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BEST FOR SUN PROTECTIONPerricone MD Vitamin C Ester Photo Brightening Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30
If skincare were a town, parabens would have been the talk of it. You have to be living under a rock not to have heard of the controversy queen of skincare – parabens.
As a dermatologist, I am frequently asked about my opinion of parabens and suggestions for paraben-free products.
In this article, I will deal with what the current research says about parabens, and if you should steer clear of them at all costs. I will also share the 6 best paraben-free moisturizers currently on the market.
I always like my moisturizer to do a little more than just moisturizing – a dash of antioxidants, a bit of brightening ingredients, or a solution to address my current skin problems.
That’s why my top picks are the ones that go that extra mile.
I will talk about these moisturizers in detail as we go ahead. Sharing with you their best features and main ingredients, and how they bring value to the product, such as, texture, feel on the skin, etc.
I will share the product’s pros and cons and identify which skin type would benefit most from it, and which won’t.
But, before I do. There are some key considerations you should make before you purchase your paraben-free moisturizer.
Let’s get going with these first.
|ZELEN Life Moisturizer||Check It Out|
|Perricone MD Vitamin C Ester Moisturizer SPF 30||Check on Amazon|
|Boscia Cactus Water Moisturizer||Check on Amazon|
|NUXE Anti-Aging Nuxuriance Rich Cream Ultra Jar||Check on Amazon|
|Blind Barber Daily Face Moisturizer (for Men)||Check on Amazon|
|Bliss Ex-glow-sion Super Rich Face Moisturizer||Check on Amazon|
Before you buy: 5 Things to consider when purchasing a paraben-free moisturizer
A good moisturizer should hydrate the skin. Not only when the moisturizer is applied but also up until the next cleansing.
It should make it look (and feel) good and efficiently deliver the active ingredients. The top layer of the skin has dead cells that get organized and glued together when a good moisturizer is applied. It gives the skin a hydrated feel and luminous appearance.
With so many moisturizers around, it is easy to get swayed with the options which promise a lot.
So always stick to basics when choosing a moisturizer:
1. Always choose according to your skin type
For choosing any skincare product, especially the moisturizer, it is crucial to consider your skin type. Always keep in mind that the moisturizer that you choose should have a consistency and texture that does not aggravate your skin concerns. Ensure that it keeps your skin well hydrated for a more extended time without greasiness, and the ingredients play nicely with the skin’s own water and oil content.
2. Address your skin’s current issues
Not everyone with oily skin would do well with a very light moisturizer. Your skin could be dehydrated due to other ingredients in your skincare routine, change in weather, traveling, or from a hormonal imbalance. In these cases, a light moisturizer would not suffice.
While buying a moisturizer at any given time, always look at your skin’s condition in the current situation and the problems it is facing. It may take a little time to get to know your skin. Assess your skin during different seasons, different conditions, and how it reacts to other active ingredients to know what works the best. Have a couple of favorites lying around the house for an unexpected change in your skin’s behavior.
3. Decide what purpose the moisturizer is going to serve
You need to determine what you need your moisturizer for – if it is to layer under the sunscreen, a substitute for sunscreen, a nighttime light moisturizer, or something heavy to lock up the other active ingredients and moisturizers.
4. See if your moisturizer could do a little more than just moisturize
As I mentioned above, if your moisturizer does more than just moisturizing, it’s an added jewel to the crown. You save an extra step in your routine and save yourself a decent sum. Get yourself a moisturizer with anti-aging, skin-soothing, or brightening ingredients.
Not just that, many moisturizers have the unique ability to increase the penetration of other products that are applied with them – the active ingredients in your serums will act more efficiently.
5. Know the other preservatives
As a dermatologist, I see countless cases of contact allergy from cosmetics, and preservatives are one of the biggest culprits for that. Parabens are relatively well tolerated,(1) but since more and more people are moving to paraben-free products, we have seen a little increase in the cases of contact allergies.(2)
Most products, except when they are powders, oils, or packed in an airtight container, require preservatives. Even in the products that claim to be preservative-free, there may be essential oils, which are natural preservatives, and they may cause a contact dermatitis.(3)
So if you develop an irritation or allergy after using paraben-free products, make sure you get yourself an allergy test from the dermatologist to determine what ingredients you are allergic to.
