The Paraben Debate

While parabens are controversial for their potential cancer-causing properties, Faucitt argues they are still safe, effective and one of the most used preservatives in the world. They are used in baby foods and breast cancer treatments, and only a minimal amount is required to provide full broad-spectrum cover - from 0,1% to 0,3%. Faucitt adds that research shows it would take 72 000 layers of products containing parabens applied one on top of the other to cause any oestrogenic effect - however, further research is needed to find a definitive answer to this.

Dr Sly Nedic, aesthetic practitioner and owner of 8th Sense, explains that parabens are so widely used because they are cheap, effective and can be rapidly expelled by the body. Several studies have shown that parabens can bind to oestrogen receptors and act as exogenous oestrogen, adding to the total body oestrogen burden. She mentions that parabens have been found in a breast tissue, but scientists are still wary to admit that it causes breast cancer, because recent data suggests that parabens, such as xenoestrogens, are detoxified by the same metabolic pathways in the liver as the body's own oestrogen. There are two mechanisms involved: one is when parabens are competing with our own body oestrogen, not allowing it to reduce more dangerous metabolites like 16-0 H oestrogen and 4-0 H oestrogen (proven to be carcinogenic). The second mechanism is related to the accumulation of the parabens metabolites, which then have high oestrogen receptor affinity. Nedic adds that, to complicate the problem further, there is a great variation of genes involved in this detoxification process and, unless genetic testing is done, you will not know how dangerous parabens are in your own body compared to someone else's.

Many other toxic substances, like pesticides, interfere with the same detoxification as parabens and oestrogens, and you can imagine that a person who overloads their system with these substances, and who have reactive genetic make-up, will have a greater predisposition of getting cancer. Nedic says it is possible to identify this predisposition through genetic testing; you are then able to consciously switch from the products that contain parabens to ones that contain natural preservatives. However, this is costly, and not widely available. If you are concerned, rather avoid products containing parabens.

“If you believe in making difference to the environment by using organic products, then by all means do so”

Organic vs Synthetic Products


Description: "Organic Products Are Not Expensive, Synthetic Products Cost the World"

Organic products are not expensive, synthetic products cost the world

Dermatologist Marianne Duvenhage says that, "if you believe in making a difference to the environment by using organic products, then by all means do so." However, she mentions that using organic or natural products does not necessarily protect you from skin problems as these may even cause allergic reactions. Peppermint, bergamot and rosemary are all highly allergenic and can irritate sensitive skin. She adds that chamomile can also induce an allergic reaction, despite the fact that is usually regarded as a gentle and soothing herb.

Duvenhage says: "No matter how virtuous the use of an organic product makes you feel, identifying your skin type and then selecting a product must supersede your choice between a natural or organic product." She explains that soy products are a case in point, as they can increase pigmentation in someone who already has pigmented skin.

From the skin's perspective, Duvenhage concludes that the "form and concentration is surely more influential than whether the product is organic or not". Retinoids are of great benefit to someone with an oily, wrinkle-prone skin, but they are not organic - in fact, no organic products have the same efficacy as retinoids, she adds. "The secret is to find the right blend of products for your skin type," she says. "Skincare practitioners are eagerly awaiting properly researched organic products, so as to give our patients good advice."

POINT TO NOTE: Organic is defined in the dictionary as "a compound that contains a carbon atom", and because carbon is found in everything that has ever lived, this is often used to sell the green angle. This is known in the trade as "confusion advertising", as the reality of the product's natural or organic status becomes blurred.

What ingredients you should avoid?

The general rule is if you can't say it, it's probably chemically synthesized and therefore can be harmful, says Rowan, Anything with an essential oil base is usually trustworthy - so look out for lavender, olive oil, chamomile, rose, vanilla, propolis, calendula. All of these ingredients are, literally, safe enough to eat.

Try to avoid ingredients like sodium lauryl sulphate or sodium laureth sulphate (found in many shampoos, liquid soaps and bubble bath) as these are foaming agents and con strip your skin of natural oils. If water is added to the product, which it almost always is, then a preservative of some sort needs to be added to prevent bacteria from forming. The most commonly used preservative are parabens, which can have hormone-altering effects.

Other general ingredients to avoid: petrochemicals (mineral oil, paraffin), MEA, DEA, TEA, dioxane, ureas, aluminiums, formaldehyde, alcohol, isopropyl (SD-40), cationic surfactants, lauryl sarcosine, cocamidopropyl betaine, ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS), benzalkonium chloride, synthetic fragrances and ethoxylated ingredients.

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