What’s all the fuss about “parabens?”

This is the second in series on the controversies about chemicals in natural cosmetics.

Methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, etilparaben, ethylparaben… Are parabens poison?

Just what is a paraben? And what’s all the fuss about?

Paraben preservatives are in the news and the debate rages on about their harmfulness to humans. In a recent blog, we asked the question, “Is this simply a marketing hoax to gain customers?” With the necessity to find ways to keep our products fresh and safe for our customers’ use, choosing a non-toxic preservative is essential.

Should “natural cosmetics” use preservatives? Plants do! Almost every plant has some kind of anti-microbial protection. “Chemical preservatives” have become ‘dirty words’ to many health-conscious people. It’s important to sort out the differences between harmful synthetic chemicals and those found in nature that are beneficial. The reality? Everything in the universe is composed of chemicals; some are good for you, others not so much.

What is a paraben?

Parabens can be chemically synthesized in labs but also occur naturally in many plants, blueberries as one example. They are esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid which are formed, like all esters, “by condensing an acid with an alcohol.“

    “Esters are common in organic chemistry and biological materials, and often have a characteristic pleasant, fruity odor. This leads to their extensive use in the fragrance and flavor industry.”

Having anti-microbial and other preservative qualities, they have thousands of applications and for manufacturing purposes are easy-to-use, low-cost, effective and non-toxic preservatives.

How did the controversy about parabens begin?

A UK molecular biologist named Philippa Darbre reported in 2004 in a study of just 20 breast cancer patients that indicated that their tumors came from something applied to the skin, such as an underarm deodorant, cream or body spray. She stated that the results helped to explain why up to 60% of all breast tumors are found in just one-fifth of the breast – the upper-outer quadrant, nearest the underarm. She pointed out that deodorants and other applications contain parabens. Published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology (2004), her paper stirred up much controversy among scientists about the carcinogenity and estrogen-like chemistry of parabens.

The American Cancer Society concluded that there was insufficient scientific evidence to support a claim that use of cosmetics such as antiperspirants increases an individual’s risk of developing breast cancer, although they recommended further studies. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received thousands of inquiries and did some investigation as well, concluding:

    “The FDA believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens.”

Scientific debate quickly turned into popular controversy, with mass e-mails, websites, and blogs urging avoidance of parabens. Google the topic and you’ll find lots of websites using “scare tactics” about parabens to promote their own product sales.

To quote Halyna Breslawec (December 2011), Chief Scientist of the Personal Care Product Council: “The cosmetics industry formally requested that the Cosmetics Ingredient Review (CIR) re-examine the safety of parabens as they are used in cosmetics and we are gratified that the panel has done so and confirmed the safety of these ingredients.”

Paul Penders products are all “paraben-free.” Yet our chemists follow the controversy — but based on science and literature, not internet ‘blah-blah’ from people who don’t know. Our products are preserved using various anti-oxidants, grapefruit extract, essential oils and more — being “natural chemicals.”

By Teviot Fairservis.


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‘Scare Tactics’ — The Debate About “Parabens” rages on…

Preservation of the product is probably the number one issue that makers of natural, organic cosmetics must face. Here at Paul Penders International, we manufacture in small batches and ship them out quickly. We constantly seek ways to keep ingredients fresh but also lasting. We want our products to remain safe at least long enough for the customer to use them up. But how do we – and other cosmetics manufacturers — make them last?

In the past, we at Paul Penders used to use a very low amount of parabens as a preservative in our natural cosmetics — and had great results. In all those years, we never encountered negative reactions. But maybe we succumbed to “scare tactics” — because of pressure from too many uninformed sources, we stopped adding parabens to our products.

We still believe that using parabens (in very small quantities) preserves natural products better than many “natural alternatives.” All too often manufacturers conceal the fact that the “natural ingredients” are in fact synthetics of chemicals derived from plant and mineral sources. The reality is that while commercial parabens are synthesized in labs, they also occur naturally in many plants including such ‘good’ fruits as blueberries.

Scientists tell us that parabens are non-toxic. Looking over the scientific and medical literature, they tell us parabens are rapidly absorbed, metabolized, and excreted. Expert panels assert that these preservatives are not harmful to humans.

One study that caused a furor found parabens inside tumors removed from breast cancer patients. Other scientists criticized the study as incomplete and that there is no clear evidence that the synthetic chemical is a cause for cancer.

Parabens are the most widely used preservatives in thousands of personal care products including moisturizers, shampoos, toothpastes, gels, deodorants, fragrances and more. They are used in many food and pharmaceutical products as well to sustain longer shelf-life. In this litigious age when a major corporation can quickly be bankrupted by lawsuits against it, would the industry world-wide use parabens if their use had the potential to destroy the business? It makes you wonder.

