Paraben-free personal care products are in higher demand than ever, and makeup is no exception. Whether you’re worried about the potential health risks involved with too much paraben exposure, or have simply found that paraben-containing products don’t work well for your skin type, you have a lot of options in the world of cosmetics.
The catch is often knowing what cosmetic companies use in place of parabens. Parabens are a type of preservative meant to extend the shelf life of your makeup and beauty products (and household cleaners and laundry detergents), preventing potentially dangerous bacterial growth. If you opt for paraben-free, it’s important to choose products that employ healthy, yet effective alternatives. After all, you don’t keep your makeup in the refrigerator, so it needs to have some sort of preservative in it if you want it to last.
Why Should You Avoid Parabens?
Parabens are chemical preservatives used in a variety of personal and household products. They can be labeled as butylparaben, methylparaben, ethylparaben, and propylparaben, but are also sometimes listed as alkyl parahydroxy benzoates.
Preliminary research has shown that parabens not only mimic the hormone estrogen, but they also deeply penetrate deep into the skin’s matrix and can build up over time. While both of these elements individually are known cancer and skin toxicity risks, there’s no research directly linking parabens to an increase in cancer risk. More work still needs to be done to properly assess the total risk of using parabens, but officially, they’re listed as safe by the FDA.
That being said, the loose links to breast cancer in particular (especially highlighted in studies on paraben-containing deodorants) have proven to be enough for a big shift toward paraben-free cosmetics, especially for companies in the natural beauty industry. Natural and organic beauty brands are already leaning toward cleaner, more natural ingredients that are kinder to Mother Earth, gluten-free, sulfate-free, and phthalate-free, and increasingly cruelty-free as well.
Good Alternatives to Parabens
There are both natural and synthetic alternatives to parabens that are considered safe. Safety is a consideration both in the effects the alternatives might have on the human body, but also in its efficacy as a preservative. Parabens are often used in combination with other preservatives to cover a wide range of antibacterial protection, so the alternatives you choose should be just as effective.
Choosing paraben-free makeup with natural preservatives is one of the best ways to ensure that you’re avoiding harmful chemicals in your cosmetics. Natural preservatives include essential oils and botanicals, vitamins, sodium benzoate, and vegetable-derived glycerin.
Essential oils like rosemary and lemon have natural antibacterial properties, as do tocopherols (vitamin E). While these products are safe and effective alternatives to parabens, they do have a bit of a shorter shelf life. And the addition of an effective enough quantity of essential oils into your makeup products could end up hiking up the price. Ideally, products preserved with these ingredients will be used up within a year in order to assure that there’s no bacterial infiltration.
Sodium benzoate naturally occurs in a number of fruits, barks, and herbs, and is considered a 100 percent natural preservative. It’s also less expensive to produce than essential oils and has a longer shelf life. It’s generally regarded as safe and is often used in combination with potassium sorbate for further antimicrobial protection.
Vegetable-derived glycerin is also called ethylhexylglycerin. While technically this product is made in a lab, it’s derived from grains and other plants, so we’re considering it a natural product for our purposes. It’s an inexpensive alternative to parabens while still remaining effective as a preservative. Studies have shown it to be a skin irritant to some, so if you try makeup containing it, you might want to start with an inconspicuous area first, just to make sure you don’t react to it.
While consumers looking for natural products tend to shy away from the word “synthetic,” the word itself doesn’t inherently mean anything particularly negative. Water-soluble synthetic preservatives that don’t remain in your bloodstream or accumulate over time can be just as safe as their natural counterparts.
A combination of caprylyl glycol and phenethyl alcohol is approved in both the U.S. and Europe as a safe and effective alternative to parabens. Both of these ingredients are alcohol-based and flush from the system easily.
The 6 Best Paraben-Free Makeup Brands
The best paraben-free cosmetics and makeup brands focus on natural ingredients and are gentle on a variety of skin types, even sensitive skin. Whether you’re shopping for a lipliner, a liquid foundation, or searching for pre- or post-makeup skin care products like face masks or makeup remover, the best natural beauty brands have your well-being in mind.
100% Pure provides an extensive “no list” on their about page, explaining their philosophy on natural skincare and offering their natural alternatives. Their makeup features natural pigments derived from fruit dyes and boasts pure, purposeful ingredients with no fillers – not even water – making them one of the most ideal paraben-free makeup brands on the market.
Afterglow Cosmetics is among the cleanest makeup brands on the market, featuring an entire catalog of not only paraben-free products, but gluten-free, soy-free, fragrance-free, bismuth-free, cruelty-free, and vegan. They also feature a number of organic ingredients in their mineral makeup line.
Juice Beauty focuses not only on natural and organic ingredients, but plant-derived pigments in their extensive makeup line. They offer paraben-free, gluten-free, vegan, and cruelty-free makeup and skincare products featuring plant extracts, juices, and waxes.
Burt’s Bees offers a wide range of personal care products, beyond the products they’re best known for (lip balm, lip gloss, and lip tint). They also make a full suite of paraben-free body care and makeup products.
Ilia Beauty features USDA certified organic, certified gluten-free, and certified cruelty-free ingredients. They use only natural preservatives like essential oils and tocopherols and offer an extensive list of options for lip color in addition to other creative beauty care. They also sell high quality vegan makeup brushes.
RMS Beauty not only offers clean, paraben-free makeup, they also offer clean nail polish, something that can be challenging to find in high-quality formulations. Their makeup is mineral-based and promise no nanoparticles (which can penetrate the skin and cause health problems), in addition to holding extremely high ingredients standards. You can view their whole makeup line here and their extensive explanation of ingredients here.
If you’re on the hunt for paraben-free makeup, you’re likely looking to overhaul your entire face and body care regimen with cleaner products. Feel offers an array of natural beauty products for all skin types – all paraben-free, cruelty-free, and often vegan as well.
If you’re looking to round out your collection of paraben-free natural skincare, start with Feel’s PM Essentials Kit, featuring three of their best products. Enzymatic Exfoliating Cleanser offers a gentle but powerful exfoliation to buff your skin silky smooth, while Squalene Facial Oil provides deep, penetrating moisture.