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.

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A Little Clarification About My Blog:

1. I don’t get free lipstick and I am not PR friendly (I don’t work with any  brands).

2. I have never published a paid post on my blog.

3. I write about whatever the damn hell I please.  My remit is joy and understanding, these are the purpose of my blog; sometimes other stuff for variety.

4. When that meshes with talking about a product I bought that actually worked to solve a problem I had, I drop an Amazon link so I can get a commission for matching people’s problems with solutions.  It doesn’t affect the price you pay and comes from their profit.  I am a member of Amazon Associates USA, as I have stated in both my “about me” and “contact me” pages, and referred to in a number of posts.  I have been using Amazon Associates for 21 days so far, since about 11pm (my time) on New Year’s Eve, and so far it’s netted me about $10 which is about £6.  At the end of February I will re-evaluate whether I feel this has been a successful venture or whether I’m keeping my association with Amazon.

5. I currently ONLY have links to Amazon Associates USA on my four most popular blog posts.  All other links to Amazon (e.g. pictures of rabbit hutches) are just normal links and I don’t earn money from them.  I felt this was ethical.  I never link to a product I haven’t paid for and found useful.  If it doesn’t meet both of these criteria, I don’t link to it.

6. Amazon and Amazon Associates have literally no control over my creative content (I’m not sure they’ve ever seen it) and I do not now, nor have I ever, written posts with the sole purpose of making money from affiliate links.  All the articles that currently have links in them are articles that I wrote many months ago, I wrote them to help people, and they have been here on my site for all that time with NO AFFILIATE LINKS.  Then one day I decided to run an experiment to see how well Amazon Associates USA worked with my current traffic compared to how well it had worked over a sample time period about six months ago (when there were zero clickthroughs i.e. I made absolutely no money) when I had significantly less traffic.

7. I will write an article with my recommendations/otherwise about Amazon Associates USA when I have had enough time to fully evaluate it.  I have no British affiliate links or links for any other country because 97% of my traffic comes from America, from search engine queries (I did some math today).

8. I am planning on charging people to post their links or infographics on my site as of next month, because quite frankly I don’t want to post 99% of the links and infographics people email me about, and I thought this would make people think about whether their link was really appropriate to my blog before contacting me.  I have made this clear on my contact me page.  All links currently on my blog are ones I found myself and I will make it clear if/when I accept payment for any link or infographic.  I will also still be just as selective.

9. I also make money whenever anyone buys a copy of any of my books, although I do not use Amazon Associates affiliate links to promote these as I feel that would be a conflict of interest.  I make money from book sales via royalties paid by my publishers.  As far as I am aware, none of my blog readers have bought copies of any of my books and it doesn’t bother me one bit.

The whole point of yesterday’s article was to try to tell new bloggers, particularly those wanting to start a beauty blog, that there’s another way to blog.  That they don’t have to copy what everyone else does, they don’t have to accept free products in exchange for their integrity.

I want the internet to shift it’s balance in favour of talented and thoughtful content creators instead of people writing any old crap to make a quick buck or get a free lipstick, and I was trying to say that, if you’re creative, you can find other ways to monetize your site, and you can find other definitions of success beyond how much money/how many followers/how much free stuff you get.  The success of helping people or explaining something they didn’t know, or bringing joy to someone else’s life, were specific examples I can think of.

I have since yesterday been contacted by several individuals asking me how I work with PR people, do they tell me what to say etc etc.  I will reiterate:

I have never worked with a PR company or written a post about a product in exchange for either a free product or any sort of payment or discounted product.  I do not let PR companies draw my attention to products either.  I wrote before about why I don’t do this and how I feel it biases the sample (of products being reviewed online) unfairly in favour of companies with the biggest promotional budget.

I hope that clears things up so we can get back to normal because I got a new bunny last night and he is awesome and I wanted to post bunny pictures today but felt I needed to clear this up first.

I would like to also assert that I do not get paid by my rabbits to talk about them.

New bunny timmy1