What are parabens?

A warning from nature

When you choose organic food because of your own health or that of the earth, you might also consider switching to natural care products. Did you know that what we rub into our skin comes for a large part into our bloodstream and so is absorbed by the body? This is why we stock in our store only products that are certified as not containing any synthetic additives or preservatives, and that are as pure and natural as our food. You don’t need any synthetic ingredients for optimal daily care.

Many toxins are absorbed through the skin, not only exhaust gases and cigarette smoke, but also perfumes and skin care products. According to the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS), the average consumer puts 17.4 grams of skin care products on the skin each day. Many products can cause considerable irritation to the skin and are unnecessarily aggressive.

Brands such as Urtekam, Weleda, Harmonie, Santé and Bee Natural give the skin a well deserved holiday from all chemical additives.

Natural cosmetics

By switching to natural cosmetics, you give back to your skin its natural function and beauty. This does require some time to allow the skin to rediscover and re-activate its natural processes of cleaning, nourishment and protection. Nature itself offers perfect resources for a radiant skin and healthy hair, which support and stimulate the natural processes of the body.

Beneficial plants and herbs, their blossoms and oils support the healing power of the skin and form the basis for our care products. Natural care products are gentle on the skin, do not disturb the delicate balance of the body, and are friendly to the environment.

Ons assortiment biologische verzorgingsproducten

Are you concerned about the chemicals in products?

In recent years, much attention has been paid to parabens in care products, among other things. What are these substances and are there risk associated with their use? Many consumers are concerned about the chemicals in the products that they put on their skin daily. They have become more and more aware of the absorptive capacity of the skin. There is a growing awareness that we are responsible for the world we live in and growing concern for our own health. This awareness has generated in such consumers increasingly higher product expectations in terms of their safety and environmental friendliness.

Fortunately, there are more and more alternatives that contain less harmful ingredients for your health. Also for babies and children. Many parents are concerned about the chemical substances in products for their child. If you don’t want your child to absorb any parabens, pay special attention to toothpaste, baby shampoo and suncreams. It is no longer permitted to smear babies’ nappy area with any product containing butylparaben or propylparaben, partly because it is not known how much of the chemical remains in the body for a longer time.


Preservatives are an essential component of cosmetic products. Parabens are the most commonly used synthetic preservative and occur in cleaning products (washing up liquid, all-purpose cleaners, liquid detergents), medicines, food products (ready-to-eat sauces, fish products) and industrial products (ink, glue, shoe polish, water-based paint). Since 1950 they have been used as preservatives in care products such as cream, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, shaving foam, depilatory cream, after-shave, massage oils, soap, toothpaste, suncream, handcream, lotion, lip balm, mascara and other cosmetics.

Parabens inhibit the growth of fungi and bacteria and are added to skin care products to prolong the life of the product. unfortunately, the preservative effect of parabens is so stable that once they have been absorbed into the body, they continue working and influence normal enzyme activity. The most common parabens are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and benzylparaben.

What are the risks associated with the use of parabens?

Why choose paraben-free products?

As far as preservatives are concerned, there are major differences in effectiveness, toxicity and the risk of cosmetic allergies and skin irritation. There is also a difference in safety between the difference types of parabens. Unfortunately, despite long-term use (since 1950), relatively little research has been done into the possible negative effects and the percentage of paraben that remains in the body for a longer period of time. The use of methylparaben and ethylparaben seem less objectionable than the use of propylparaben and butylparaben. The (maximum) dosage is important in determining whether a product is harmful. The most frequently mentioned objections to parabens are the following: 

allergies & eczema

Some people develop an allergy to parabens and suffer from eczema: redness, bumps, swelling, scaling and itchiness. Most frequently this arises on the face or neck, on the arms, armpits and hands. It also appears that people whose skin is already irritated are most sensitive to parabens. In this case, use natural products that contain no paraben and are also hypoallergenic, such as Urtekram products.

Disruption of the hormone balance

Parabens belong to the Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), or hormone-disrupting chemicals, and have an adverse effect on the production of the female sex hormone estrogen. Research shows that parabens can bind to estrogen receptors and thus more or less mimic the effects of natural estrogen (this was first reported in a study by Routledge in 1998). Denmark, Sweden and France have taken legal steps to ban certain EDCs and to actively inform vulnerable population groups. In the Netherlands it is seen as too early for such measures, because convincing evidence of the relation between hormone-disrupting substances and an increased risk of, for example, breast cancer has not yet been shown. The World Health Organization (WHO) is also concerned about the use of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. In particular, pregnant women, children and people with health complaints related to the endocrine system should be cautious, according to the WHO. Any harmful effects of these substances often appear years later. Anyone who prefers to opt for certainty instead of uncertainty could replace all paraben-containing products with products that use a natural preservative system.

Doubtful role in the development and growth of breast cancer

Because parabens have an estrogenic effect and because estrogen plays a role in the development and growth of breast cancer, it was suggested that parabens can cause breast cancer. A direct link between parabens and breast cancer has never been shown and at present there is insufficient evidence to show that parabens are carcinogenic. Public concern was strongly influenced by the British biochemist Philippa Darbre who published several articles in which she pointed to a possible link between breast cancer and parabens. Parabens in cosmetics can penetrate the skin and Darbre’s research shows that parabens may remain in the body for a long time and that parabens occur in tumours in breast tissue. What is uncertain is whether these parabens come from cosmetics, medicines or other sources. It is also known that estrogens play an important role in the development of breast cancer as most breast tumours have estrogen receptors and can grow faster under the influence of this hormone. Laboratory tests showed that parabens promote the growth of MCF7 cells in human breast tumours provided the concentration is sufficiently high. Nevertheless, the results of Darbre’s research are insufficient to allow the conclusion that parabens promote the development of breast cancer.

