The FDA doesn’t regulate the chemicals in cosmetics and it’s up to consumers to be aware of the chemicals we put on and in our bodies on daily basis. More and more, people are experience allergy to their cosmetics and personal care products. These reactions cause itchy red swollen skin. As a cosmetic allergist, I have many patients who are a loss for what’s triggering the reaction. They know that certain lipsticks make their lips dry and irritated or sometimes a shampoo will trigger itchy dry irritated skin, but are confused about the exact cause. This type of allergic reaction is called contact dermatitis.
One common allergen in personal care products that triggers an itchy eczematous rash is parabens.
What are Parabens?
- Parabens first introduced in the 1920’s are preservatives to help prevent bacterial and fungal growth. Since their introduction, they’ve become some of the most common preservatives uses.
- Parabens come from an aromatic organic acid naturally found in fruits and vegetables called 4-hydroxybenzoic acid. This forms the basis for parabens.
- There are many types of parabens, but the most commonly used ones are methylparaben, propylparabens and butyl parabens. These types of parabens are often mixed into one product type to provide broad spectrum protection against microorganisms. Manufacturers do these to reduce the concentration of each one individually but provide the same type of preservative effect.
- Parabens can also cross react with chemical commonly used in sunscreens – para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) esters, and in hair dye (paraphenylenediamine).
· Parabens may also go by these names:
o Benzyl-parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate)
o Methyl-parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzate)
o Ethyl-parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate)
o Propyl-parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate)
o Butyl-parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate)
o Parahydroxybenzoate (p-hydroxybenzoate)
Where do you find Parabens?
- Parabens in personal care products:
- According to the American Chemical Society, they are used in almost 85% of all personal care products. Common products like toothpaste, shampoo, lotions, sunscreens, moisturizers and lipsticks contain parabens. They are also found in some topical medications like corticosteroid creams and anti-itch sprays.
- Parabens in food products:
- You might be surprised to learn that parabens are added to food products like: pancake syrup, mayonnaise, salad dressing, baked goods, candy, food dye, soft drinks and fruit juices, spiced sauces, processed vegetables, and jams/jellies
- Parabens are also found naturally in food products like mango, blueberry, mango, strawberries, cocoa beans, carrots, vanilla, and onions.
- You can also find parabens naturally in some wine and beer products.
- Repeat exposure to skin, particularly damaged skin, but parabens can trigger an allergic reaction called contact dermatitis.
- According to a 2015 study by Warshaw et al, parabens caused anywhere from 1.4% of of all contact reactions. Exposure to parabens can cause your skin to become dry, itchy and swollen.
What Should you Do if You Suspect You Are Allergic to Parabens?
- If you suspect you have paraben allergy, speak with your allergist about having a special chemical allergy test done called patch testing.
How Can you Avoid Parabens?
- If you have paraben allergy, then you should strictly avoid any product or food that contains these chemicals
- Reading ingredient lists on your personal care products and food labels will be essential to preventing a future reaction.
- Using products that are oil based will help limit your exposure
- Be especially careful with sunscreens, processed foods, topical medications and other unexpected sources of parabens.
- If you visit gramercyallergy, we will generate a paraben free list of products you can safely use.
Have further questions regarding paraben allergy or suspect you have paraben allergy? Visit GramercyAllergy. We are experts in cosmetic allergy. We will help identify which cosmetic product is triggering your allergy.