In my BBC interview I quoted parabens as being a problematic and potentially harmful chemical. Since then I’ve done more research because I like to be informed, transparent and fair in what I present to you guys. For those who don’t know, parabens are a class of broad spectrum preservatives used in cosmetic and pharmaceutical formulations. The minute you mix oil and water, you’ve created a breeding ground for all sorts of bacteria and mould and so preservatives play a really important role in personal care products and in fact a lot of other products like food and medicines.
Quick side note, all you people mixing water and natural or essential oils in spray bottles, then keeping the mixture for days/weeks on end, ya’ll need to stop that mess RIGHT NOW!! If you must do it, single use only, discard any left over and the same applies to watering down your conditioners.
Parabens are one of the oldest preservatives in circulation and all the palaver about them started after the publication of a study by the Darbre Group in 2004, which claimed to find a link between parabens and breast cancer. Though it’s also worth noting that an earlier study by Routledge et al found them to have mild estrogenic properties. There are however, some very serious issues with the 2004 study, which casts some doubt on the findings. You can read more about those issues in this VERY in-depth 10 part series from Personal Care Truth. Also, Michelle at Lab Muffin has a shorter breakdown of the issues surrounding parabens and their use.
Since then, parabens have become a dirty word and many brands have found it easier to remove them from their products than try to fight the negative perception. The European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety allows the use of some parabens at differing amounts and has banned a few outright or in specific situations, but on the whole considers them to be safe. There’s also the issue that alternative preservatives haven’t been tested as rigorously nor have as much data as parabens. So for some, it’s a case of better the devil you know.
For me, it’s clear that more research needs to be done into a lot of the products produced and marketed at black women. Other than the fact that some manufacturers are sneaking in ingredients and not including them in the label, I feel that the way black women use hair products isn’t being considered. We use hair products at a volume and frequency unmatched by any other race and that increases our exposure to any known and unknown harm. I find it fascinating that the European Commission decided to ban the use of propylparaben and butylparaben in leave-on products designed for the nappy area of children under three because:
‘The skin in this area can become easily irritated, and irritated skin can let more things through’.
Can you say relaxers anyone?
Ultimately I think it’s important to do your research so you can make an informed decision about anything you put in and on your body. I reject the argument that because we are exposed to many more harmful things in a myriad of different ways, we should not be concerned about what’s in our skin and hair care products. The fact remains that black women are more likely to develop fibroids, at an earlier age and with greater severity than their racial counterparts. No one knows why but no one will do the research either. Until they do, I’m keeping my eyes and ears close to the ground.