Parabens are common preservatives used in cosmetic industry. Chemists love them because they are proven effective and can be used globally. Typically, chemists will put methylparaben in water phase, and propylparen and or butylparaben in the oil phase to preserve the efficacy. In the last 8-10 years, there are some carcinogenic linkage of methylparaben in rat studies thus there is a trend of moving away from the formulation of parabens.
Using parabens or not has been a struggle for chemists as the choices of preservative systems are limited for use globally. The natural preservatives tend to have pH restriction or can not survive the challenge tests. For me, there was a point that I’d rather have well-preserved products than products that can grow bugs. However, things have changed when there are numerous studies in Asia proven- methylparaben is the culprit for stinging sensation on the skin.
Asian tend to have more sensitive skin because we are lack of certain genes (NQ01 deficient) and more prone to irritants from polluted and or congested environment in general. Asian people also work longer hours compared to the rest of the world. Stress certainly plays a role in skin sensitivity. It was surveyed by major Japanese companies that at least 30% of Japanese people claim they have sensitive skin. They don’t get irritation. They don’t get redness but they sting and burn when topical emulsions/ cosmetics are applied on the skin.
In America, the stinger test will be using lactic acid on the side of nose to test for reactions. In Asia, almost everyone will react to lactic acid. The standard “sting test” material is 0.15% of methylparaben. Note that there is no standard protocols for stinging tests. However, since this is a prevalent issue, you can see companies in addition to saying- allergy tested, dermatologist tested, they now say “stinging-test performed”.
So, if you have sensitive skin, if you tend to “sting” when you apply certain skin/cosmetic products, perhaps methylparaben is in the product. Again, a great preservative for chemists but may not be good for your skin in addition to the bad press. It is not a BANNED ingredient or family but certainly not to overlook for people with sensitive skin concerns.
Ginger King, Cosmetic Chemist, Beauty Boss