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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

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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  • Mel

    December 28, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this. I had the same question but am too lazy to write in. I actually had the Philosophy gift set in my hand a couple of months ago and put it back because of the non-natural aspect. I’m a worrier like that. I’ll keep watching Philosophy for a change, but in the meantime I’ll check out your recommended alternatives!
    And tea tree oil has worked wonders for spot acne treatment for me.

  • Emily

    December 28, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    I’m sensitive to parabens in skin care products, and Philosophy never worked for me. The best thing I have found is the Toleriane sensitive-skin line from La Roche-Posay. This is a dermatologist skin care line, but you can get the products on or in some CVS stores, even. I like the foaming cleansing cream and the fluid moisturizer, but it depends on what your skin is like.

  • amber

    December 29, 2009 at 5:04 am

    I cannot recommend Mychelle cranberry cleanser enough.
    I get it at New Seasons in Portland and I’m pretty sure Whole Foods carries it too. It works soooo well at keeping my face clear without overdrying it. I’ve had the same bottle for over a year, a little goes a looong way.
    I use the Kiss My Face Peaches and creme moisturizer (has AHA’s that keep me from breaking out) as well as the Key Lime Moisture Shave (no more razor burn, Yay!)
    Good luck on your product search, it can be an expensive journey but there are good products out there. My best experiences came from asking the sales people at New Seasons for recommendations. Not only do they see what people buy and hear their feedback, but they get a lot of samples themselves.
    Speaking of samples, Mychelle brand actually has sampler pack for purchase so you can try like fifteen of their products at once. That’s how I scored the cranberry cleanser.

  • Anya

    December 29, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Check out this link for a good scientific summary of why parabens in cosmetics are really not a concern:
    Just because something is natural, doesn’t *necessarily* mean it’s better for use on your skin (or anywhere in your body). Poison ivy, anyone?

  • Chris

    December 29, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Being pregnant and, thus, extra paraben-paranoid, I recently discovered the Korres line of products at Sephora. It’s all natural and comes from Greece. I LOVE all their stuff and so far so does every other female friend and relative I’ve recommended them too. Bonus is that their products come in trial packs so you can sample without having to spend a fortune on something you don’t like/doesn’t agree with your skin. As a (sadly) former Philosophy junkie, I heart Korres. Hopefully, Philosophy will get in the paraben-free game sooner rather than market-share later.

  • Lisa

    December 29, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    I have picky picky skin. I’ve done everything from prescription harsh chemicals to plain water and squeezing stuff straight from plants. Hehe. I’ve found that staying away from the harsh chemical laden stuff does make my skin happier (not perfect, but happier) but I don’t always have time in the morning for ….mashing up leaves. Enter Earth Science Almond Aloe fragrance free (and paraben free) moisturizer ( I found it by accident… and my skin LOVES it. It is like lithium to my bipolar oily/dry acne/wrinkled skin. And hello, it’s less than $10/bottle (and way less than that on That’s cheaper than what I was spending on potting soil :). It’s not a miracle cream, and I’m not sure about some of the other chemically sounding ingredients, but it is paraben free and it simply keeps my picky skin happy and looking a little better, which actually is kinda a miracle.

  • shannon

    December 29, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    The environmental working group has a fabulous cosmetics safety database available at: This is a well respected / reliable resource for anyone who is concerned about the ingredients in their cosmetics, hair care, or baby care products.
    and no… I don’t work for them! Just an avid (and concerned) cosmetics user, who also works in her state’s public health department

  • Sabrina D

    December 29, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    And for kids skin check out the little doc’s line at circle of friends ( It works better for my daughter than cetaphil did and is organic and paraben free–we love the calming cream and the cooling spray is great in the summer if you get to much sun!) We love all their products!

  • Daisy

    December 29, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    I really like the Say Yes to Carrots brand sold at Walgreens that is paraben free. I’ve tried a bunch of their products & give the lip balms and body lotion a big thumbs up. I lick my lips a lot so I try to use more natural lip balms but a lot of them don’t work- but the Say Yes line is awesome.
    And I have to ask…you mentioned mineral oil being the target of scare tactics. I’ve heard all the scare tactics on it (deathly afraid to use it!) so I’m curious if you know of a good website to get the real scoop. Thanks!

  • Sabrina D.

    December 29, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    A great option for adults are Suki products, all natural organic food quality ingredients. I especially recommend the lemon/sugar scrub! It is fabulous if you are looking for items for sensitive skin that are natural!

  • Frema

    December 29, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    Another reader here dying to get your take on ingredients in skin care products but was too lazy to write in. I went through a huge personal crisis this year after learning about parabens and other toxins used in mainstream baby products, and while there are a few we use grudgingly because the natural alternatives don’t work as well (Desitin diaper cream, for example), my husband and I are trying to eliminate as many of these from our house as possible, for the kids and for us. My former favorite product lines (Philosophy, Aveeno, Joico) were loaded with parabens and other ingredients that were too high in number and too close to the top of the label for my liking. I agree that exposure in small amounts from one product is generally harmless in terms of short-term side effects, but the more products we use that have them in the first place, the greater chance for long-term problems like allergies/reactions/potential cancer risk.
    In terms of products that work really well for us, the kids get a lot of Burt’s Bees, California Baby, and Earth’s Best. Nature’s Baby also has a great conditioner we use on our two-year-old daughter’s hair. For me, I use BB’s facial cleanser that works pretty well, and I have acne-prone skin, so that’s saying a lot. I have an Aveda moisturizer that I like, and their hair care products are pretty good, if pricey. I’m still working on replacements for make-up, but I don’t wear it that often and I have a ton of existing product that I don’t want to throw away, so finding alternatives is not a priority right now.
    It’s overwhelming to pay attention to labels and really hard to make decisions about which type of ingredients you will and will not tolerate being used on your body. My goal will never be to eliminate parabens/toxins completely from everything, but the less of them I encounter, the happier I will be.
    Thank you for sharing your opinion. Because of your long-standing love for Philosophy, I kind of figured where you stood, but it’s great to see the topic addressed here.