Having said that, because of all the loose links of parabens with potentially dangerous side effects, many are shifting towards paraben-free products.
So if you are one of them, we got you covered. We list for you the 6 best paraben-free moisturizers for all skin types.
The 6 best paraben-free moisturizers
- Balanced mix of plant oils
- Lightweight texture that works with all skin types
- Packed with Antioxidants
The best paraben-free moisturizer for:
All skin types, including sensitive and acne-prone skin.
The ZELEN Life Moisturizer is straight-up, a product that anyone can integrate into their skincare routine.
It is lightweight so it can be applied during the daytime, but it is also loaded with plant oils so you can let your skin bask in its goodness overnight too.
Apart from being a moisturizer, it also has plant extracts and oils with soothing and anti-inflammatory properties. It wouldn’t just comfort angry skin; it would also be an ideal moisturizer for men for both pre-shave application to soften that stubble and aftershave on those razor scratches.
Sunflower seed oil, Jojoba oil, Rose Geranium flower water, Clary sage, Calendula flower extract
The plant oils in this formula are few of the best-researched plant oils that we know.
Jojoba oil is a light oil with anti-inflammatory properties and has a texture very near to our skin’s natural oil (sebum). Thus, it can be used by skin of all types- including problem skin with eczema and acne-prone skin. It also increases the absorption of other ingredients in a product.(4)
Sunflower seed oil contains a relatively high amount of linoleic acid – an essential fatty acid for a healthy skin function. Apart from improving the skin moisture levels, sunflower oil also repairs damaged skin barrier by various mechanisms.(5)
Rose geranium flower water is rich in antioxidants like carotene and vitamin E and also has antibacterial and soothing properties.(6)
Clary sage helps in controlling the sebum production, hence could keep the oily skin grease-free for a longer time. It also has antioxidant and antimicrobial effects.(7)
- Not a greasy moisturizer and thus suitable for all skin types by both men and women
- Rich with plant oils but still has sebum controlling properties, which is unique and great for oily and acne-prone skin
- A balanced combination of moisturizing, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties – can be used across the skin-type and skin-issues spectrum
Things to think about:
- So many plant-derived ingredients in one product it could cause some irritation to hypersensitive skin
A balanced moisturizer for all skin types. It is suitable for a clean skincare enthusiast with multitasking plant oils. Delivering excellent moisturization with an abundance of extra benefits, addressing many concerns with one product.
- SPF: Broad spectrum Sun Protection with moisturizer
- Use of strong antioxidants like ALA and Vitamin C ester
- Silicones (Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethicone) in top 5 ingredients for a lightweight finish
The best paraben-free moisturizer for:
Day time use as an adjunct to or as a substitute for the sunscreen.
Despite its higher price point, it is a market favorite, and I can see why. Its top and active ingredient is titanium dioxide, which is a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
It is a physical sunscreen and filters both UVA and UVB and is also better tolerated than chemical sunscreen filters.
It has a light texture that goes smooth on the skin. For those who wear make-up, it layers well because of the silicones present in the ingredients. Usually, I do not approve of jar packaging for products containing vitamin C, as it gets oxidized very fast when brought in contact with air.
However, this product contains vitamin C in the most stable form, which does not get oxidized easily – so jar packaging, in this case, is approved!
Titanium Dioxide 4.20%, Alpha Lipoic acid (ALA), Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate or Vitamin C ester
Alpha-lipoic acid is an excellent anti-aging ingredient to have in the moisturizer. It improves the clinical signs of aging on skin,(8) like wrinkles caused due to photoaging, and also reduces the adverse effects on the skin caused by smoking.(9)
Tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate is a very stable form of vitamin C. Vitamin C is up there in my top favorite ingredients. It is an antioxidant, promotes collagen synthesis thus helping in shrinking open pores and reducing fines lines, evens out the skin tone and boosts the sun protection.(10)
- Great texture and consistency
- Broad-spectrum sunscreen
- A mix of powerful ingredients for anti-aging and dark spot prevention
Things to think about:
- SPF 30 is generally not enough for adequate sun protection unless you are out in the sun for a short while. For a sunny day out, you may want to wear this with sunscreen
- With this price point, it may not fit everyone’s budget
An excellent paraben-free moisturizer with SPF for all skin types, with great texture and wholesome, powerful ingredients.
