them out unless someone gives me a solid scientific reason not to use them. I’m still waiting for that to happen

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