  • amieable

    December 30, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    I also recommend MyChelle products. I have a soft spot for the Burt’s Bees line, but their face products don’t work very well at all, and many surprisingly are loaded with lots of fragrances which are often worse for sensitive skin than parabens.
    MyChelle, however, is a line that focuses on face products that work instead of froofroo food sounding fun stuff (that may not work). It seems like many “natural” brands throw a food item in the name of the product and expect us all to clamor for it. The MyChelle eye cream works as well for me as the Philosophy, the face washes are awesome (but kind of pricey) and they have different formulas for skin type (the honeydew works well for my sensitive skin). Their moisturizers are good too (The “Revitalizing Night Cream” is awesome!).
    Thanks for answering this Amalah. I hope there are more questions in the future about natural skin care because it opens up the dialogue for all of us readers to chime in and recommend products to each other! The EWG website is helpful, but they list so many obscure products that aren’t sold in any of our local stores. If people get on here and comment, then it narrows it down. I will be willing to special order a product if people recommend it.

  • Janna

    December 30, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    I can also recommend the La Roche-Posay Toleraine line. I had a BIG reaction to the Olay regenerist moisturiser & the Toleraine cleared that up in a couple of days. They have both a light moisturiser (which I use in summer) and a heavier moisturiser with shea butter (which I use in the winter). Great stuff.

  • Tracy H.

    December 30, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    I discovered Avalon Organics while looking for organic baby gifts for an earth conscious friend. They have everything from skin care, hair & bath products and baby products. I think everything is very reasonably priced and according to their website they went paraben free in 2008. I usually order their products from, they seem to have the best prices.

  • jodifur

    December 30, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    I’ve been interested in trying Burt’s Bees skin care. Thanks for your take.

  • Tasha

    December 30, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Vanicream is a great moisturizer and free of almost everything. It was recommended by my son’s dermatologist for his eczema and the only thing I’ve found that really works well. Not too expensive either.

    • Elysia

      September 11, 2014 at 6:07 am

      Just wanted to mention, my derm also recommended Vanicream but while it is paraben-free, it’s not remotely natural and contains other ingredients that are just as if not more concerning than parabens (petroleum and propylene glycol to name 2). Sorry 🙁 Still on the hunt for a natural alternative to Vanicream/Cetaphil cream…

  • Amanda

    December 31, 2009 at 11:57 am

    I have not ever used Philosophy products, so I can’t offer a comparison. But I started using the Juice Beauty line at Sephora several months ago and I LOVE it! My skin has never looked or felt better, it’s relatively economical, and it’s natural. Like many of the brands found at Sephora, you can buy packs of sample products for different concerns – aging, balance issues, etc.

  • Lori

    December 31, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    I’ve switched the REN line of skincare, which appear to be free of a bunch of stuff, but (big downside) are expensive. My skin likes them better than the philosphy stuff, which are just ok for me. For the kids, I use California baby –like Amy, I’m willing to spend more to avoid parabens, etc, as well as the slight rashs my older daughter gets from johnson’s, aveeno, method …

  • Terri

    January 4, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    My child’s skin reacts very bad with paraben laced baby products. Her baby eczema just inflames and it seem her itching never stops. I have seen better results with the California Baby line and some of the Avalon Organics.

  • Bryna

    January 6, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Try Lush! My sister got a holiday job there (and has since been let go) this year, and we’ve been trying out all of the products since she got a really nice discount. My sister and I both have really troublesome skin, we’re in our mid-20s and that teenagery acne still hasn’t gone away…well, until now. This stuff has worked miracles. I’ve never tried any other “high-end” facial care stuff, because of the cost, so I can’t compare it to Philosophy or anything like that, but I can tell you its almost all preservative free and also that I love it. One of the things they do to avoid using preservatives is make their products solid as much as possible (so the face wash I use is actually in bar form), which also has the added environmental benefit of allowing them to reduce packaging. (Apologies for sounding like a commercial: I helped my sister “study” so she could know enough to sell products. But I do legitimately like their stuff.) The lotions also work really well, by the way. And the store smells amazing.

  • Danae

    April 1, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    Re. The above comment – Lush products are lovely but a brief look at their ingredients shows that many of them are loaded with parabens… they’ve got a good marketing gimmick going but you need to be careful what products you get; I’m sure some are fine, others are not.

    • Alexis

      January 27, 2015 at 10:03 am

      I agree with being careful with Lush.  They include a number of ingredients that are not purely natural.  And some ingredients that are irritants for various skin conditions, eczema, seborrhea, etc.  

      Also, their sales people sound knowledgeable and confident but read the ingredients and judge for yourself. I have had them recommend products that contain the wrong ingredients for my condition multiple times. 

      Unfortunately the comment above validates my point.  No matter how dedicated of a student, how can they be well versed in both chemistry and dermatology as temporary holiday retail help?

  • Shannons

    November 4, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    Arbonne is awesome.

  • Sarah

    June 6, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    I have tried many products and I am very particular of what I put on and in my body. The best line I have ever tried and am still using is Arbonne. No mineral oil, paraben and PABA free, no dyes or perfumes, does not test on animals, no animal byproducts. Only plant based. I have been using now for 10 years and people always guess I look 10 years younger. Thank you Arbonne!