Body Confidential on chemical-free skincare and 'dumping the junk'

Whether you follow the biggest beauty bloggers or simply dabble in drugstore trends, you’ve no doubt encountered the ‘clean’ beauty cult. Fuelled by the increasing wellness trend and the odd on-point rant from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, concerns over the ingredients of beauty products are sweeping the western world. And at the top of the hit list, it’s parabens.

A buzzword of late, parabens are chemical preservatives that prevent bacteria growth and increase product shelf life. However, the long-term effects of using such chemicals has raised concerns.

“There are research papers that show there may be a link between breast cancer and the use of parabens,” explains Dr Javed Hussain, Clinical Director and Dermatology Specialist at Manchester’s skin treatment clinic Neo-Derm. “But then there are some that disagree. There’s conflicting pieces of information on whether paraben use leads to the body producing Oestrogen more than it should, which can lead to breast cancer, but there has not been a conclusive study.”

Indeed, it is these concerns that drove Breast Cancer UK’s ‘Dump the Junk’ campaign in 2014, an initiative that hoped to raise awareness of the potentially dangerous side effects of parabens. Whilst parabens are officially approved for use under the Cosmetics Directive (76/768/EEC), the European legislation that regulates all cosmetics and toiletries, and over 75% of skincare products available to buy contain the preserving agent, there are still some that express concerns over their use.* Denmark has already banned two parabens in cosmetics for children under three years of age on the grounds of reproductive toxicity.**

...parabens can cause allergic reactions, irritation, dermatitis and rosacea

Woman Washing Her Hair With Shampoo 700

“It is important to clarify that not all parabens are legal,” continues Dr Javed. “Parabens are an umbrella term for different preservative chemicals. Some have been banned because there have been correlations between their use with skin irritation, cancer and skin damage.”  

“Generally speaking, when applied to normal skin, parabens are non-irritating and non-sensitising. However, for sensitive skin – or for people who have underlying and undiscovered skin conditions – parabens can cause allergic reactions, irritation, dermatitis and rosacea. Although there are only a small percentage of people who have paraben allergies in the UK.” 

Whilst the sceptics amongst us may wish to dismiss the dangers of parabens as an industry-churned fad, Dr Javed warns that consumers should pay attention to the ingredient.

“Sometimes it’s not about the initial paraben application, it’s a cumulative effect. You may not react to the paraben in the first week or month, but six months down the line your skin may start to react.”

"...more expensive creams are likely to be paraben-free, because parabens are cheap"

So, should we be avoiding parabens?

“There are many different viewpoints when it comes to parabens,” explains Dr Javed,“but I personally would suggest avoiding them, if you have the choice and finances. When it comes to cosmetics, you get what you pay for. So more expensive creams are likely to be paraben-free, because parabens are cheap and are more likely to be found in cheaper products. Whereas more expensive paraben-free products are likely to have organic preservatives instead. However, paying a slight premium for paraben-free products is a lifestyle choice.”

Going paraben-free is a choice that consumers themselves must make. But if you do want to detox and switch to more natural cosmetics, we’ve rounded up our favourite paraben-free products available on the high street.  

​Heliocare 360 Mineral SPF50 Suncream, £19.90


Jam-packed with antioxidants and clinically proven ingredients, Heliocare is a dermatologists’ best kept secret. The powerful formula is sourced from a fern found in the wilds of Central and South America. Harnessing the plant’s resilience against the harsh effects of free radicals in the environment, Heliocare has created a range of sun creams that have exceptional UVA and UV B protection, and are all paraben-free.

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​ The Body Shop Rainforest Volumizing Shampoo, £2


For a budget shampoo that is as good for your hair as it is the environment, this miracle formula from the Body Shop is a must. As well as being paraben-free, the shampoo is free from silicons, colourants and Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) – the chemical foaming agent that can lead to a dry, itchy scalp. 

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Alberto Balsam Organic Argan Oil & Jasmine Flower Scent Hair Collection, £1.50


The ‘Blends’ collection features a range of naturally-inspired shampoos, conditioners and hair sprays designed to combat common hair woes including frizz and volume. Plus, the packaging is fully recyclable and made from 25% recycled plastic. Pick up the budget-friendly blend from supermarket giants Asda and Tesco.

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Simple ‘Kind To Skin’ Refreshing Facial Wash Gel, £3.80


Simple’s kind-to-skin range is formulated with a careful blend of vitamins and ingredients, perfect for sensitive skin. In 2014, Simple launched a paraben-free collection, reinforcing the brand’s focus on gentle skincare.

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Aveeda shampure™ shampoo, £14.50


Aveeda’s organic plant-based formulas work wonders on any hair type. Infused with a calming mix of twenty-five flower and plant mixes, the brand’s entire shampoo line-up is free from chemicals.

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OGX Moroccan Argan Oil Shampoo, £2.50



Restore your locks to silky perfection with this precious blend of Moroccan Argan oil. Designed to nourish and revive your hair, the formula will protect your hair from everyday styling, without the use of sulphates or parabens.

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Kind Natured Volumising Rosemary & Mint Shampoo, £4.99


At 97% natural and tested on people, not animals, Kind Natured is a quality ethical brand you can trust. The volumizing shampoo is infused with added Ginseng to give your extra oomph. Available nationwide in Boots.

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Hanz De Fuko Natural Shampoo, £16


Rumoured to be used by David Beckham, LA based men’s brand Hanz De Fuko tackles men’s styling with paraben and sulphate-free formulas. Although the organic-based brand is best known for its hero product “Quicksand” – a dry shampoo meets styling wax hybrid – the range also features a shampoo and conditioner worthy of note. The careful blend of plant extracts and amino acids encourage optimum hair growth, whilst the clean, minimalist design gives a nod to premium haircare.  

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From soap-free body washes to eco-friendly sprays, Sanex was one of the first mass-market brands to launch gentle skincare products that are kind to both your skin and the environment. In 2011 the brand launched the Zero% collection, a range of shower gels and body foams focused on reducing the number of chemical ingredients in cosmetics.

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Label.M Therapy Rejuvenating Shampoo, £14.95


When it comes to top notch yet affordable haircare, Toni & Guy always delivers. Not only is the brand’s Label.M collection the official haircare partner of London Fashion Week, but it also offers a must-have elixir designed to combat the aging effects of a busy modern life. Just as the collagen in your skin depletes over time, Keratin fibres, which make up the overall structure of the hair's cuticle, tend to wear away, leading to structurally weaker, fragile hair. Label.M’s Therapy range is infused with white caviar to treat these adverse effects of ageing.