Back to science: Will COVID-19 encourage consumers to change their tune about parabens?

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

 Adeeper understanding of hygiene and contamination brought about by COVID-1 outbreak may validate the use of parabens. ©GettyImages
Adeeper understanding of hygiene and contamination brought about by COVID-1 outbreak may validate the use of parabens. ©GettyImages

Related tags paraben-free Paraben COVID-19

Preservatives have long been vilified as a ‘harmful’ ingredient, but a deeper understanding of hygiene and contamination brought about by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak may well validate their usage.

Shinji Yamasaki is carefully optimistic that more consumers will emerge from the other side of the crisis more “enlightened”​ about the bacteria, viruses and fungi that are in our daily lives.

“Most people do not fully comprehend to what extent bacteria, viruses and fungi are present. It's not a very pleasant thing to talk about but it covers all of our surfaces, including our own bodies,”​ said the founder and CEO of Singapore-based skin care brand Re:erth.

Yamasaki believes a majority of people were not aware of the seriousness of contamination before the pandemic.

“If you don't work in an environment where strict hygiene and sanitation protocols are necessary, you don't really think about things like that too much. I think that knowledge of the issue of hygiene and contamination is going to be a very good learning experience for people.”

In particular, he hopes this knowledge will trickle into the beauty industry and consumers will be able to understand why companies like Re:erth continue to use preservatives like parabens even though there is so much controversy surrounding it.

“My hopes are that there will be more understanding of why companies use preservatives in beauty or even food products.”

Since its launch in 2017, Re:erth has experienced a never-ending wave of questions from consumers about their usage of methylparaben.

“We get questions about our use of parabens all the time and we don’t hide it. When they ask, we just give them the facts. I love it when consumers ask me questions about the products because it gives me the opportunity to educate them on the realities of [not using preservatives].”

However, Yamasaki noted that he takes issue with cosmetic companies that use terms like paraben- or preservative-free to sell their products.

In the past few years, he has observed more brands touting preservative-free claims, which he describes as “mind-boggling”.

“Parabens are one of the most well-researched preservatives on the planet and it's been used for over a hundred years. They are in the majority of condiments, food, fruits, vegetables, leaves – it’s a naturally occurring thing.

“So, it infuriates me when beauty companies do it because they are blatantly lying to their customers just to maintain an image they have created,” ​he said.

Additionally, he added that consumers have a lot of misconceptions about ‘safer’ preservatives.

A benefit of using parabens is that the concentration necessary to have an effective anti-bacterial, anti-fungal formula is very low, said Yamasaki.

“What consumers may not realise is that a product may be paraben-free and there are good preservative alternatives out there, but a majority of the time, the amount you have to put in to have the equivalent preservative capacity is very high. Would you rather use a product that 0.2% or 20% preservatives?”

Fragrance comeback

Yamasaki hopes that this, in turn, will affect how consumers view other ‘harmful’ ingredients like fragrances.

The brand uses fragrance in its products because it takes an experiential approach to the skin care routine.

Additionally, Yamasaki firmly believes most consumers would not buy a completely fragrance-free product.

“Most people don’t seem to realise that the same fragrances are in – not just their perfume – but in shampoos, dish soaps and laundry detergents.”

He clarifies that some people are genuinely sensitive to fragrances and he is sympathetic to their plight.

“There are people who are hypersensitive to fragrances; I completely understand that and feel bad for them. But most of the time, people who want fragrance-free products are not those cases – it’s like gluten-free [food], most of those people do not actually have celiac disease.”

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