No-One Wants To Know The Real Truth About Parabens

Parabens. It’s seen as a dirty word amongst the “natural beauty” movement and the “mainstream” cosmetics industry is trying its best to ignore it, right? Because of parabens, many people are spending more money than ever on cosmetics and personal care products to avoid those scary-sounding paraben ingredients.

Today I want to step (mostly) aside from the quibble over whose scientific paraben research was more inaccurate, to examine the bigger question; who really benefits from the fears surrounding parabens?

To get at the answer, we need to do some digging. You may have noticed the unbelievable number of very expensive “natural beauty” paraben-free organic natural companies that have sprung up over the past couple of years. They charge you an arm and a leg for beautifully coloured, luxuriously scented containers of goop with names such as “thermal spa minerals bath elixir” “cleansing water mist” and “nourishing body souffle.”

Paraben free products are not necessarily being marketed by ethical companies.

Okay, so some of you are thinking “what is going on? Has she been paid to say this?”

I am an independent researcher, sitting at home writing this, and I look at all the information I can get my hands on and I base my conclusion on the information I find.

Here’s some things you need to know about the people telling you to avoid parabens:

1. The “natural beauty” companies who are selling the paraben free products are operating on a much higher profit margin than conventional companies. It doesn’t cost them more money to avoid putting an ingredient in a product because they’re not replacing parabens with something else that costs more. Here’s an analogy: Think of a cake, if you made a cake without chocolate powder, so it was a plain flavoured cake, would it cost you more to make that cake, or a cake which used chocolate powder? When all the other ingredients stayed the same, the chocolate cake would cost more to make. So why is the plain cake costing so much more to buy? Why are the paraben free products costing up to ten times more than their paraben-containing counterparts? It’s very profitable to make paraben-free products.

2. The “big beauty companies” that some sensationalist self-styled “health journalists” are criticizing? Most of them are benefiting from the paraben myth in some way. Here’s a list of well-known beauty companies who have at least one product that they’re marketing as paraben free:

Clarins, Clinique, Ojon, Pureology (and by extension, L’Oreal), Dead Sea Spa, Aveda, Morrocan Oil, Vaseline, Revlon, Dr Organic, Physician’s Formula, Burt’s Bees, Bare Escentuals (and Bare Minerals), L’Occitane, Origins.

This is where the biggest money behind the anti-paraben hype is overtly coming from, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only people making megabucks from scaring you away from parabens.

3. A lot of the smaller start-up companies (such as all the new startup sellers of natural, paraben-free, organic, very expensive products) don’t have to list their board of directors or key shareholders, particularly if they’re not floated on the stock exchange or aren’t incorporated. This means that, to start a smaller start-up company that makes big bucks from the current “natural beauty” craze, a larger company can finance it for a share of the profits, guide product development and marketing, then step back and let the smaller company turn a profit – who then repay a percentage of that to the larger company. We’ve seen this time and again on Dragon’s Den, you think they’re the only people doing it? Everyone in business with investment capital is doing it! If the smaller company goes bankrupt (such as “organic skincare” company Davina Peace… they had a waiting list of clients when they launched in 2010. You can find Davina Peace halfway down this list of insolvent companies in administration in 2012, along with the date of insolvency), the larger company washes their hands of the whole thing because it was nothing to do with them. If anything, they end up on the list of creditors (people owed money). If and when the current “natural skincare” craze ends, and the consumers start looking for something else, the larger company comes out of this beauty trend totally unscathed, with their reputation in tact when everyone goes back to buying “normal” stuff again. It is impossible to know behind the scenes who is financing and guiding these companies. It is impossible to know if any company is truly independent because corporate accounting strategies are inscrutable. Smaller companies are less accountable than larger ones.

