While some consumer groups push for paraben-free products for general safety, they admit there’s a lot we don’t know. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) posted an article on its website, Cosmetics, Parabens, and Cancer: What Are the Facts? The lead paragraph states: “If you're confused about the potential link between parabens and cancer, you're not alone. The evidence is inconclusive and professional opinions vary widely about whether there is, in fact, a connection.”
Still, consumer demand is fueling the need for alternatives. Enter companies such as Made from Earth, which produces and sells organic skincare products online.
“When we can, we don’t put (chemical) preservatives in our products,” says Stergios Bekas, operations, Made from Earth. “Vitamin E actually serves as a good natural preservative. … neem oil is a great natural preservative and citric acid, which comes from citrus fruit, is a great natural preservative, as well.”
But even these ingredients could be construed as harmful. Ingesting even small doses of neem oil, which is used externally as a traditional medicine in India, causes toxic effects, including seizures and renal failure, according to a Nov. 2013 paper in the Journal of the Association of Physicians in India (Meeran M, Murali A, Balakrishnan R, Narasimhan D. J Assoc Physicians India. 2013;61(11):848-85).
In the cases where the natural preservatives wouldn’t prevent bacterial growth, Made from Earth uses tetrasodium EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid), which is a salt-based preservative, according to Mr. Bekas.
“Our customers say, ‘Why do you use a preservative when we want products to be totally organic?’ There are some ingredients that if you don’t preserve them bacteria will grow…. That’s just the way it is. We would rather sell these products because they’re great for you and preserve them in the right way, as opposed to not preserve them and have them grown harmful bacteria,” Mr. Bekas says.
Jacquelyn Levin, D.O., a dermatologist in Laguna Niguel, California, says personally she uses some products containing parabens as preservatives in product formulations. Parabens, she says, do a good job of preventing bacterial and microbial growth.
“… Parabens are very easy to formulate with and create a very esthetic formula. So that is sort of the catch-22. Some of the other preservatives out there are a bit more difficult to formulate with,” Dr. Levin says.
And we don’t know if alternative preservatives are safer than parabens, she says.
“I don’t believe they have been studied the way the parabens have been studied,” Dr. Levin says. “However, we have to respect that many of our patients may be concerned with the risk of using products with parabens and its good practice to be able to offer alternatives.”