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.