- Has a gel-like consistency
- Has, apart from a mix of various organic ingredients that serve multiple functions, great moisturizing agents like Sodium Hyaluronate and Sodium PCA
The best paraben-free moisturizer for:
Oily and acne-prone skin types.
Boscia cactus water moisturizer, with all its elements, sounds like a gift for oily acne-prone skin. It has a gel texture, but the formula is really hydrating. It sinks into the skin quickly. Remember not to use a lot of it because the gel can cause pilling.
It comes with a little spatula so that you do not have to dip your fingers every time you use the product, so extra points for the hygiene considerations in the packaging.
Cactus Flower Extract, Coccinia Indica Fruit Extract, Basil Leaf Extract, Eggplant Fruit Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Flower Extract, Jojoba Seed Extract, Turmeric Root Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate, Sodium PCA
Cactus flower extract is from a rare cactus called ‘Queen in the night’, which blooms only once a year in Mexico. Cactus extracts, used in folk medicine for many purposes, are rich in fatty acids that hydrate and strengthen the skin.
In addition to that, it is packed with powerful antioxidants and vitamins.(11) It is also antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. This one is a real powerhouse!
Turmeric, traditionally used in Indian Vedic medicines, also has a wound healing and anti-microbial properties.(14)
- Packed with great ingredients like antioxidants and anti-inflammatories
- Antibacterial ingredients would go good with acne-prone skin
- Comes with a hygiene spatula reducing the contamination
Things to think about:
- Not hydrating enough for dry skin
- Using too much product could cause pilling
Great moisturizer for oily acne-prone skin with antioxidant benefits. It may not work for dry skin, though.
- A very rich cream for dry skin
- Laden with plant oils
The best paraben-free moisturizer for:
Aging, mature, dry skin.
Nuxe anti-aging nuxuriance rich cream is, as the name suggests, really rich and luxurious in texture. It contains a lot of plant oils with moisturizing and antioxidant properties and so, is meant for dry and mature skin.
The brand claims that “an intelligent, active ingredient with targeted, continuous action, bi-floral cells (active molecules from precious saffron flowers encapsulated in a bougainvillea cell helps stimulate the generation of new skin cells.”
Saffron flower and Bougainvillea are placed way below in the ingredient list, which does not always mean that they can’t help in a product’s action. There just seems to be less science supporting them right now. Nevertheless, I like the product formulation even without this fancy claim.
Meadowfoam seed oil, Sweet Almond oil, Arachidyl alcohol, Glycol Palmitate, Sunflower seed oil, Coconut oil, Avocado oil
Meadowfoam seed oil is a very stable oil that doesn’t go rancid very soon and prevents other plant oils (like sweet almond oil, which is next in the list) in the product from getting spoilt too.(15)
It is pretty similar to jojoba oil in the sense that it is less oily and more waxy. That means it is decently compatible with most skin types. It also protects the skin from the damaging effects of ultraviolet rays.
Avocado oil is excellent for dry, chapped skin(16) since it is rich in fatty acids, like linoleic acid, which builds the skin cells’ wall. Not only is it rich in vitamins like A, C, E, and antioxidants like carotene, it also increases the collagen production. Therefore, making it an effective anti-aging addition to the moisturizer.(17)
- Has plenty of plant oils rich in vitamins and minerals
- Provides a moisture boost to extremely dry skin
- Antioxidants and moisturizer packed in one jar
Things to think about:
- Since it is a very rich moisturizer, it would not suit normal or combination skin
- It has Linalool, Geraniol, Citronella which are potent allergens and may cause contact dermatitis(18)
A luxurious rich treat to mature dry skin. It has some common potential irritants down the list, so it may cause contact dermatitis in individuals prone to it.