Still – it is always smart to read the ingredients on packaging. If you see methyl paraben (methylparaben), propyl (propylparaben), butilparaben (butylparaben), etilparaben (ethylparaben), etc. listed, then you can be sure that the product contains a paraben preservative.

Although not scientifically proven and with studies disproving toxicity, the debate rages on about the possible harmfulness of parabens and possible associations with breast cancer. Many companies now promote their products as “paraben-free.”

This on-going debate raises the question, “Is “paraben-free” simply another example of “scare tactics?” Is it just a marketing hoax to gain customers?”

By Teviot Fairservis.


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Consumers desire Education about Natural & Organic Claims

I ask myself many times how small companies like Paul Penders (small but still selling our products to many countries in the world) can succeed in make you become more informed about our products and values.
 

 
A brand-new study in the US by Kairos Consumer www.kairosconsumers.com points out that consumers require more education about effectiveness and claims of organic and natural cosmetics.
 
Consumers understand conventional cosmetic claims and are familiar with the brands associated with these claims. They are more likely to buy brands with claims they understand over products labeled organic or natural.
 
But consumers who buy organic and natural cosmetics admit that they know little about what is an organic or a natural product. They say that these products appeal mostly to them because of ‘absence of negative ingredients’.
 
                        
 
They believe cosmetics are safe when they are free of ingredients they view as bad, such as parabens, dyes and chemicals. They place trust in a brand’s reputation making brand familiarity an important influence when buying cosmetics.
 
Smaller brands like Paul Penders also can educate organic shoppers more about the effectiveness of organic and natural ingredients. Many people in the study of Kairos Consumer indicated a desire for this information.
 
                        
 
Can you let us know what is important to you when you buy cosmetic products? How can we at Paul Penders Co do better in educating you? Or inform you more about matters that are important to you?
 
    

I Have Been Lied to. I Feel Betrayed. Part – 2

Obviously I feel extremely upset. More and more I see the lies and cover up stuff of EWG. Paul Penders Co always promoted The Safe Cosmetics Org. We proudly displayed their logo on our website. But no longer! We do no longer wish to be a part of this organization. Please do not take it from me alone. Please read a pretty amazing story of Colin Sander, a “green” cosmetic formulator in UK for almost 30 years. He too supported EWG. And he too feels being lied to as well. “Finally, I Have Worked Out What The Story of The Safe Cosmetics At 2010 is really all about”. We place Colin’s compelling story on our blog in 2 parts. Yesterday Part #1 and today Part #2.
 
                           
 
Part – 2
 
Two things made it clear to me beyond any doubt that there was a link between “American Private Label” company and the EWG.  First, one of the slides called for companies to sign the Safe Cosmetics Compact.  This is being organised by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, definitely a group completely within the EWG’s orbit.
 
Secondly, they described their services as Green Chemistry.  I was instantly reminded of the reference in the Story of Cosmetics to green chemists who were working to solve the problems caused by the unsafe ingredients in modern cosmetics.  I had no more thought that these green chemists actually existed than that the supposed carcinogens in shampoo actually existed. I had taken it as an a bit of idealistic wishful thinking. In fact it was a sales plug.
 
Now things that had puzzled me fell into place. The EWG’s ambition is no mean one.  They intend to create a new category of cosmetic product and to supply that category via American Private Label and probably other companies as well.  American Private Label already offer branding, packaging, QC and manufacturing.  But no doubt there are other sales to be made.
 
Now I could see it all.  I had imagined the EWG, which is extremely well funded, had got its money from donations.  Clearly not – this is big business in every sense of the word.  Why were they ignoring pleas from small natural companies who you would think would be their natural allies?  Because they are in fact their competition.  Why is the science on their website and in their reports so poor?  Because it isn’t science at all.  The aim is to make a case against their competition not inform the public about risk.
 
And let me emphasise this proposition is aimed at retailers.  It is not a grassroots consumer protest.  The video has been created as part of a programme to sell stuff.  The Safe Cosmetic Act is a publicity stunt.  If it alarms small producers, that is irrelevant.  If it infuriates scientists, that doesn’t matter.  The object is to deliver a tranche of consumers to the shops who will seek out ‘safe’ cosmetics.
 
And just as importantly they will be in a position to satisfy that demand with suitable products.  In his talk, David Pollack the CEO of American Private Label said that retailers should create ‘safe cosmetic’ areas in their stores.  These would be much like the organic sections they currently have. And I think the retailers will listen.
 
               
 
As the front page of American Private Label’s website says, the margins on this new category will be good.  I bet they will.  Will they be safer?  That question will probably not have even crossed their minds.  But just to be absolutely clear I believe that there will be no difference in safety between ‘safe’ products and established ones.
 
