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 discoloration, malodor, or breakdown of the product. Under certain conditions, an inadequately preserved product can become contaminated, allowing harmful microorganisms to grow. Parabens are widely used in all types of cosmetics to prevent these changes and protect the families who enjoy these products.
Parabens were first introduced in 1923 and are used as preservatives in the food, drug, and personal care industries. They all share para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA) as a common chemical structure. PHBA occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables, such as cucumbers, cherries, carrots, blueberries, and onions, and is also formed naturally in your body by the breakdown of certain amino acids. The parabens used in cosmetics are identical to those found in nature, and are quickly eliminated by the body.
Some have speculated whether there is a connection between parabens and cancer, suggesting parabens can act 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 present in soy and other fruits and vegetables, and when tested in the same way as parabens, give similar results. In fact, some phytoestrogens have been shown to be 10,000 times more potent than parabens. Most scientists agree there is no endocrine disrupting effect from the use of parabens in cosmetics and personal care products because their action, if any, is so weak.
Another myth is that parabens are banned outside the U.S. when, in fact, safe levels of parabens have been established and these ingredients are approved by government agencies – including in the European Union (EU), Japan, Australia, and Canada – for use in things like cosmetics and personal care products.
The U.S. FDA has stated there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens. The FDA has also classified methylparaben and propylparaben as GRAS, which means they are Generally Regarded As Safe for use in preserving food.
For more safety information on Parabens, click here.