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Parabens: What Are They, And Are They Safe In Shampoo?

It often seems that every week a different ingredient used in the food we eat or the products that we use is linked to health problems, and when this happens there is usually little actual evidence to prove the theory. We recently received a query from a patient regarding the appearance of parabens in shampoos and conditioners and, after speaking to our in house doctor, we have compiled some information on what parabens actually are, how they are used in hair products, and why they are completely safe to use in shampoos and conditioners.

Wash Your HairWhat Are Parabens?

In technical terms, parabens are synthetic esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA); if that sounds a bit too science-y, don’t worry! They are often similar or even identical to anti-microbial agents that are found in various plants or shrubs including certain edible berries. Being anti-microbial and also often anti-fungus means that they prevent bad stuff growing: wondered why your skin cream stays pristine despite being opened and used everyday? You probably have parabens to thank.

What Do Parabens Do In My Shampoo?

According to the FDA, parabens are the most used preservative packaged in cosmetic products. The role of preservatives are to keep your shampoos and conditioners in the good condition in which they were purchased, ensuring that they don’t harbour bacteria, or go ‘off’ during their stated shelf life, and allow the chemist to use as little as possible of these chemicals in their formula. Typically products contain as little as 0.15-0.3% parabens by weight. You can spot parabens on the ingredients label of shampoos and conditioners, look out for ‘methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, and/or butylparaben’.

So, Are Parabens Safe?

Parabens are known for being one of the least allergenic and sensitising preservatives currently in use, and are approved for use in cosmetics, personal-care products (including shampoos and conditioners) and some pharmaceuticals and food products, where they have been used for many years.

In terms of hair products, because parabens are water soluble they are rinsed off easily and do not build up. Parabens are also of sufficiently high molecular weight to prevent evaporation and subsequent water loss from the hair, and so do not cause dryness or frizziness that can occur in alcohol molecules of a lower weight.

Belgravia Shampoo and ConditionerA recent study appeared to indicate that parabens may have migrated from antiperspirant deodorant into the underarm area, though the study did not prove that the parabens had any negative effects, and further research would need to be conducted before any claims about the effects of the parabens could be substantiated. Because parabens are easily rinsed off the hair, this speculation does not apply to shampoos and conditioners.

So, in summary, parabens are used in miniscule amounts in shampoo and conditioner formulations, and keep the product safe and free of yucky growths. Therefore, says in-house doctor Dr Elena Koleva: “They are safe to be used.”

For anyone who is still concerned, Belgravia offers paraben-free formulas as part of its exclusive range of shampoo and conditioner products. These are available from both our central London hair loss clinics, to clients and non-clients.

The Belgravia CentreThe Belgravia Centre

The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.

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27th July, 2016 at 11:53 am

josh harrop

Hi, as someone interested in an objective answer on parabens, I liked your no-nonsense tone and conclusion. However, despite the header, your article has only one paragraph discussing potential exposure (skin absorption), and exactly zero references to the effects. Reading other sources there are plenty of studies and effects of concern - yes, true, if exposed - that you should really have addressed or refuted giventhe inconclusive nature of your cited study (estrogenal, endocrinal, hormonal, immune systems, sun sensitivity....). The paraben in use in my shampoo, methyl, is specifically identified as one that can in certain circumstances be trouble.

27th July, 2016 at 4:15 pm

Sarah Belgravia

Thanks for your thoughts on this, Josh. For anyone who is concerned, Belgravia now offers a range of paraben-free shampoo and conditioner products which are available to both clients and non-clients from each of our hair loss clinics.

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