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Parabens, Phthalates, and Silicones, Oh My!

Parabens, Phthalates, and Silicones, Oh My!

Though we may hear them mentioned frequently, can you actually say with certainty what parabens or phthalates or silicones are? And, furthermore, explain why having them floating around in your personal care products may not always bode well? To break down the how, what, when, where, and why of these frequently used ingredients, we turned to dermatologist and SEEN co-founder Dr. Iris Rubin.

“Parabens are preservatives used in personal care products to prevent bacteria or fungus from growing, thereby increasing product safety and shelf life,” says Rubin. Opinions on paraben safety are mixed (the preservatives have been associated with endocrine disruption and breast cancer) and the FDA continues to review published studies on their safety. While parabens are considered a non allergen and cases of irritation because of them are infrequent, SEEN decided to make its formulas paraben-free because of the potential health risk that they pose.

This group of chemicals is known as plasticizers and can be found in hundreds of products, including personal care products, fragrance, food packaging, household cleaners, and more. “The risks to humans have yet to be fully defined but there is concern for negative health effects, including endocrine disruption, affecting male fertility, and the possibility of increased cancer risk,” says Rubin. Because the majority of data has come from animal studies, the CDC wants more research to assess the impact on humans. Besides the potential health risks, there is also the potential, says Rubin, for skin irritation, which is why SEEN always formulates without phthalates.

“Silicones are synthetic polymers used in hair care products to condition, detangle, smooth the hair, and give it a silky shine,” says Rubin. While all that sounds wonderful for the hair, the primary issue with silicones is that they tend to build up. On the hair, that means that silicone can weigh it down, but on the skin that build-up can mean clogged pores. “Though there is conflicting data, I personally believe silicones have the most potential to clog pores in combination with other ingredients that they can trap on the skin,” adds Rubin. Because SEEN’s credo is skin-friendly hair care, you won’t find them in SEEN formulas either.

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