Parabens; The Toxic Preservatives You Should Avoid

At goGLOW, we do not employ the addition of any parabens in our skincare products, tanning solution, sunscreen or the like. We have always stood behind the stamp of ‘paraben free’ but what does that really mean? We want to dig deeper and unveil the reasoning behind this for you, the consumer, and our client, to understand our decision in a fuller capacity.

What are parabens?

Parabens are a group of chemicals used as artificial preservatives in cosmetic and body care products that have been in use since the 1920s. Since cosmetics and body care products that contain water can grow mold and bacteria, some sort of preservative is necessary to extend the shelf life of products but also make body care products and cosmetics shelf stable (i.e. you do not need to refrigerate them). Propylparaben is the most commonly found ‘paraben’ in cosmetic and body care products. The other types of parabens in the chemical group to look out for (and avoid) are isopropylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben.

Sensitive skin? Stay away from parabens.

Parabens can cause an allergic reaction in certain people. In general, parabens are more likely to irritate those who already have skin issues like eczema, psoriasis, and contact dermatitis. Another preservative to look for in your cosmetics and skin products (and avoid) is methylisothiazolinone, which is a high-hazard allergen according to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database.

The mysterious ingredients…

Parabens are used in a wide variety of leave-on and rinse-off products, especially products made with a high water content (lotion, shampoo, body washes), which we use everyday. Parabens have an antimicrobial property that is most effective against fungi and bacteria. We cannot have bacteria growing in our face cream! However, these products are absorbed into our body daily through our skin, and metabolized through the bloodstream, and there are plenty of safer preservatives that are readily available to be used in cosmetics and body care products. In studies of women and adolescents who use a wide range of cosmetics and makeup compared to women and adolescents who do not, the women and adolescents who use lots of makeup products daily had 20 times the levels of propylparaben in their urine compared to those who never or rarely wear makeup.

The issue…

Parabens act like the hormone ‘estrogen’ in our body. They lower testosterone levels in males and disrupt the normal function of hormone systems in our body. The U.N. Environment Programme has identified parabens as a group of endocrine-disrupting chemicals and potential endocrine-disrupting chemicals.This means they can potentially harm fertility and reproductive organs, affect birth outcomes and increase the risk of cancer. Another risk that scientists have discovered is the link between parabens and breast cancer in women. Propylparaben can alter the expression of genes, including those in breast cancer cells, and accelerate the growth of breast cancer cells. This can also affect animals and fish in our ecosystem, since these products are commonly used on our skin in-shower, or washed down the drain, and get into our water sources which will reach our lakes, rivers and oceans. Long term, this group of chemicals will affect the reproductive organs of our water-loving animal friends.

Parabens in soaps and our current coronavirus life...

Washing hands, for 20 seconds, many times a day, is no doubt the single most valuable thing we can do to prevent the spread of coronavirus. As we have all increased our ‘washing’ due to the coronavirus (hand washing, antibacterial soaps in household cleaning agents, hand sanitizer etc.) that we have no doubt realized that overwashing and over scrubbing makes our skin dry and itchy. The search for a hand sanitizer that does not strip our skin of its natural oils and leave us feeling tight and dehydrated will be on our wishlist forever. Given the timing, now could not be a weirder time to question our ‘washing’ techniques but basic hygiene practices have evolved overtime to include dozens of products targeted at our gender, age and skin type, all to make us feel ‘clean’. However, in the developed world we still have a bevy of cases of immune-related skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, and acne, despite the stream of expensive medications and products sold to address it. Parabens can trigger these eczema cases and irritate skin that is prone to eczema or dry skin.

What does this mean for our future?

Hot take; antibacterial soap (used on our hands) is no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap. Using antibacterial soap may even lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product's antimicrobial agents — making it harder to kill these germs in the future. The problem with antibacterial cleaners is that they leave a surface residue after being rinsed or wiped away. This residue is supposed to continue killing bacteria afterwards, but it can also foster the growth of resistant bacteria, which are stronger than the original bacteria. Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases reported that products containing parabens (since parabens prevent bacteria from being grown) block the growth of another bacterium that can kill another harmful bacterium, one that proliferates during eczema flares.

In conclusion, at goGLOW we want the very best for your health and your skin health, and our children’s future skin health and environmental health. We urge you to take a look at the ingredients you are using on your skin everyday and avoid the chemical group of ‘parabens’ and continue to purchase products that are paraben free for a safer, cleaner and healthier life.


Dubs, Zoe. “So What Exactly Are Parabens? The Truth About Skincare's Biggest Bad Guy.” ELLE, ELLE, 21 Aug. 2018, www.elle.com/uk/beauty/skin/articles/a36356/what-are-parabens/.

Hamblin, James. “You're Showering Too Much.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 23 June 2020, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/07/hygiene-is-overrated/612235/.

Martinko, Katherine. “Why You Should Wash Your Hands of All Antibacterial Soaps.” Treehugger, 5 May 2020, www.treehugger.com/keep-away-antibacterial-soaps-4858732.

Stoiber, Tasha. “What Are Parabens, and Why Don't They Belong in Cosmetics?” EWG, 9 Apr. 2019, www.ewg.org/californiacosmetics/parabens.