May 6, 2021
Parabens is a collective name for a group of chemicals used as
preservatives in consumer products such as food, cosmetics and
pharmaceuticals. They have been synthesised in labs for almost 100
years. So far then, parabens seem quite boring ingredients.
But, in just under two decades, parabens have become the
bogeymen of the beauty industry, pitting at times the mainstream
personal care industry and science against indie beauty, the media
and beauty consumers. Even someone with just a passing interest in
the personal care industry is bound to have heard about parabens in
Just take a look at row of cosmetics on any drugstore shelf
these days and you're likely to come across a good many brands
sporting the words 'paraben free' on their packaging; even though
in some places, like the EU, it is considered unfair competition.
Parabens are permissible in cosmetics in the EU at regulated
If they have been known of and in use since the 1920s, surely we
know a great deal about their possible side effects in our consumer
goods like cosmetics? When and why did consumers' parabenoia, as we
call it, take hold and is the vilification of parabens justified?
In this episode, Formula Botanica CEO Lorraine Dallmeier, a
biologist and Chartered Environmentalist, digs deep into paraben
science, history and hysteria. She takes a neutral standpoint to
dissect the facts from the fiction.
Lorraine talks us through the controversy and timeline as
parabens moved out of science labs into media stories provoking a
crisis in beauty consumer confidence and on to their pivotal moment
in pioneering the indie beauty movement.
This is the episode to listen to if you've ever wanted to get
behind the headlines and truly understand the furore over parabens
in cosmetics. Will parabens continue to coexist with natural,
paraben-free beauty? Has indie beauty been too hard on them?
Lorraine presents the debate, but only you can decide.
In this episode on parabenoia, you will:
- Find out that the defining moment for parabens was research
published in 2004 showing that parabens had been found in breast
cancer tissue. While no evidence of causal linkage was provided by
this research, from then on, parabens were vilified by many as
- Learn that no scientific evidence has yet suggested that all
parabens need to be removed from cosmetics but that the lack of
concrete evidence hasn’t shifted public opinion on parabens.
- Hear that since the outcry over parabens, a long list of
chemicals used in cosmetics including Sodium laureth sulfate,
phthalates and PEG compounds were added to those to avoid in
personal care - often to the disdain of cosmetic scientists.
- Discover that first the DIY beauty movement and then early
entrant natural beauty brands emerged as consumers sought to avoid
buying 'nasty chemical-laden' beauty products.
- Early indie beauty products often couldn't compete with
mainstream products in terms of performance. This gave big beauty
leverage - and so the two camps of natural and mainstream cosmetics
became even more divided and not only over the paraben issue.
Key take-aways include:
- Thanks to the paraben saga and its aftermath, consumers are far
more aware of science's role in cosmetic formulation and are
sceptical of claims whether made by mainstream or indie beauty
- Indie beauty/natural beauty are coming of age and realising
they need to present the inherent benefits of natural cosmetics
rather than live off scaremongering and using 'free-from'
- The paraben story has now come full circle as mainstream
cosmetics giants and ingredients manufacturers are ploughing
research into natural ingredients and products and also listening
to and even investing in indie beauty brands.
- Parabens and their fellow decried chemicals not only created
the indie beauty sector but also changed the mainstream too - time
will tell just how defining parabens have been to both camps
in the beauty industry!