Parabens and phthalates often get a bad rap, and we’re told we should avoid these ingredients because of their potential health risks. But what are they really, and should there be cause for concern? In this episode of The Rogue Pharmacist, Ben Fuchs talks about some common parabens and other preservatives, whether there are natural alternatives, the effects these ingredients can have on the body, and why phthalates are showing up in cosmetics.
Associated Skin Care Professionals (ASCP) presents The Rogue Pharmacist with Benjamin Knight Fuchs, R.Ph. This podcast takes an enlightening approach to supporting licensed estheticians in their pursuit to achieve results-driven skin care treatments for their clients. You can always count on us to share professional skin care education, innovative techniques, and the latest in skin science.
Benjamin Knight Fuchs is a registered pharmacist, nutritionist, and skin care chemist with 35 years of experience developing pharmacy-potent skin health products for estheticians, dermatologists, and plastic surgeons. Ben’s expert advice gives licensed estheticians the education and skin science to better support the skin care services performed in the treatment room while sharing insights to enhance clients’ at-home skin care routines.
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0:00:00.2 Ben Fuchs: Calling all forward-thinking Aestheticians. It's time to redefine the art of skincare and embrace a revolutionary approach that begins with your client's skin cell health. I'm pharmacist Benjamin Knight Fuchs welcoming you to Truth Treatment Systems where beauty begins at the cell. We believe you're not just a beauty professional, you are a healthcare professional. You wanna make a positive difference and you wanna make a good living. And we will help you do both. We're here to support your out of the box thinking and empower you to question traditional products, outdated formulations, and old school ingredients.
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0:02:02.2 Maggie Staszcuk: Hello and welcome to ASCP and the Rogue Pharmacist with Benjamin Knight Fuchs. In each episode we will explore how internal and external factors can impact the skin. I'm Maggie Staszcuk, ASCP's Education Program Manager. And joining me is Ben Fuchs, skincare formulator and pharmacist. Hey, Ben.
0:02:22.3 BF: Hey, Maggie. Good to see you.
0:02:23.8 MS: Good to see you. Parabens, preservatives, and phthalates get a bad rap. And the message is we should avoid these ingredients because of their potential health risks but what are they really? And should there be cause for concern?
0:02:36.3 BF: Hmm, yes and no. 'Cause they are a cause for concern but there's a lot bigger things, there's a lot worse things out there. So what exactly are they? First of all, parabens are preservatives. They kill things. That's what a preservative does. It kills cells, specifically bacterial and fungal cells but there's really not that much from a cidal or a killing perspective. There's not much difference between skin cell or human cell and a bacterial cell or fungal cell. So, killing cells is gonna not have a good effect on your cells. Killing bacterial cells and fungal cells while necessary can definitely have an effect on your cells, which is not necessarily good. When I'm formulating I try to avoid preservatives entirely.
0:03:11.8 BF: I don't like working with preservatives. Sometimes you absolutely need them but if I can avoid them in a formulation, and if you're strategic and you're careful with formulations and you're kind of intelligent with how you formulate, and that seems like it would be a logical thing to be intelligent when you formulate. But unfortunately the science of formulation is transparent to the consumer and the professional even. And we don't really often think about the architecture of a formulation. It turns out that formulation technology and the science of formulation is templated. It's been templated for 150 years and the formulations we use today are basically the same formulations that Helena Rubinstein used when she started the modern skincare business 150 years ago.
0:03:51.4 BF: So while you would think formulations would be strategic, intelligent, creative, they're not because the bar is so low on entering the skincare business, anybody can enter the skincare business and they don't have to be intelligent and creative and have to figure out things when they're formulating. On the other hand when I'm formulating, I'm formulating to try to maximize benefits to my consumer, not just in terms of activity but also in terms of gentleness and non-activity, avoiding activity if it's a preservative type activity. That's number one. Number two, a lot of these chemicals, preservatives, parabens, and phthalates which are not preservatives, I'll tell you about those in a sec, are gender benders. They disrupt. And I think we've talked about endocrine disruptors, right?
0:04:39.1 MS: We have, yeah.
0:04:39.7 BF: Yeah. They disrupt hormone systems. They act like a foe hormones and they can sit in the hormone receptor. In addition, a lot of these kinds of molecules are fatty and they can enter into cell membranes and they can disrupt genetics. So between their ability to disrupt genetics, the ability to disrupt the endocrine system, they can wreak havoc on the body. So above and beyond the preservative, cidal. Cidal means to kill. Cidal nature of preservatives. They also have gender bending and mutation kind of effects that can be associated with cancer.
