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Paraben-Free Skincare

By Amalah


Dear Amy,

I’ve been using Philosophy products for ages now, AND I LOVE THEM. My skin is clear and balanced and great. But…I don’t love parabens. In fact, they scare the crap out of me, and I’ve decided I want to cut them out of my skincare and cosmetics altogether.

This seemed like an easy task until it came to my beloved Philosophy products. What’s out there in the “natural” realm that works as well? I currently use the Purity wash, Hope in a Jar and Hope in a Bottle moisturizers (I break out around my period so I switch then) and When Hope is Not Enough eye cream. Oh, and I’m still occasionally using a Microdelivery Peel from like, two years ago. Because it still works. Probably thanks to the parabens. As you so often say, GAH. I want safe products, but I also don’t ever want to go back to the skin I had as a teenager.

What do you think about parabens? What can you suggest I try instead? (And yes, as soon as I send this question I’m off to write a plea to Philosophy to please please please go paraben free!)


Okay, let’s talk about parabens. Parabens are a synthetic preservative, used in a bajillion different skincare products to prolong the shelf life. Creams, cosmetics, soaps, haircare, you name it. They are used in small amounts and usually listed as the last one or two ingredients on the label.

Like preservatives in food, it’s essential for some products to contain a preservative. It just IS. Stuff would expire on the shelves before it sold and options would shrink as companies went under. However, natural preservatives exist. But parabens are the cheapest, easiest option, and are currently deemed perfectly safe for use in skincare and cosmetics. However, our country has some of the WORST government oversight when it comes to these products. Everybody and everything can make crazy absurd claims about what their product will do for you (or what their competitor’s product will do TO you, making it difficult to weed out real dangers from scary marketing angles, i.e. mineral oil)…and there’s not really anybody officially out there to protect us from the bullcrap.

What we know about parabens:

1) Some people are allergic to them. Okay then! I’m allergic to Bare Escentuals. So I don’t use their products. Moving on.
2) Parabens are not causing massive health problems, as millions of people use them every day with no reported side effects.
3) HOWEVER. Researchers are currently studying a link between breast cancer and parabens, as they were found in breast cancer tissue. The results have not yet been published.

Well then! Hold the phone. If you’re an avid ingredient reader, this song and dance sounds familiar. Bisphenol A, hormones in milk, genetically engineered ingredients, aspartame, artificial colors, flavors…the list of things that we’ve been presented as “safe” with little to no long-term research onto their effects on humans, the choice of what to do while the “research is underway” or the FDA “reevaluates,” the slow rocking in the corner because the whole world is out to kill us.
Most of the time, I totally take a better safe than sorry approach. Particularly anything involving my children. Whatever chemical or additive we’re talking about, I generally figure we’re just better off without it. But…I admit my vanity has more or less won the paraben argument, at least in regards to a small handful of products THAT JUST PLAIN WORK TOO WELL. If I have the choice between two things that I think work similarly well (like, say, a regular baby shampoo and Burt’s Bees), I will always go for the natural option, even if I’m paying a bit more.

But then I’ve got stuff that just works SO WELL and I’ve been unable to find an equivalent. So in the winter my boys get the occasional slather of Cetaphil and Curel to combat the awful itchy skin, because unfortunately I’ve spent a small fortune on natural alternatives and we all end up with unbearable eczema patches within a week or two. So for now, it’s California Baby and Burt’s as often as possible, but sometimes I just have to break out the big paraben-laden guns.

And Philosophy also falls in this category. I know the company is paying attention to the conversation — according to their website they are “actively seeking non-paraben preservatives” and “reformulating” original products that still contain them. So…I hope I can announce soon that they’ve joined the ranks of responsible companies and gotten rid of parabens. Hell, now has a HUGE “natural” segment of the store full of brands that exclude parabens, GMOs, phthalates, sulfates, synthetic fragrances and dyes and more. So if you’re looking for alternatives, this is a good place to start looking.

I have tried quite a few different skincare products, either because of parabens or price — and mostly both. I also dabble in sample sizes like a crazy person. While I have personally found nothing to be quite as effective (for MY skin, anyway), these are the closest runners-up (keeping in mind that there are other products that come even closer [Ahava, Murad] that likewise fail the paraben test):

For Purity Wash:
* Skyn Iceland Glacial Face Wash with Biospheric Complex
* Dove Facial Cleansing Cloths, Sensitive Skin (hardly fully “natural,” but free of parabens and synthetic fragrance)
* Desert Essence Thoroughly Clean Face Wash w/ Tea Tree Oil (for breakouts & blemishes)

For Hope in a Jar:
* Alba Aloe & Green Tea Oil Free Moisturizer
* Boscia Oil-Free Daily Hydration SPF 15
* Jurlique Balancing Day Care Cream

For Hope in a Bottle:
* Burt’s Bees Acne Moisture Lotion(I use it with my tinted moisturizer — it’s a tad drying on its own)
* DDF Mattifying Oil Control UV Moisturizer SPF 15

For Hope in a Tube:
* Boscia Intensive Eye Treatment
* Jurlique Purely Age-Defying Eye Cream

(Come ON, Philosophy! Don’t make us do this! We love you! Ditch the crappy parabens!)

Photo by jooanfossi

Published December 28, 2009. Last updated August 30, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected]

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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