So what exactly are parabens? Let's start from scratch. Hey, it'll be a great review of some basic organic chemistry for those of you who've had it!
First of all, the name paraben is best broken down to "PARA" & "BEN". "Para" denotes the position of the groups attached to the benzene ring. See the image below.
Look at the images of parabens on top to see how the two added (non-hydrogen) groups are placed at opposing end of the ring, the "para" arrangement. Great. Now "ben" comes from the benzene ring.
But to be really technical: these are alkyl esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acids! Look at the "R" in the title image of parabens. This is just a symbol that represents either a methyl (one carbon goup) for methylparaben, an ethyl group (2 carbons), and so on.
Before this seems too technical
These structures are not all that "synthetic", in face many natural substances have similar chemical formulas.
WHAT ARE PARABENS USED FOR?
They're well known and long used preservatives. They've been used to preserve everything from shampoos to creams to even food. They've been around longer than most other preservatives on the market today, a lot longer actually. They have been around since the 1920's.
WHY ARE THEY SO POPULAR?
They have been a preferred preservative for a multitude of reasons. They are easy and economical to produce. They are excellent at preventing growth of bacteria and fungi. Parabens are known as broad spectrum preservatives, because they are effective at preserving products from a large spectrum of microorganisms. One of the best features of parabens is that they are effective preservatives at only a fraction of a percent. They are also extremely stable at a variety of conditions. These are all some of the reasons why parabens are found in so many and such a wide range of personal products.
SOME IMPORTANT FACTS TO KNOW
Parabens are actually one of the most researched cosmetic ingredients to day and this is because they are so ubiquitous in personal skincare products.
coming next: PART 3: What are people saying about Parabens?