4. You know whose products still contain parabens? The Body Shop! They’re an independent company not affiliated to any others, they are all about “natural” skincare and beauty, but their products are still packed with parabens. Why? Because they want to kill you? Uh, reality check, if cosmetics companies kill their customers, who’s going to be left alive to buy cosmetics? They use parabens because the evidence for the current paraben-noia is flimsy, it all comes from studies where at least one of the same people were involved, they all use very small sample sizes (the latest one, the one that “proves” parabens are dangerous? 40 participants.  All in Britain. That’s 0.0000000006% of the world’s population (or 0.000000012% of the population of America). And the researcher was forced to conclude that parabens are “only part of the bigger picture” which is scientist speak for “I’ve spent nearly a decade of my life barking up the wrong tree.” Why was this conclusion made? Well 7 of the 40 participants didn’t even use any cosmetics in the underarm area, so they weren’t getting any parabens from those products and yet the tissue samples still contained parabens. No deodorant, no body lotion… do you know anyone who doesn’t use any deodorant, any lotion, anything at all under their arms, who ALSO wears face cream or make-up? Who bathes regularly?? I don’t. These things tend to come in groups – people who don’t use deodorant (including natural ones) or body lotion tend not to use other products. Such as shower gel. And that’s if we totally ignore her first study on the effect of parabens, published in January 2004, which had a sample of twenty participants (also in Britain) and didn’t have a control group (a group of people who didn’t have cancer, or who didn’t use parabens, for example, to check if their paraben level was the same), which is the study everyone keeps misquoting.

5. Research is driven by funding.  Without funding, people don’t research things.  Every job in science has to be paid for and accounted for.  Researchers have to justify why they need money in most fields.  By studying parabens, an oncologist (for example) would no longer need to depend on funding from public health bodies (such as the nearly-bankrupt British NHS, Britain being the country where all of the research on parabens was carried out by the same lead author) or charities specialising in cancer research, and instead, that researcher could open up a huge avenue of funding for the university they work for, from cosmetics companies (or subsidiary research institutes funded by straw-man companies funded by cosmetics companies) who stand to gain from the results – if those results mean they can sell more paraben-free products.  Additionally, these big companies don’t require the results to be very rigorous (unlike health organizations) as long as they’re sensational.  Just like the beauty blogger who sells her scruples for a free mascara, the researcher claims that “all opinions are my own” although in science-speak, that’s “the research method was robust.”  For good measure, the researcher could get other people they know to peer-review it (everyone in the same field knows each other).  This is sadly how a lot of corporate-relevant scientific research is being done nowadays – fund a university, they can claim they’re independent, the company might even guide the university’s researchers about sharing the results with the world to get maximum impact but because it came from a university lab, we believe every word as infallible.  This is how many people get a PhD these days!  It all depends how financially malleable the researchers are, but there are hints that this happens all over academia, especially in the research areas most relevant to the pharmaceutical, nutritional and cosmetics industries.  If the research had showed parabens were not implicated in cancer, the cosmetics companies would gain less overall.  When was the last time a newspaper ran a story that said “fresh broccoli doesn’t cause cancer” (for example)?  It doesn’t sell products.

Cashing In

So what, exactly am I trying to say, and who do I think I am that I can say this? Just like animal testing, the truth behind these “natural beauty” companies is surrounded by a mystique of obfuscation, corporate financial backing and bad science… which makes them no better than the regular cosmetics companies. I wrote this because I value honesty and I was compelled to show that you don’t need to spend large amounts of money on “paraben free” products. These companies are cashing in on our biggest fears.

I think that in order to really get to the heart of the paraben issue, we’ve got to examine why we react so strongly to allegations that products are dangerous: Fear.

The Role Of Fear

We fear cancer more than anything else because we feel powerless, most of us know someone who has died of cancer. Breast cancer is terrifying because we don’t know why some people get it and others don’t. We don’t know why cancer seems to be getting more common than ever before. Personally, I believe it’s down to processed food; I think there’s something about all those condiments, sauces, ready meals and so on. But that doesn’t net an attention grabbing headline, that’s never going to produce viral content, so nobody writes about it or researches it for long because they can’t get funding.  Research is driven by funding – especially at universities.  Who funds research?  Companies who stand to gain from it!

Look at the recent evidence linking bacon to cancer. What was the public’s response? Oh, I love bacon, I’m never going to stop eating bacon! It hardly made the news for a week before disappearing! These are the same people avoiding cigarettes and parabens! The reason I wanted the world to know what fuels the paraben myth is because people think that if they avoid parabens they get some kind of points, that they can then use to smoke, drink and eat bacon. It doesn’t work like that. The things you eat, drink and smoke are the real culprits here.

Japanese women have a lower incidence of breast cancer than anyone else in the world because of their diet. Tokyo is a very polluted urban environment; have you ever been there? Huge skyscrapers, people’s living space is tiny, ventilation is complicated, and yet those women are getting breast cancer less often than women living in the Great Plains. Do Japanese women use parabens? Of course they do! They may use some “traditional Japanese” products, but when was the last time you used a “traditional” product of your own nationality? The only traditional English beauty product I use is rosewater from the supermarket (the stuff in the beauty shop is full of alcohol – which DOES cause cancer when ingested), and if I’m honest, I don’t use it as often as I should.

