What Does Paraben-Free Mean?

Do you ever get confused when you see products marketed as containing no parabens? The term has become popular as the skincare world has shifted to more natural alternatives. You can find the claim on skincare products and on makeup packaging and even on food labels.

Parabens can be a controversial ingredient. My Complete Collection contains no parabens so you can take care of your skin, worry-free.”

  • Shani Darden, Celebrity Aesthetician

If you’re confused, we’re here to break it down. Many skincare and makeup products contain parabens, which you can find by checking the ingredients. But what does it really mean to be free of parabens?

What Are Parabens?

Parabens are preservatives that are commonly used in makeup and skincare to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi. If left to grow, these bacteria and fungi can cause reactions for anyone using an affected product. The bacteria also break down products, meaning they’ll go bad faster. Even further, when a product contains a certain level of bacteria, it is considered bad in the first place. 

Six primary forms of paraben are used in skincare products: 

  • Methylparaben
  • Ethylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Isopropylparaben
  • Isobutylparaben 

They may all seem different, but parabens all come from para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA). 

PHBA occurs naturally in various fruits and vegetables like cucumbers and blueberries and acts as a preservative to keep them fresh for longer. Your body also makes natural PHBA when it breaks down amino acids! In short, parabens are modeled after a preservative substance that is widespread in nature.

What Exactly Do Parabens Do?

Parabens’ primary role in your skincare products is to preserve the product and keep it safe for you to use. Without some kind of preservative, skincare products are more likely to develop harmful bacteria, fungi, and even yeast that can cause irritation and even infections in your skin.

Skincare products will also degrade faster without a preservative. Preservatives are the reason you can use your favorite skincare product for months at a time without replacing it!

Are Parabens Bad for You?

The scientific community is divided on this issue. The FDA classifies parabens as safe to use, and many other countries permit parabens in their products. 

Research shows that when parabens enter the human body, the body instantly converts them to natural PHBA and naturally disposes of them. The parabens used in skincare are also identical to the PHBA that your body currently makes – in other words, there’s no real difference between the fake stuff and the real thing.

Parabens have been an active ingredient in skincare and food products for almost 100 years. During this time, the FDA has determined that parabens show no direct links to life-threatening or terminal illnesses. The FDA does not require approval for cosmetic products but does require those products to be safe for general use. 

However, over the past 100 years, advocacy groups have begun to raise concerns about long-term paraben exposure. While studies have shown potential long-term side effects, it is important to note that the FDA does not consider these studies to be conclusive. Here are a few of the potential long-term effects of paraben consumption:

Potential To Disrupt Hormones

Advocacy groups have recently begun claiming that parabens can disrupt your endocrine (hormonal) system. Studies have shown that, in certain concentrations, parabens can bind to estrogen receptors. Essentially, this means that parabens can look like estrogen to your body, but don’t actually behave like estrogen.

What does this mean? 

Without a proper hormone balance, your body won’t be able to operate properly. These same studies also suggest that parabens can decrease testosterone, which can create further hormone disruption.

The FDA recognizes these studies but claims they used extremely concentrated amounts of parabens to achieve these effects. In other words, the FDA says that strong paraben use could create a hormone imbalance, but the level of parabens in everyday products shouldn’t cause any side effects

However, both the U.N. and the Danish government have declared some forms of paraben as known endocrine disruptors. Parabens are not banned in any country, but there is still quite a bit of argument over whether or not they are safe for use.

Potential Reproductive Effects

Some studies have shown that parabens can potentially affect male and female reproductive health. Because parabens may disrupt your hormonal system, studies show changes in the female menstrual cycle after concentrated paraben use. These changes are linked to poor reproductive health and fertility challenges.

Because parabens might have the potential to cause hormonal imbalances, they are also linked to lower testosterone levels and decreased sperm count in men. This can also lead to further fertility challenges.

More research is needed to confirm or deny this claim. However, it is suspected that these effects, when they occur, might be seen primarily in long-form parabens, including propylparaben, butylparaben, isopropylparaben, and isobutylparaben. Methylparaben and ethylparaben showed comparatively insignificant effects on male and female reproductive systems. 

Paraben Buildup

What about skincare products with parabens in them? When you apply parabens to your skin, they can absorb into your bloodstream. Parabens are present not only in skincare products but also in many cosmetic formulas and other personal care products.

If you use these parabens daily, your body may not be able to convert them into natural PHBA, and they may start to build up. Even parabens in the smallest of concentrations can show up in urine tests. 

Possible Effects on Newborns

Because parabens can build up, they can be passed on to babies in utero and through breastfeeding. Parabens have shown up in infant urine tests, which means even fetuses can see some of the potential negative effects.

Aside from the hormone disruption, studies suggest that parabens may be involved in preterm birth and lower than normal birth weights.

What Does it Mean To Be Paraben-Free?

Clearly, there are conflicting stances on the long-term effects of parabens. While parabens are still declared safe to use, many skincare companies have chosen to remove them from their formulas out of caution. Instead, you may see other preservatives like benzyl alcohol, potassium sorbate, and dehydroacetic acid in these companies’ ingredient lists.

If you’d like to make the switch to a zero-paraben life, consider investing in Shani Darden’s Complete Collection. This collection features a retinol serum, a moisturizer, a cleanser, a toner, and an eye cream that all contain zero parabens. 

You could also try out Shani’s Lactic Acid Serum, a brand-new skin brightening serum that works wonders for dull skin. 

To complement your collection, we also recommend Supergoop! Play Everyday Sunscreen Lotion. This sunscreen is also free of parabens and designed to protect your skin while keeping it hydrated.

Final Thoughts

Parabens are derived from a chemical that occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables and are frequently used in skincare and cosmetic formulas to keep bacteria and fungi away. However, the science community is torn on whether or not parabens are completely safe. 

Studies suggest that parabens may cause unhealthy side effects, but the FDA maintains that they are safe to use.

With all this conflicting evidence, many companies have decided to remove parabens from their ingredient lineup. These companies market their products as “free of parabens” or “0% paraben,” and these products work just as well. Shani Darden’s products are free of parabens so that you can have the ultimate peace of mind.



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