How do I know if there are parabens in a cosmetic product?

Since 1996 it has been mandatory to list the ingredients of cosmetic products on the label. Standardized names are used for the ingredients, what are called INCI names. You recognize parabens by their collective name ‘PARABEN’. Because of their use in the food industry, parabens have mandatory E numbers: E214 to E219.

Conventional cosmetics also choose increasingly frequently a number of natural ingredients. However, this does not mean that they are natural cosmetics. Natural cosmetics in fact do not contain any artificial ingredient at all. If you want to be sure that you are purchasing a completely natural product, then you can check whether the product has a quality label. A well-known quality label that is used in the Netherlands is BDIH, which was established in Germany in 1995. One of the criteria for the quality label is that the natural ingredients have been produced in an environmentally friendly way, preferably from organic farming. Genetic manipulation is not permitted. Other quality labels are for example NATRUE, Ecocert, Milieukeur and COSMOS. Products carrying these quality labels contain natural ingredients such as vegetable oils, fats and waxes, herbal extracts, essential oils and aromas from controlled organic cultivation or from wilderness in accordance with established guidelines. You can find more information about these quality labels at www.natrue.org, www.kontrollierte-naturkosmetic.de (BDIH), www.ecocert.com

Our range of care products without parabens

Our range of care products consists of certified products made from natural ingredients only. So you won’t find any parabens here. Seeing that a lot of products with a natural preservation system can be kept for several years, we prefer to sell paraben-free skin care products. These are some of the brands that we stock in our range:

  • Weleda
    100% natural face and body care with a quality label.
  • Urtekram
    100% natural face and body care with a quality label and predominantly organic ingredients, suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
  • Bee Natural
    Care products based on honey or ingredients related to honey and other natural ingredients. With a quality label.
  • Speick
    Natural cosmetics based on the medicinal Speick plant (Valeriana celtica, valerian spikenard).
Ons assortiment biologische verzorgingsproducten

(Almost) Finally

We hope you are now able to make a better choice about your purchases or particularly to avoid products with parabens. Some brands do not contain any synthetic ingredients, including those for which no harmful effects have been demonstrated. In the future more information will undoubtedly emerge about what precisely parabens do and what role they play in the development of cancer and endocrine health problems. Researchers are currently engaged in studying the effects of these preservatives. You can choose to use alternative products which you know do not contain any parabens. Although convincing evidence about the risks of parabens has not yet been shown, more and more people are choosing to use products that are paraben-free.

Extra I – Research and some figures

The European Union, which has established the list of E-numbers, holds the opinion that parabens are safe. The opinion is based on research conducted by the American Food & Drug Administration (FDA). The Scientific Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Materials in contact with food of the European Food Safety Authority found in 2004 that the use of parabens in foodstuffs was acceptable for the time being, but advised that more research should be done into the aspects where too little information was available. There is an exception: the European Commission decided that propylparaben may no longer be used as a fragrance. The SCCS demands high levels of evidence and often comes to the conclusion that the results are not yet robust enough. All in all, the SCCS has not yet found reason enough to abandon the previously determined ‘safe’ dosage of 2mg/kg that Fischer reported in 1999 for butylparaben and of which 1/100th is considered safe for the consumer. Cosmetics manufacturers may incorporate a maximum of 0.19% of butylparaben or propylparaben in their products (or in the case of both substances: a maximum of 0.19% in total). For methylparaben and ethylparaben the regulations are less strict. Skin care products may contain 0.4% of both substances. Animal experiments have shown that you can use more of these parabens before undesired effects start to show. Unfortunately, research has not yet yielded sufficient clarity about safety and risks, research findings are sometimes contradictory, and it is unclear when you can say with certainty which low dose has no influence any more.

Research has yielded the following results:

In studies of butylparaben, the weight of the uterus of female rats increased slightly when they received an injection of 400 mg per kg body weight, at 1200 mg/kg the uterus was more than one and a half times as heavy, and at 2400 mg/kg it was three times the original weight. Male rats showed a negative effect (lowering) of their sperm and testosterone production. Rats which had butylparaben in the feed had a slightly bigger liver, but the size was not associated with the dose (62.5 mg or 1000 mg). At a daily dose of 1000 mg/kg methylparaben, weight deviations were shown in four organs. This is not in line with earlier research, which showed that methylparaben would be less harmful.

Extra II – Alternative, natural ways of preserving.

Airtight packaging such as in a tube instead of a jar.

Because the product does not come in contact with you fingers or with a spatula and because there is less exposure to the air, the product will deteriorate much more slowly. For example, tubes are usually made of aluminium and bottle openings are often tight so that as little air as possible reaches the product.


Perfumes and most deodorants often contain a lot of alcohol so that the product does not need any other preservative. Weleda too uses alcohol to improve the durability of some products.

Tea tree oil.

Organic acids such as sodium benzoate, diazolidinyl urea, and potassium sorbate.

Vitamin E.

This is sometimes added to creams to prevent skin ageing. In larger quantities, however, it can have the effect that the product separates or discolours. Sometimes extra oil or glycerine is added to the product. This has the disadvantage, however, because it can make the cream more sticky or slippery.

Besides ...

not all products are subject to deterioration to the same extent. Some cosmetics do not need any extra ingredient for preservation, because they do not form a suitable breeding-ground for micro-organisms. The shelf life of a product is given on the packaging. In natural cosmetics this is typically 2 to 3 years. Keep this in mind if you are purchasing a large stock.

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