Paraben Ponderings

I wonder how Ethyl and Methyl are getting on

I've been working on several new formulas for shampoos and bath products for a while now – ever since having to bid farewell to the paraben preservatives. I have mostly used parabens in my products containing soap, so luckily, the 'paraben-thing' has only affected a few of my products.

Why Use Parabens in the First Place?

Parabens are excellent broad-spectrum preservatives (read: the correct mix will efficiently keep all of the different bacteria at bay).

Furthermore, they cover the full PH scale (needed for any type of cosmetics product). If you are using infusions, hydrosols or a mix of them, it is necessary to use a broad-spectrum preservative. Better still if you can find a broad-spectrum preservative that is efficient on a wide enough PH scale.

Parabens fulfill this requirement, while several of the currently acceptable alternative preservatives will only work if the product is within a certain PH range. Others are not broad-spectrum enough to stand alone. This makes it necessary to either use a combination of preservatives or severely limit the ingredients.

For Complications, Just Add Soap

To complicate the process, the addition of soap to a formula creates a whole new set of rules. (I'm still researching this one, and will get to the bottom of it). One would think that soap would help keep a product from going bad, but it seems to do quite the opposite.

Before finding my way to the parabens, I made bath products trying a number of different preservatives with less than ideal results. This resulted in my trying to do a bath product with absolutely no preservatives – just to see how long it would last. Not nearly as long as I expected (if memory serves, a little over a fortnight).

Maybe the soaps feed the bacteria better than other ingredients, because when a product containing hydrosols and soap 'goes off', there isn't the slightest doubt. It may look fine, but it smells absolutely vile.

Ongoing Testing

I've noticed a lot of the commercial, paraben-free bath products on the market do indeed contain a cocktail of preservatives (or have little or no plant-based ingredients). Now, there's really nothing wrong with doing a 'preservative cocktail', but you have to consider that (probably all of) the currently acceptable preservatives are undergoing continued testing.

A few years down the line, they may well discover that the parabens that were publicly banned in 2000-and-whenever for 'possibly creating a hormonal disturbance in rats' are much safer than the alternatives everyone has been using since.

The Saccharine Case

Am I tooting my horn for parabens? Well, yes. I miss the stable efficiency of Ethyl and Methyl Paraben and their cousins. We saw something similar to the current paraben-situation with artificial sweeteners some years back.

Saccharin was suddenly all over the media and blacklisted – causing the food industry to scramble to find replacements. As far as I remember, the replacements have since been banned as well, and saccharin – after further in-depth testing – is back on the market and no longer deemed unsafe.

It just makes you think.. doesn't it?