Regardless of whether your gloss is classic red, baby-pink or punk purple, paraben free makeup is the phrase that’s on everyone’s lips these days.

Paraben free makeup is a hot topic because of controversy and strong emotions regarding some of the potential hazards of using parabens in the formulation of cosmetics and toiletries, including soap, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, skin care products and bath products. Parabens are preservatives which a growing number of researchers suggest may present health risks. These anti-fungal and anti-bacterial compounds are blended into a staggering array of commercial products, including foods, pharmaceuticals, and household cleaning products.  Parabens are used in makeup and foods, for example, to reduce spoilage, increase shelf-life (especially after opening), and of course increase profitability for the manufacturer.

Paraben free makeup may be a safer alternative than conventionally produced makeup when you consider that parabens have been identified as estrogenic, meaning that they mimic the function of estrogen, and some studies indicate that parabens disrupt normal hormone function. We do know for sure that parabens are absorbed through intact skin and through the gastrointestinal tract and blood.

The role of estrogen levels, whether naturally occurring or synthetically introduced, in cancers of the breast, ovary, cervix and uterus is not yet completely understood. However, many advocates for women’s health now champion the banning of parabens from all products, especially those which come into regular contact with the skin. Some health experts believe, for instance, that there is a link between shaving the underarm, antiperspirants and deodorants applied to the underarm, and the incidence of breast cancer in women.

When shopping for paraben free makeup, begin by reading the label on your lipstick, mascara or whatever.  If you’re serious about using paraben fee makeup only, we also recommend that you visit the manufacturer’s website, and call the company with any questions. To be sure that you are purchasing paraben free makeup, read closely and do not buy the product if any of these ingredients appears on the label: ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, benzyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid, methyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid, ethyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid, propyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid, butyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid, parahydroxybenzoic acid, parahydroxybenzoate or methyl paraben.

But here’s the thing. While we are all in favor of safety, products formulated without preservatives do allow more free-flowing proliferation of bacteria, fungi and other frisky microbes. Essential oils are natural antibacterials, and in the case of bath, shower and household products, these botanical bug-killers can keep the blend safe without parabens.  However, in the case of paraben free makeup, these wildly procreating bugs can cause anything from conjunctivitis and ringworm to herpes simplex, and more.

Here are some safety tips, to reduce the likelihood of good makeup going bad.

When using paraben free makeup, :

Don’t share. Sounds mean, but it’s not. After even one use, your favorite compact or eyeshadow pan resembles a Petri dish, so sharing products means spreading microbes. Keep your bacteria to yourself to reduce the risk of giving your BFF pinkeye. Ew.

For the same reasons, try not to touch the inner eyelid or juicy l’il corners of your eye with makeup pencils, brushes, or applicators. Some health professionals recommend that you do not apply pencil to the waterline of the eye, ever, by the way.

Sharpen makeup pencils before each use. This does help to shave off some of the hideous colonization of bacteria, etc. which has accumulated on your pencil since the last time you used it.

Wash your makeup brushes and tools weekly. Use a brush cleanser made for this purpose. And, do not dry your brushes with the bristles pointing up, since this causes the moisture to collect at the base of the bristles, forming a bug-laden soup. Instead, after sudsing and rinsing in clear warm water, roll your brushes in a clean towel, blot, and allow them to air-dry while lying flat.

If makeup changes color or smells the least bit funky or funny, chuck it in the bin. Right now. Especially without preservatives, one year in your makeup bag is the absolute max. Mascara is especially notorious for not aging well, but all makeup has a limited shelf life. When in doubt, throw it out.

Do not multi-task. Makeup manufacturers love to crow about the versatility of their products, and that you can use the same pencil on your lips AND eyes. OK, if you want to use a jet-black pencil actually intended for your waterline on your lip line, go ahead. Just don’t use the SAME exact pencil on your eyes and lips. Bacterial flora from the mouth can get really nasty when introduced into the conjunctiva, for instance. We suggest that you keep two separate sandwich baggies of pencils– one for eyes only, one for lips only.