- Moisturizing and soothing properties are designed to cater to men
- A smart mix of oils that are moisturizing but at the same time not heavy on the skin
The best paraben-free moisturizer for:
Men who like to keep their skincare routine short and hasslefree.
A good moisturizer for men, for more than one reason, should pack much more. It should not only hydrate the skin and make the facial hairs soft before shaving. It should also soothe the skin after shaving, not irritate the razor cuts and help in the fast healing of those cuts.
Also, most men do not enjoy multistep skincare – so it should bottle up some ingredients for the extra nourishment.
Avocado Oil, Sweet Almond Oil, Macadamia Seed Oil, Juniper Fruit Extract
This one also has avocado oil as one of the main ingredients. As already mentioned above, is fantastic for dry skin and is a powerhouse of vitamins. And then you have Sweet almond oil and caprylic triglyceride for extra moisture.
Juniper berry extract is an interesting addition. It calms the skin, reduces the production of oil(21) and has antibacterial effects.
- This product is designed to be used as a moisturizer and aftershave lotion. With the impressive ingredients, it could do much more like anti-aging
- Cuts down so many steps of skincare for men
- For its rather extensive application, it is quite reasonably priced
Things to think about:
- Even though it is not too greasy, I doubt that it would work well for excessively oily skin
Making a gender-specific niche product that promises multitasking could be a hit or a miss. With this product, it is a hit. It does double up as a moisturizer and aftershave lotion (which basically should again be just a good soothing moisturizer) and would help in reducing razor cuts and shaving irritations.
- A very appealing price point
- A healthy mix of organic and synthetic ingredients
- Gives an iridescent sheen to the skin to create a glowing appearance and should work as a good make-up base
The best paraben-free moisturizer for:
Dry skin on the lookout for a multitasker product on a budget or as a moisturizing base for make-up.
Bliss ex-glow-sion is a literal explosion of glow because, in addition to the moisture boost, it also gives a glow boost to the skin.
Now when we say moisture, Ex-glow-sion really means business. It is rich with hydrating ingredients like squalene, plant oils, and shea butter. It could feel a little heavy on the skin on application but gets absorbed just fine. It could be worn alone or be layered under make-up for an overall sheen or highlighter look.
When you look at the ingredient list, a lot is going on there. They have tried to pack a lot of good things in one, which may not work for someone with sensitive skin. But, more often than not, the ingredients which are in the top 5-10 in the list dominate how the product performs.
Vitamin C, Squalane, Aquaxyl™Pro Vitamin B5, African Shea Butter, Rosemary, Lavender Flower and Green Tea Leaf Extracts, Cucumber, and Pear Extracts
Caprylic triglyceride sounds very synthetic, but it is a natural ingredient derived from coconut oil and glycerine. It works as an excellent moisturizer.
Shea butter is rich in fatty acids, moisturizes the skin and contains vitamin E.(19)
Squalane is a natural lipid produced by the body, which maintains the natural water content of the skin. Its production decreases with age, and the skin gets drier as it happens. Good news, as an external product, it works well too. Apart from that, it also prevents free radical damage to the skin from UV rays.(20)
- A very good hydrating product
- Gives a sheen to the skin
- Has many great ingredients going for it
Things to think about:
- The ingredient list is long, and that just means more chances of getting irritation. Too many chefs could sometimes spoil the broth
- It is not completely weightless on the skin, so it is not meant for people who are already carrying the weight of excess sebum on their face, i.e., the oily skinned
If you have dry skin that doesn’t get angry with many ingredients, this product will work perfectly for you, and you would love the glow it gives. It is not for oily, acne-prone, or sensitive skin, though.
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So there you have it! Our top-6 paraben-free moisturizers.
All things considered, we selected 6 options that we were confident you would like, and so would your skin.
Now let’s talk parabens.
Parabens: The talking points
What are Parabens?
Parabens are antimicrobial ingredients used widely as preservatives in food products, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and personal care products like creams, shampoos, etc.
We need preservatives in our cosmetics, especially the water-based ones, because they become a fertile breeding ground for microbes. Microbes would then break down the product rendering it ineffective.
Moreover, I am sure none of you would want to apply a microbe laden product on your skin because of the obvious health hazard. Preservatives in cosmetics don’t just increase their shelf life, but also prevent accidental contamination during the manufacturing process.