So I think I should end this post with an apology.  I write this blog with the idea that as an industry insider I have some knowledge and insight that might be useful to people who use the products of my industry.   I genuinely believed that I sort of knew what was going on.  But I have just realised that I completely missed the biggest marketing coup this business has ever seen.  I really couldn’t have got things more wrong.  Far from being a well meaning but flawed attempt to make the world better, the Story of Cosmetics is a sales pitch.  Nothing more.
 
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Colin Sanders formulates cosmetics for 27 years from shampoos to pharmaceutical creams and is an active member of the Society of Cosmetic Scientists since 1985. His degree is in environmental science and he continues to take a keen interest in the impact of human activities on the planet. He writes an excellent blog www.colinsbeautypages.co.uk for users of cosmetic products with insider insights and a bit of science.

 
    

I Have Been Lied to. I Feel Betrayed. Part – 1

Obviously I feel extremely upset. More and more I see the lies and cover up stuff of EWG. Paul Penders Co always promoted The Safe Cosmetics Org. We proudly displayed their logo on our website. But no longer! We do no longer wish to be a part of this organization. Please do not take it from me alone. Please read a pretty amazing story of Colin Sander, a “green” cosmetic formulator in UK for almost 30 years. He too supported EWG. And he too feels being lied to as well. “Finally, I Have Worked Out What The Story of The Safe Cosmetics At 2010 is really all about”. We place Colin’s compelling story on our blog in 2 parts. Today Part #1 and tomorrow Part #2.
 
                           
 
Part – 1
 
Since I was a teenager in the Seventies, I’ve always regarded myself as a pretty green. Green in the environmental sense that is.  I remember the campaign to get lead out of petrol with affection.  I studied Environmental Science at university and can remember talking long into the night about issues affecting the planet.
 
I think I even joined the Ecology Party, the forerunner of the Green Party when I was about 18 – though I don’t remember doing anything other than pay the subscription. Jobs were short when I graduated and I got a job formulating cosmetics rather than doing the environmental work I had originally had in mind.
 
I was surprised to find myself in an industry where people seemed pretty positive about issues close to my heart.  Biodegradable surfactants were a new thing but there was never any question of using anything else.  I have spoken on other blogs about the fact that formaldehyde was still in use then, but was being removed purely at the initiative of the chemists in the labs.
 
Given this, I have always listened with care and attention to the environmental lobby.  For a long time I didn’t have any problem with being an environmentalist as well as being a scientist at the same time as developing cosmetics.   They all seemed to be going in the same direction.
 
So when I first heard about an American pressure group called the Environmental Working Group I was predisposed to support them.  I came across the Skin Deep database and was initially quite impressed with the idea.  In fact I am still impressed with the idea.  Why not collect all the information about cosmetic raw materials onto a database and make it available to the public.  I hope somebody does it some day.
 
Even when I started looking things up on the Skin Deep database and found it to be almost comically inaccurate I still gave the people behind it the benefit of the doubt. I imagined enthusiastic young volunteers – probably in California – punching data in during all night long sessions powered by idealism and pizza.
 
                           
 
I assumed that they would be getting complaints and would be putting it right shortly.   You always have to give people a bit of time to get things straight. Then I saw the Story of Cosmetics video.  This really changed things.  Whatever else you think of it, this is a professional piece of work.  Time, effort and money has gone into it.  And you can’t miss that it is propaganda not advocacy.  It sets out to scare.
 
Even now, I was prepared to justify it to some extent in my mind – as you will see if you read my post from only a few days ago.  They had gone off the scale for accuracy, but maybe they felt that they had to use modern techniques to get their message across.  I started to think of the EWG as sort of green Lenninists.
 
They had betrayed the ideals of the revolution, but they were still radicals.  They had chosen the wrong way to go about fighting the system, but they were still against the system.  Even when I heard about the very large salaries that the directors of the EWG were drawing from their organisation I still did not realise what was really going on.
 
But now I understand.  Did I say I was green?  Well I sure was.  Green in the sense of being inexperienced and unknowing in the ways of the world.
 
                           
 
Today I saw a hand out from a recent trade fair in the US.  In it, a company called “American Private Label,” was pitching its services to American retailers.  Consumers, it says, want safe cosmetics.  What are safe cosmetics?
 
Well you have to avoid parabens, phthalates, synthetic fragrances etc.  But it wasn’t a list of all the things that have got bad head lines.  It was specifically the things that the EWG have been campaigning about.  Helpfully the names as they appear on the ingredient list that you needed to avoid were spelled out. Almost every product on the market would fall foul of this list, including ones from companies that specialise in very green products.
 
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Colin Sanders formulates cosmetics for 27 years from shampoos to pharmaceutical creams and is an active member of the Society of Cosmetic Scientists since 1985. His degree is in environmental science and he continues to take a keen interest in the impact of human activities on the planet. He writes an excellent blog www.colinsbeautypages.co.uk for users of cosmetic products with insider insights and a bit of science.