By avoiding parabens, consumers are being given a false sense of control, a false sense of security, a false sense of everything’s fine. Clearly, everything is not fine. Vegetarians and meat eaters are getting cancer at similar rates. Natural organic homeopaths are getting cancer at the same rate as people using branded products full of parabens and “chemicals.” The lie is that we are safe if we avoid parabens and other molecules labeled as “nasties.” We are not safe. None of us are. That’s the truth about parabens: You can avoid any ingredient with more than ten letters in the name as much as you like, it’s not going to help you. All this is doing is letting the real culprits get away with murder for longer while the cosmetics companies get even richer than ever from people’s fear.

Cosmetics companies are experts in using fear to sell products – fear of looking old, fear of really being old… those anti-ageing creams are cashing in on people’s fear of mortality. Fear of being ugly, of not looking attractive… make-up cashes in on people’s fear of being alone, people’s fear of rejection. The cosmetics industry has a long track record of subtly using fear to motivate women to buy their products. I’m not telling you to start buying products full of parabens, or to stop buying cosmetics; you should look how you want to, but you need to be aware of the truth about parabens. Avoiding parabens is not going to save you. We will all get old. We will all be alone sometimes. We will all die one day. And that’s the real truth about parabens.  It’s a shame everyone’s so busy being scared of parabens to understand what’s really at play here.


Gold, Books and Panties

Gold, Books and Panties

This afternoon, I was going through a box of accessories that I found in the bottom of my wardrobe.
The majority of it was shoeboxes that either did or did not contain the correct style and quantity of shoes. That has now been sorted, and the bottom of my wardrobe is eagerly awaiting all the right boxes of shoes going back into it later today.

In one shoebox, I found loads of costume jewellery and pieces of jewellery that I’d made (I make jewellery) along with one or two “real” pieces that were made of gold. In amongst it all was a box from F Hinds that I bought in late 2012. It was supposed to contain a 9 carat gold bangle that I only ever wore the once. I always kept it very carefully put away ready for special occasions. I took it out to have a look at it. It’s been stored in its original box all this time.

The big blob of corrosion is center top.
The big blob of corrosion is center top.

As you can see from this photo, it’s got a huge green glob of corrosion on it. What you can’t see are the additional splodges that almost look like grease spots on the surface of the gold, which are all over the bangle.

Second photo, so you can see it's not a trick of the light.
Second photo, so you can see it’s not a trick of the light.

Let’s just think about this for a minute. If treated correctly, hollow gold, solid gold, even gold plate and rolled gold (and gold fill) should all be able to last a lifetime.

I bought a couple of Gold Fill bracelets from China at the same time as this bangle, and I also bought a gold plated watch. Guess what? The Gold Fill and the gold plate are both still in perfect condition. All I can see from the evidence in front of me is that F Hinds must be making inferior jewellery. To the mass produced Chinese stuff. Whuuut??

This is the gold plated watch.  As you can see there's no corrosion here.
This is the gold plated watch. As you can see there’s no corrosion here.

I feel very shocked and let down that a reputable high street jeweller is making and selling jewellery of such poor quality (and let’s face it, they don’t sell it at Argos prices). You think you’re going to get something of higher quality from them because of the price of their items and the fact they have a fancy high street storefront. Sadly, because they only have a 12 month guarantee on their items, and I’ve only just discovered the problem, they won’t refund, exchange or even give me store credit.

Just to make absolutely certain that this wasn’t a gold chloride compound (God only knows where the chlorine would have come from when it’s been in a box in a box unless there’s chlorine emissions from the packaging they sell it in), I decided to heat the bracelet gently on the stove. This should decompose gold chloride back to solid gold and chlorine gas (making it look as good as new). I heated it for about three minutes then allowed it to cool. I took photos during and after the process.

Definitely not a gold chloride compound, this shows that another metal may be present or that the alloy did not form properly.
Definitely not a gold chloride compound, this shows that another metal may be present or that the alloy did not form properly.

It didn’t change, and there was definitely no chlorine smell, which would have been a key sign that any reaction was taking place.