How to identify parabens in the ingredient list?
In a product’s ingredient list, parabens can be identified as methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben.(24)
What is the controversy all about?
Late in the 1900s, parabens were demonstrated to have estrogenic activity- that means they mimic female sex hormones.(25)
In 2004, a published paper linked parabens with breast cancer when they found parabens in breast cancer tissues.(26) Strong assumptions were made saying that parabens in underarm cosmetics increase the risk of breast cancer. Some other studies also linked parabens with male infertility.(27)
Does paraben really cause breast cancer?
First of all, the hormonal strength of parabens is around 10,000 times less than estrogen, so we have a substantial safety margin, to begin with.(28) Also, many inconsistencies and flaws in the methods have been found with the original study. Many subsequent studies found no evidence that parabens ’cause’ or increase the chances of breast cancer.(29)
Should we consider Paraben a problem?
We know for sure that paraben does have hormonal activity, but the magnitude of activity is substantially lower than estrogen. A potential to cause a significant hormonal side effect has not yet been demonstrated in humans.
Skin Barrier differences:
Someone with an intact skin barrier has a minimum uptake of parabens in the bloodstream, but someone with a compromised skin would absorb more than anticipated parabens, and then their systemic effects could increase by 80-90%.
Someone with open wounds, dry eczematous skin should avoid using cosmetics with parabens over large surface areas of skin and a longer period of time.(30)
The EU commission verdict:
The European Commission’s Health and Consumer Protection Directorate general formed a scientific committee to review the evidence against parabens.
In the 2011 report, they said that ‘methylparaben and ethyl paraben’ is not a subject of concern right now, but the safety of ‘propylparaben and butylparaben’ can not be finalized yet.(31) The permissible concentration of paraben in a product has been capped accordingly.
There is much that we don’t know:
Even though current scientific knowledge is insufficient to demonstrate a clear cancer risk from the topical application of cosmetics that contain parabens on normal intact skin.(32) The studies that have been done alleging the link of cancer with parabens, or even the ones refuting it, are either laboratory studies or small human studies.
We still do not clearly know much about the effects of long term exposure on humans. None of them can be taken at their word. There is definitely a need for additional research in this field before giving a final verdict. It is important to keep a critical eye open.
8 Tips to make the most out of your paraben-free moisturizer
Now you have chosen your moisturizer, what’s next is integrating it in your skincare routine. Where do they fit and how can you benefit the most out of it.
Here are 8 easy tips to moisturize your face like a pro:
- Always apply the moisturizer on cleansed skin.
- To achieve maximum hydration, the moisturizer should be applied on damp skin. Not only does it lock in the moisture, but penetration of active ingredients is also better that way.
- Daytime moisturizers should always come under the sunscreen. Applying moisturizer after sunscreen could change the distribution of sunscreen on the skin and may make the sun protection uneven.
- Antioxidant containing moisturizers boost the sun protection factor of the sunscreens.
- According to consistency, you have to decide where your moisturizers go at night time. Thicker moisturizers or thick plant oils go at the last step while lightweight moisturizers or hydrating serums fit seamlessly in almost every step.
- If you are using multiple products, see that they are compatible with each other.
- Any prescription creams usually go before moisturizers for the best results. Although if you have problems tolerating the prescription cream – apply the moisturizer first, let it sink in, and the prescription medicine after 5 minutes.
- Do not forget the neck. Your neck is just as much exposed to the daily distress of pollution and sun as your face. Spread the moisturizer below the jawline on to the neck.
The ways moisturizers work
Not all moisturizers work the same. Based on how they increase the hydration of the skin, moisturizers can be divided into the following types:(33)
Humectants’ main job is to bring water to the skin surface and make it look hydrated. That can be from the deeper layers of skin or from the environment. Glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and honey are some examples of humectants.
Occlusives coat the skin forming a layer that prevents the water loss from the skin into the environment. Petrolatum is the most powerful occlusive but less used in everyday cosmetics because of greasiness. Other great occlusives are vegetable oil, beeswax, etc.
