Posted by: soapchix | February 20, 2008

What’s the difference between Phthalates and Parabens?

The quick and easy answer to your question: “Are parabens and phthalates in my kids shampoo? Are they the same thing, or different? How can I find out, and what’s the big deal anyway?” We’ve been getting lots of emails about this. And, to make this topic less technical, I’m adding pictures.

So. Let’s go!

Parabens are added to soaps and shampoos to act as a preservative. Basically, to give the product a longer shelf life. Their use is widespread and ongoing, due mainly to the fact that they are cheap and have a long history of use. Lately, though, there has been new research that suggests a few problems with using parabens topically. These reports raise the issue that parabens are carcinogens (increasing breast cancer from paraben use in deodorant) and xenoestrogens (an estrogen increaser…obviously a problem if you’re a male).

However, the scientific community remains sure that these concerns are invalid, and parabens are safe to use both in foods and in cosmetics.

Soapchix Ash and her soapdude are both scientists, and they both value a good scientific study as much as the next guy (or, enjoy it more, if the next guy is me.). For us, it comes down to exposure. In small doses, we’re sure the scientific community is right…there is nothing to worry about. But what they haven’t explored is how many parabens we are exposed to in a given day, using food and cosmetics that are chock full of this stuff. Additionally, babies absorb almost 3 times the chemicals in soaps & bath products that adults do. The thought is enough to make Ash and I want to limit our exposure to these as much as possible. So, when we see parabens on a label, we don’t buy it. When we make our Wild Child baby products, we don’t use them.

Phthalates are used in cosmetics mainly to bind the fragrance oils together. So, when looking at a label, don’t look for ‘phthalates’, look instead for ‘fragrance’. Companies guard this little secret with their lives. As we’ve been calling around trying to find fragrances without phthalates we’ve run into a stone wall of silence, with companies saying they don’t disclose that because the information is ‘a trade secret’. We’ve managed to find a supplier of fragrance oils for our Wildly Soap products so that soon, it won’t be a problem for us.

We have outlined the problems of phthalates in baby and bath products here and here and here and here, and we don’t have the energy to outline it all again. But, suffice it to say, if The Soapchix were comic book superheroes, then phthalates would be our super villain. We just don’t like them AT ALL, and don’t think they have a place in any product for kids or adults.

And now, for the promised pictures. Here’s a quick tutorial for what we Soapchix look for on a baby shampoo/bath soap. Parabens are in yellow, and phthalates (in the evil form of fragrances) are in orange. If we see any of these on the labels, we put it back and move on.

I pulled a Dateline and secretly took these pictures at my local Grocery store, since I don’t have this stuff around in my house.

Phthalates and Parabens in Johnson's Baby Shampoo

Phthalates and Parabens in Johnson's Baby Shampoo

On a particularly stressful day, when your schedule has been blown to bits, and your kids are convinced the house is the Nevada desert and they are nuclear bombs, take a second to funnel your frustration towards the greater good: call or email Johnson’s & Johnson’s, and tell them to take parabens and phthalates OUT of their baby products.



  1. This is a great post! Mind if I point readers to it from Safe Mama? I think it’s a terrific explanation and the photos are perfect! Haha! Good job… *stealth*

  2. Thanks Kathy! Link away…the more that women and moms are aware of this, the quicker the industry will change for the better!

  3. great post, thanks for sharing this

  4. What a great post! I just received my order of your wonderful soap and am intoxicated by its wonderful smell. Can’t wait to use it. Thank you for making this safe, wonderful product!

  5. […] in Suave Baby Shampoo, anyway? Inquiring minds want to know…if phthalates, parabens, and other no good chemicals are in Johnson’s & Johnson’s Baby …, then what is in my other baby […]

  6. This is a great post and the photos of the baby shampoo bottles are great visuals!! I was going to call Johnson & Johnson tomorrow and now have more information to state my concern. Thanks for this info! I will link your entry in my blog to pass along the info to Itsabelly Baby Concierge’s viewers and new parents.

  7. […] Soap Dish Some entries you might want to check out: Johnson’s Baby Cream–not so good for baby What’s the difference between Phthalates and Parabens? Feeling ambitious? Make your own! Soapchix Soap Making Tutorial (wish my best friend Holly lived […]

  8. This is fantastic post, I wondered if I could get your permission to post the photo of the johnson products you took on my blog! Thanks for educating people on this important subject.

  9. Thanks so much for your work on laying this out! I’ll be linking to you from my site, if that’s okay.

  10. […] What’s the difference between Phthalates and Parabens? […]

  11. […] What’s the difference between Phthalates and Parabens? […]

  12. […] What’s the difference between Phthalates and Parabens? […]

  13. […] * Phthalates are used in cosmetics mainly to bind the fragrance oils together. So, when looking at a label, don’t look for ‘phthalates’, look instead for ‘fragrance’. […]

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