What are Parabens?

Parabens are a family of related chemicals that are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetic products. Preservatives may be used in cosmetics to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold, in order to protect both the products and consumers. The parabens used most commonly in cosmetics are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben.

What do Parabens do?

Parabens are effective preservatives in many types of formulas. These compounds, and their salts, are used primarily for their bactericidal and fungicidal properties.

Parabens alternatives

If you have sensitive skin, avoid formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, they won’t kill you, they can be very irritating. Another alternative is Methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI) and Methylisothiazolinone (MIT), two very powerful preservatives. MIT is a biocide, meaning it can kill microbes, germs, fungi, and bacteria. MCI has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, too. Both are irritant, that’s why they’re included in minuscule amounts, and usually only in rinse-off products. Organic acids have anti-microbial properties, but they are limited. Because they interact only with the cell walls of microorganisms, they are only able to kill fungi, not bacteria. Sodium Benzoate has the same problem as organic acids: very effective against fungi and yeast, not so much against bacteria. Potassium sorbate naturally occurs in rowan berries, but it’s synthetically altered before being added to cosmetics. It’s very effective at killing fungi, but struggles with bacteria. So, like sodium benzoate, can’t be used on its own. Phenoxyethanol is great at killing Gram-negative bacteria, but its activity against yeast and mold is weak. So, it should be used together with other preservatives. On the plus side, it’s one of the gentlest preservatives available, and rarely causes irritations or allergies.