During pregnancy I developed a super-human sense of smell. It was like I could suddenly smell an overwhelming amount of artificial chemicals in things that I’d previously quite liked… From fruity shampoo, gorgeous moisturisers, to my husband’s cologne… I just couldn’t stand the smell… My poor husband Bez would have to pretty much leave his cologne by the door so he could kiss me goodbye in the morning and then put it on before going to work!
Having found myself choosing ‘fragrance free’ products for every aspect of my life, I started to wonder what was in those ‘fragrance’ ingredients. Looking further into it, I unfortunately found they’re not so innocent and most ‘fragrance’ ingredients contain phthalates (see post) and something called parabens, along with a whole host of other chemicals.
Parabens are used as a preservative and also a fragrance ingredient in a wide variety of cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. They are rapidly absorbed through the skin and enter the blood stream and organs intact, without first being broken down by the body. Parabens are in so many products; from shampoos, moisturisers, deodorant, shaving gels, cosmetics, perfume and even baby wipes!
Why should we worry about them?
Parabens are thought to mimic estrogen in the body and have a weak hormone activity. They have been detected in breast cancer tissues and are thought to maybe interfere with male reproductive function.
Parabens also cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis in those with parabens allergies. One type of paraben, methylparaben, has also been linked to increased skin ageing and DNA damage.
With parabens, like a lot of chemicals, they are unregulated because they are in such small concentrations in a single product. The problem is that they are in so many of the products we use. We could have been exposed to them in our shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser, hand soap, hair spray, deodorant, perfume, cosmetics and that’s before we’ve even had breakfast in the morning! Given that we use these products every day, accumulation occurs in our bodies. For pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, babies and pubescent teens particularly, it’s best to try to limit exposure to chemicals- especially ones linked to hormonal activity.
How do I avoid parabens?
On the back of a label in the ingredients list, you can spot parabens because they all end in ‘….paraben’. Unless they’re part of the fragrance, which is allowed to remain a secret and companies don’t have to report what they use! Any ‘fragrance’ listed on an ingredients panel, can contain parabens, phthalates and hundreds of other chemicals, all of which don’t have to be declared! Some companies are starting to pick up on the fact that us consumers are starting to want less toxic products and will let you know they are ‘paraben-free’ and list what they use for fragrance such as essential oils; so look for those labels too.
I always get glazed eyes looking at those long words in the ingredients panel on the back of labels… But from now on, I’ll be looking to avoid products for the whole family with ingredients ending in paraben and avoiding products that just list ‘fragrance’ in the ingredients. Baby wipes are next on my research agenda with their long lists of unreadable ingredients. Which ones do people recommend?