Paraben Information

What are Parabens, and what do they do?

Parabens are a group of commonly used ingredients that acts as a preservative in cosmetics and personal care products.  They are highly effective in preventing the growth of fungi, bacteria and yeast that could cause products to spoil, thus enhancing the shelf life and safety of products.Any product that contains water is susceptible to being spoiled by the growth of fungi or bacteria, which could cause problems such as mold, discoloration, malodor or breakdown of the product. Under certain conditions, an inadequately preserved product can become contaminated, allowing harmful levels of microorganisms to grow. As cosmetic products are used, they come in contact with the skin and applicators that contact the skin, thus potentially exposing the product to bacteria and fungi. Parabens are widely used in all types of cosmetics to prevent these changes and protect the families that enjoy these products.

Are Parabens safe?

Parabens have been safely used for almost 100 years as preservatives in the food, drug and personal care and cosmetic industries. They are derived from para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA) that occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables, such as cucumbers, cherries, carrots, blueberries, and onions.  PHBA is also naturally formed in your body by the breakdown of some amino acids.  The parabens used in cosmetics are identical to those found in nature and your body quickly changes them into natural PHBA and eliminates them. 

Myths and Facts:

Some have speculated whether there is a connection between parabens and cancer, with some suggesting that parabens can cause cancer by acting like estrogen, a common hormone, through a process called endocrine disruption.  Scientific studies have shown this interaction to be very weak, observed only with extremely high doses far greater than anyone would be exposed to under actual conditions of use or with repeated use.   Many materials found in plants used as food also have a weak estrogenic effect in cellular studies. These naturally occurring materials are called phytoestrogens and are present in soy and other fruits and vegetables. Some of these phytoestrogens, when tested in the same way as parabens, give similar results. However, parabens have been shown to be 10,000 times weaker than the most potent phytoestrogens and 100,000 times less potent than estradiol, the estrogen produced naturally by the body. Most scientists agree that there is no endocrine disrupting effect from the use of parabens in cosmetic and personal care products because their action, if any, is so weak. Another myth is that parabens are banned outside the U.S.  In fact, safe ranges of paraben use are approved by government agencies – including the U.S., the European Union, Japan, Australia, and Canada – for use in things like cosmetics and personal care products.     

The U.S. FDA has stated that there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens.  The FDA has also classified methyl and propylparaben as GRAS, which means they are Generally Regarded As Safe by medical and toxicological experts for use in preserving food.

More Information:

(1) Mirick, D.K., Davis, S., and Thomas, D.B. (2002) Antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer. J. Natl Cancer Inst. 94(20):1578-80.

What Are Parabens, Exactly? - Dr. Oz The Good Life