I have a silver ring which I bought from H Samuel in 2007 that hasn’t got one single speck of corrosion on it, and silver is supposed to tarnish more quickly than gold. If you remember anything from school chemistry, you should know that gold is less reactive than silver, because gold is almost completely unreactive. If you buried a lump of gold in the ground, it should look the exact damn same in 1000 years’ time. There is a litany of evidence of this actually happening. The gold in the pyramids of Egypt are about 4,000 years old and they have plenty of gold in them, in perfect condition. It’s not a fluke, either. As an archaeology graduate and a chemistry-specialist science teacher, I actually cannot believe that anyone has managed to make a gold that corrodes. This gold was hallmarked and therefore should not have corroded like this.

I can’t say all their jewellery will be the same. Perhaps my bracelet just had a manufacturing defect, but if this is the case it should have a guarantee period that allows time for the defect to become apparent, because corrosion to a metal doesn’t happen overnight (unless you dunk it in aqua regia). Even though it’s an alloy (because it’s 9 carat not 24 carat) it should not corrode like this. I feel like I’ve lost something that was special to me. What I will say, however, is that I’m really REALLY glad I didn’t buy my wedding ring from them – their diamonds are only guaranteed for 2 years and their other jewellery is only guaranteed for 12 months. So I’m going to take my custom elsewhere in the future because I am totally unwilling to pay over the odds for jewellery that’s designed to fail after 12 months, and I don’t feel I can trust them now. That bracelet cost a lot of money.

I never in a million years thought that jewellery could be part of the Planned Obsolescence manufacturing movement.

On a brighter note, I have managed to downsize my jewellery (mostly costume anyway) to only contain the things that fit into my jewellery box, with everything else separated into “throw or donate” piles, and the things that I no longer want will be donated to charity shops. As for the rolled gold bracelet, I will give it to the PDSA charity shop (they help pets who need vets), in the hope that someone will see its condition and pay a reasonable price for it, and it will probably make them very happy to own, whilst also giving valuable funds to a charity that helps animals.

We also got rid of 180 books yesterday along with four bags of clothing that were the culmination of my book downsizing project over the last few weeks – I’ve been reading the first 10 pages of every book in the house to decide whether to keep it or not, after I’d taken as many as I could be sure of to the charity shop (about 100 that I knew I didn’t need to check, they just left the house). This generated about 230 books to get rid of. We had a book sale last Saturday to get rid of any to people who might want them, and have gotten rid of the remainder yesterday, leaving us with a few that people are going to pick up at some point in the near future. If they aren’t collected within 7 days, we are donating them as well (but there’s only about 50 waiting now).

We got rid of all but the pile on the far left, as well as some bags of clothing (not shown).  We took them to the charity shop to pass on to other people.
We got rid of all but the pile on the far left, as well as some bags of clothing (not shown). We took them to the charity shop to pass on to other people.

230 books decluttering minimalism

The difference on the bookshelves is profound. There’s now room for all of our books on the ceiling bookshelves, so we can either get rid of the rest of our bookcases or put different things on them, such as any number of displaced objects that don’t have a home because they never got given a place when we moved in. *saddest face*

Another thing I did this week was to finally go through the socks and panties and downsize from the big tub to these two small baskets, one for socks, one for panties. I know my previous post on this topic was from a travel angle, but when I think that nomads manage to live with their travel packing 365 days of the year, I think I can probably cross apply the panty-sock thoughts to my actual daily life. If I’ve made a terrible mistake I’ll be streaking starkers to Marks and Sparks for a new set of undies any day now…

The answer to the eternal question of underwear.
The answer to the eternal question of underwear.


It turns out you need far less than I had (who didn’t see that coming), and I’ve now got about two weeks’ supply of both, while still keeping variety (e.g. tights, stockings, socks) because I don’t want to wear everything that I have in a precise rotation of clothing (that’s way too prescriptive for me), I simply wanted a functional set of objects that had me covered for every type of clothing that I own. Now I just need to get into the habit of doing the laundry more regularly. Having said that, a lot of the stuff I threw out was things I haven’t worn in a long time, or I balk at the idea of wearing if I ever pull it out, so I think I’ve probably been wearing exactly what I’ve kept anyway, so it might not affect my laundry-doing habits.

And here are the losers.  They all went to the bin because I can't stand the idea of second hand underwear.
And here are the losers. They all went to the bin because I can’t stand the idea of second hand underwear.

I’m going to go and put the washing machine on now.