What are Parabens and Sulfates?

July 17, 2019 4 min read

What are Parabens and Sulfates

In today’s world it can be hard to determine what new health scares are legitimately concerning and what are media witch hunts. When it comes to parabens and sulfates, the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. 

The fact remains that despite scientific evidence that they may cause health problems, parabens and sulfates are both widely used in beauty products today. So what can we do?

To understand this, we will be defining parabens and sulfates, getting to the bottom of health concerns, review some natural alternatives to these ingredients, and go over some frequently asked questions.

What are Parabens and Why are They Used in Beauty Products?

Parabens are preservatives first brought to market in the 1950’s. Paraben usage is widespread and can be found in skincare products, hair care products, pharmaceutical drugs and even in our food. 

The primary function of parabens is to prevent bacteria and mold from growing within these products. According to the FDA: “parabens are often used in combination with other types of preservatives to better protect against a broad range of microorganisms.”

A loose analogy might be that parabens to cosmetics are as chlorine is to swimming pools. They are intended to keep the products free of potentially harmful bacteria and other contaminants.

What are Parabens and Sulfates

Separating Sulfate Facts from Fiction

Sulfates are naturally occurring chemical compounds comprised of sulfur and oxygen molecules. There are many forms of synthetically created sulfates, as well, including sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES).

For skin and hair care, sulfates are generally used as a surfactant. Surfactants can be considered any substance which effectively reduced the surface tension of a liquid. In practical terms, sulfates are used to strip away unwanted oils and other impurities from hair orto allow products to absorb into the skin more easily. To learn more about soap, you can check out our article about the basics here.

Due to the connection between sulfates and parabens, many of the health concerns have been interchanged. There are no known links between sulfates and cancer or any other major health concerns. However, sulfates can still be irritating for skin and hair, and are a harsh ingredient for repeated use.

Natural Alternatives to Parabens and Sulfates

As we have established, parabens are primarily used as preservatives and sulfates are primarily used to strip away unwanted oils and increase skin permeability. They both have been proven effective in those areas, but they are not without health concerns. 

This begs the question: are there natural alternatives to parabens and sulfates? 

The short answer? Absolutely!

Many essential oils such as tea tree oils and lavender oils have antimicrobial properties. Other ingredients such as salt, honey, alcohol, rosemary, and many more have also been used as natural preservatives. However, it is important to remember that preservatives are not always essential for properly manufactured and stored skin care and hair care products!

As for sulfate alternatives, we believe that harsh stripping products are not a necessary component of a healthy beauty regimen. Instead, choose products with potent, natural ingredients which provide the care your body needs and be mindful of how harsh they are to your skin.

What are Parabens and Sulfates

Parabens and Sulfates: Frequently Asked Questions

Are Parabens banned? 

Five (5) parabens have been banned by The European Commission in April of 2014. 

  • Isopropylparaben
  • Isobutylparaben
  • Phenylparaben
  • Benzylparaben
  • Pentylparaben

The US Food and Drug Administration has no such bans in effect but have stated that they intend to continue rigorous research into the safety of parabens. 

Do sulfates cause health issues?

Sulfates are not linked to any major health issues when used safely. However, sulfates can cause irritation of the eyes, skin and lungs if used improperly or if used in large quantities over a long period of time.

Sulfates are also notorious for being tested on animals to determine safety. This is another reason why many consumers opt to choose sulfate-free products.

Are products required to label parabens and sulfates?

All cosmetic products are required to have a full ingredients list on the label to meet FDA regulations. However, there is no requirement to specifically state whether or not a product contains parabens and/or sulfates. 

Unfortunately, many parabens and sulfates have long, complex names which are not always obvious to spot such as propylparaben, isobutylparaben, sodium lauryl sulfate, etc. This is why it is important to learn about what the ingredients are and why they are there. Every ingredient should have a specific purpose. And if you have sensitive skin, knowing that sulfates tend to irritate more easily is really helpful when looking for a good skin care product for you. 

What are Parabens and Sulfates

All Natural Skin and Hair Care from The Yellow Bird

At The Yellow Bird, we don’t believe in using alarmist or scare tactics to promote our natural products. The fact of the matter is that sulfates and parabens in your everyday products probably won’t impact your life negatively. However, we also believe that there are some risks when it comes to these ingredients.

And when it comes to risks, why bother? Instead, our products are always sulfate and paraben free so you can feel good about the products you choose for yourself and your family. Our products are never tested on animals, are always free of harsh synthetic chemicals, and are comprised of GMO free, all natural ingredients.

Try our quick and easy skincare quiz today to find out which of our products can best suit your needs!

Nicole P
Nicole P

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