Paraben-free claims could backfire in 2010

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cosmetics

Eat less chocolate, start going to the gym, cut down on the alcohol, boycott paraben-containing cosmetics…

January 1 will have seen a number of resolutions for the coming year. Although we are familiar with resolutions relating to diet and fitness, number four may have been adopted with more festive fervor this year than the cosmetics industry would have wished for.

Although much of this can be put down to misinformation and media hype, the blame does not totally lie at the door of ignorance and scare stories.

Many companies have been quick to pick up on the mileage of plying the concerned consumer with ‘free from’ products, particularly in the case of parabens, even though the official line is that they pose no health risk.

Beiersdorf, for example, offers a number of paraben-free products including its basic skin moisturising cream that comes in the iconic blue tin with the white Nivea scroll. However, the company is by no means 100 hundred percent paraben-free.

Arguably, if the German personal care giant really believed parabens were a danger to human health it would not be offering them in any of its products.

Why then is the personal care company advertising one of its flagship products as paraben free? Because a growing consumer base - and therefore growing potential retail dollars – are looking for paraben-free products.

Beiersdorf is by no means alone, many of the major players now offer ranges that are marketed on the back of their paraben-free status, alongside paraben-containing formulations.

Consumer choice

The usual line here is ‘choice’. Consumers should be able to make an informed choice about whether they want to purchase paraben-containing cosmetics or not.

However, informed choice is impossible if there is no information. And, although the body of research, particularly animal studies, is growing, there is little evidence to suggest the compounds have any negative health effects on humans.

Furthermore, companies offering ‘free from’ products are inevitably fueling the idea that such ingredients should be avoided.

After all, one could be forgiven for thinking that if such a large number of companies are taking them out of products there must be something wrong with them, right? Well no, not if the rest of that company's brands still contain them.

New anti-paraben consumer

The paraben-free products offered by many of these companies are likely to push more consumers to adopt an anti-paraben stance, in turn making the majority of products offered by the company unacceptable to this new consumer group.

When the tipping point is reached, and the industry is forced to seriously defend its use of an ingredient that is currently supported by large bodies of evidence, the plaintive cry of misinformation and media scare stories may fall on deaf ears.

Clearly, resolutions are not always kept, but the industry may well find itself forced to look the way it deals with contentious ingredients during the course of 2010.

Related topics Formulation & Science

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