I’m making vocabulary flash cards for our Chapter 11 test, and thought I’d drop some knowledge on you, from Milady’s Standard Fundamentals for Esthetician, Chapter 11: Product Selection and Ingredients, page 242-243:
- Methyl paraben — One of the most frequently used preservatives because of its very low sensitizing potential, this ingredient is one of the oldest preservatives in use to combat bacteria and molds. It is non-comedogenic.
- Parabens — One of the most commonly used groups of preservatives in the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and food industries, parabens provide bacteriostatic and fungistatic activity against a diverse number of organisms, and are considered safe for use in cosmetics.
Just in case you don’t get it the first time (is that “safe for use in cosmetics,” then?), both definitions are repeated in the glossary at the chapter’s end on page 248. Although it doesn’t spend much time clarifying this position, when Milady’s says “safe,” what it means is “will not cause your client to break out in a heinous, litigation-inspiring rash.”
True enough. A Google search reveals parabens, sold in crystalline powder form by the ton on Asian import sites like Made-In-China and Alibaba. The product descriptions, such as they are, emphasize the antiseptic, antibacterial properties.
What doesn’t fall under the Milady safety umbrella, or come up in the sales pitch: The fact that parabens are also endocrine disrupting chemicals.
We’re now exposed to a whole mess of these endocrine disruptors every minute of every day (see NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof’s recent and fantastic op-ed on the issue, plus the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ helpful summary) and the scientific evidence is mounting that all this of exposure may increase our risk for breast cancer and testicular cancer, and damage the developing brains and reproductive systems of babies.
Not surprisingly, the industry disputes this research. “The simple fact is that the Parabens are 100,000 times weaker than natural estrogen in the body,” reports The Personal Care Products Council on their safety website, adding that “Parabens have been shown to be 10,000 times weaker than the most potent phytoestrogens and 100,000 times less potent than estradiol, the estrogen produced naturally by the body. Most scientists agree that there is no endocrine- disrupting effect from the use of Parabens in cosmetic and personal care products because their action, if any, is so weak.”
Despite Milady’s, despite the Personal Care Products Council, Miss Jenny tells me that she tries to avoid products that contain parabens. We’re on another Sephora field trip, and I’m browsing facial cleansers. “You’re better off without them,” she says, steering me away from Clinique.
But when I ask her why, Miss Jenny looks away, to some distant point above the cash registers. “It’s not a big deal,” she says, a little hasty. “You can’t ever get away from them entirely anyway.”