0:05:11.0 BF: For example, parabens are found in breast tumors and while parabens get a bad rap as being... You'll hear paraben free for example 'cause parabens seem to be a focal point for the negative implications of preservatives. A lot of preservatives can have these kinds of genetic disrupting effects. I've been hearing a lot about phthalates, I don't know if you have as well lately, over the last maybe months and maybe a year or two. You seem to hear a lot about phthalates and you'll see the term phthalate free on your cosmetics and shampoos, et cetera. Phthalates aren't really found in cosmetic products that much. They're found mostly in fragrances in cosmetic products. Phthalates have an ability to liquefy hard things, specifically plastics.
0:06:00.0 MS: That's where I've heard them, is that it has something to do with plastic.
0:06:03.0 BF: It softens plastics. I don't know if you've ever seen the IV bag. Have you seen an IV bag?
0:06:06.5 MS: Sure, yeah.
0:06:06.9 BF: You know it's kind of plastic but it's soft kind of pliable plastic. That softening of the plastic, of shower curtains for example or plastic but they're soft, that's phthalate that's doing that. So phthalates have an ability to soften plastics to make them more usable. They're also found in things cosmetic... Not cosmetic products but topical products that need to have solids that are sticky. So adhesives, things like hair gels or deodorants or a nail polish. Things that have a sticky nature or liquid.
0:06:43.4 BF: Usually sticky stuff is... If you looked at a sticky material, it have a certain solidity to it. In order to get it to go into a solution, like in a nail polish, they add phthalates. But the most common place we would find phthalates is in fragrances, perfumes and fragrances. And that's really where you run into a problem with phthalates and skincare products. If you see fragrance on your label, on your ingredient deck, that's not just fragrance, that's fragrance with something like a phthalate in it. And they don't have to put that on the ingredient deck. So you won't necessarily see phthalate on your ingredient deck. But it may be in the product, in the fragrance itself. And that's really the most notorious place where you will find phthalates in terms of skincare.
0:07:24.6 MS: Interesting. Is it possible that phthalates are leaching into your cosmetic from the container?
0:07:31.3 BF: A hundred percent. A hundred percent. Even in the IV bag or even in any kind of piping. That's really where we get the phthalate exposure is from leaching. Phthalates are loosely held to the plastic from a molecular stand-point. So anything you run through a tube, for example, or that's in a bottle or plastic wraps also. Like, if you microwave with plastic wrap or you microwave in a plastic container, those can release the phthalates into the food. And phthalate exposure, while it's very low in terms of one time or two times, in terms of the amount that you're getting out of the plastic, when you microwave it, over the course of the months and the years and the decades can accumulate. And phthalates are found in the urine and they're found in various excretions in the body, in a relatively high amount. And they have major effects on the reproductive system. They can cause cancer, and as I say, they can also be endocrine disruptors. Did you ever open up a package that had a shower curtain or something plastic and there's a sort of smell that comes out?
0:08:34.3 MS: Yeah.
0:08:34.5 BF: That's phthalate.
0:08:35.9 MS: Interesting.
0:08:37.6 BF: Yeah. So best bet, and this is what I do when I'm formulating, use as little ingredients on your skin as possible. You're not going to be able to avoid plastics in the hospital and plastics in your shower. And we're really surrounded with these things, but the things, the cosmetics that we use on our skin, you're putting them right on your skin. And so it's really best to kind of avoid a lot of ingredients. And this is why when I'm formulating, I'm always formulating with very few amount of ingredients and concentrated actives, so you only need one or two drops. We have this model in skincare where we slather things on. We all like to... We all like the feel of how it feels to rub a product on your skin.
0:09:14.1 BF: There's sort of a sensual nature to it, and you're activating various nerves in your skin that stimulate the secretion of happy hormones. Things like vasoactive, interstitial peptide, and serotonin, and these kind of chemicals that make us feel good. And it's nice to be touched, but unfortunately when you're doing it with a skincare product, you can interface with some stuff that you don't necessarily want to interface. So it's best to use as little skincare product as possible and get the maximum activity. And the best way to do that is to use highly active skincare products that have very few ingredients in them, things like vitamins mostly. And that's pretty much how I like to formulate.
0:09:49.8 MS: Are there... When we're talking about parabens and preservatives, are there natural alternatives?
0:09:54.8 BF: Yeah, there's natural alternatives to preservatives, but they tend to be expensive, so companies don't like to use them, and they're not quite as effective as the more toxic preservatives. They do have them, though. They require a little bit more formulation savvy, and they are more expensive. So you don't see them around, but there are alternatives. Yes, absolutely.
0:10:12.7 MS: That concludes our show for today, and we thank you for listening. But if you just can't get enough of Ben Fuchs, the ASCP's Rogue Pharmacist, you can find him at truthtreatments.com. For more information on this episode or for ways to connect with Ben Fuchs or to learn more about ASCP, check out the show notes.