Emollients are mainly the fats and oils which hydrate the skin and improve its softness by filling the gaps in the surface of the skin. They help repair the skin barrier by integrating it into the cell wall. Ceramides, fatty acids, squalene, jojoba oil, silicones are all examples of emollients.
Most good moisturizers would have a mix of various ingredients so that it can source the moisture from multiple ways. It would be useful to know which one of your moisturizers has a lot of occlusives. Make sure you use occlusives at the end of your skincare routine because the film will not let other active products reach the skin efficiently.
How we chose these products
To bring you our list of the best paraben-free moisturizers, we carefully considered the market options. We provided our top selections while ensuring that there would be a moisturizer for every skin type.
First and foremost, we checked that the moisturizer was paraben-free and that it fulfilled its primary goal, i.e., it moisturized the skin effectively.
We checked consumer feedback and reviews from various marketplaces and on social media. To ensure that the reviews are not fabricated, special attention was paid to the volume of reviews and reliability of the reviewers. We took into account the skincare brands’ reputation to ensure their products were of the highest quality and standards.
We looked at various price points to suit all budgets and paid particular attention to ingredients. We leaned on natural ingredients – real all-rounders, but not exclusively. We identified products with great formulas that offer a multitude of benefits like anti-aging, oil-controlling, etc. Also, including an SPF option (with UVA and UVB coverage).
We found products of different textures, such as rich creams, lightly textured ones, and gels. Most of our choices are unisex products, but we also gave an option aligned more to our female readers (which layer with make-up, etc.) and for our male readers (a one-stop-shop).
Through extensive research, we wanted to find one product for everyone out there. We hope we were able to help you find yours.
Frequently asked questions
I chose the most suitable moisturizer for my skin based on internet reviews, but I still don’t like how it works on my skin. What to do?
Change the moisturizer. Arriving on a product which your skin needs and loves can be a long process. No two people in the world have exactly the same skin behavior. Determine your skin condition, take into account what worked, and did not work in the past. Know your ingredients and products, and you may arrive at your perfect moisturizer soon.
I am getting the same active ingredients at a way more reasonable price. Why should I splurge my money on the expensive one?
I am not a big believer of ‘the more expensive, the better.’ Many drugstore products can also get you substantial hydration. But that does not mean that all products with the same active ingredients are designed the same.
The concentration of active ingredients, stability, a good vehicle to efficaciously deliver it to the skin – everything matters. That is why you should choose your products from a trusted manufacturer even if it costs a few bucks more.
Does oily skin need a moisturizer?
Absolutely! Most oily skin products aim at drying out the skin by stripping the skin of its oil, ultimately resulting in a loss of water, making the skin dehydrated. Dehydrated skin looks patchy, flaky, and feels rough. A good moisturizer could actually balance the sebum production and moisture content to give the skin a non-greasy and yet glowing look.
Do moisturizers, especially the ones with oil, clog pores?
Most well-formulated moisturizers for oily skin do not clog pores. Right from ceramides and silicones to jojoba or rosehip oil, a lot of moisturizing ingredients are acne-prone skin-friendly and do not aggravate the acne.
Even though parabens have been given a clean chit from review committees, most researchers have also accepted that the studies in this field are inadequate.
Therefore a shred of doubt still lingers somewhere in the back on the head.
If you are building a paraben-free skincare routine for yourself, start with a moisturizer that doesn’t just promise to be ‘paraben-free’ but packs other impressive ingredients to give you a healthy flawless skin.
Which is your favorite paraben-free product in the market? And on that note, where do you stand on the paraben controversy?
We are looking forward to hearing your views and experiences.Did you find this article useful? Enter your email to receive subscriber-only skincare advice to help you perfect your routine and achieve radiant skin. Get tips and tricks, how to's and exclusive offers direct to your inbox...
- Fransway AF, Fransway PJ, Belsito DV, et al. Parabens: Contact (Non)Allergen of the Year [published online ahead of print, 2018 Dec 18]. Dermatitis. 2018;10.1097/DER.0000000000000429. doi:10.1097/DER.0000000000000429
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- Coccinia indica (ivy gourd) fruit extract
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