Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Comment on Lush's "Derived from Blueberries" Parabens

We all know that "parabens" are sketchy right? In case you're like "para-what?" here's the low down:

Parabens (methyl-, butyl-) are used as preservatives and can be hidden under the "fragrance" ingredient in most commercial cosmetic products. They also mimic estrogen behaviour and there have been studies questioning their safety. 

The problem is that parabens easily penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream and the European Commission of Endocrine Disruption categorize them as a 1 priority as parabens discrupt hormonal function.

But what if they are "derived" from food? What if they are labeled "food grade"- that makes them safe, right? It would appear that parabens also appear in low levels in certain foods, so if we eat it, it should be safe.... right? 

Lush makes the connection that parabens are found in certain foods like blueberries and some of their customers are under the impression that they actually derive their parabens from berries.

Well... there's arsenic in apple seeds, but that doesn't make it safe. Just saying.

The problem with this reasoning, other than the fact that just because it's naturally derived doesn't automatically mean it's safe, is that parabens in food is not the same thing as parabens in cosmetics.

1. The paraben levels in food are low and are easily metabolized through our digestive system that is well equipped to handle naturally occurring levels (or we'd all have died off from cancer thousands of years ago...). Our stomach acids are hardcore, and often destroy most harmful substances prior to reaching our bloodstream.

2. However, when applied directly to the skin, parabens are easily absorbed and enter our bloodstream intact. This results in a higher probability that they may affect hormonal function.

3. Finally, the studies on paraben safety haven't looked at the interaction between the dozens of products containing different parabens that enter our bodies through cosmetics. According to David Suzuki, some studies show that women are exposed to over 50 mg of parabens per day from cosmetics. Even if each individual product has "low" levels, combined they add up.

So... the next time a company tries to sell you the safety of their "naturally derived parabens"- politely inform them to eat some apple seeds... 


  1. Just a lot more greenwashing, huh? Great post!

  2. Chemicals are chemicals, natural or synthetic. Your information source is old. Even the American Cancer Society has stated that there is no scientifically proven causal link between parabens and cancer.

    1. You are correct, chemicals are chemicals... however i'm not sure how that statement changes my point- some synthetic chemical structures haven't been studies for health safety in conjunction with each other.
      I apologize if some of my sources aren't within the past 6 years, which of course you have a great point on this.
      However, I would like to point out that a quick google scholar search for research articles of parabens and health reveals oodles of research linking and associating the bioaccumulation of parabens and health concerns in humans within the past four years. (my google search:,5&as_ylo=2009&as_vis=1)

      I'd also like to point out that the article you linked was actually very poorly written, filled with circuitous arguments filled with non-answers. Saying parabens are safe because other chemicals or practices aren't safe is not an answer. Saying parabens are safe because they are a chemical just like other "natural" ingredients are also a chemical is a non-answer.

      (Skin-deep: an amalgamation of the latest health research, results on the paraben search query: )

      Articles that I quickly found: Urinary concentrations of parabens in human populations:
      Parabens linked with sperm DNA damage in infertility clinics:

      Potential impact of low-affinity estrogen binders and human health:

      paraben detections in human breasts:;jsessionid=794251B7E28EA56490115F8589AC8076.f04t03?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

      So nope, I still believe the jury is out on this one, and I am a strong believer that if it is possible for the cosmetic industry to make products without ingredients that we do not have sufficient information on their impact synergistically on our bodies, then they should.

  3. did you know that in the USA, certain ingredients under a certain percentage are not even required to be listed on labels? Unless something is going to expire in a very short amount of time, or is something solid (like certain soaps), it's not paraben free. Parabens aren't required to be listed on labels under a certain percentage. I love all my makeup, but it claims to be paraben free, yet takes 3+ years to expire... so it's not paraben free. There's almost no way around parabens.


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