Are Parabens In Cosmetics Safe? The Truth Behind The Hype

parabens in cosmetics

Do you keep reading about how parabens are either harmful or safe? It’s a never ending story and I plan to end all question marks with this article.

The safety of parabens is a great concern for my blog readers as acne-prone skin is considered a type of sensitivity, even if you have been told that sensitive skin type is different than acne-prone skin. And, although parabens won’t put the “cancer” mark on your forehead, they can still be the cause of skin irritations for those of us with very sensitive skin, including acne-prone skin.

But first of all…

What are parabens and why are they used in skincare?

Parabens are a group of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA) esters that are used in cosmetics as preservatives at very low concentrations of up to 0.8% (mixtures of parabens) or up to 0.4% for a single paraben. About 85% of the beauty industry uses them and the most popular ones are Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Isopropylparaben, Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben, and Benzylparaben.

How the story started

So, all the hussle started …

Dr Philippa Darbre

…….when researcher Philippa Darbre published a study in 2004 that found 20 nanograms of parabens in 20 breast tumours. The belief that parabens were linked to breast cancer mistakenly spread around. Soon after, Darbre came forward and stated clearly for the Journal of applied toxicology: “No claim was made that the presence of parabens had caused the breast cancers.”

After further investigation in 2005 the American Cancer Society concluded that there was insufficient scientific evidence to prove this. Furthermore the FDA, the EU and the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare accepted the use of parabens as safe.

For more details on ‘who studied what and concluded what’ go to wiki, their information is much more structured and seriously backed up.

The most surpising paraben related content that I have seen until now belongs to P&G, these guys actually turn the information inside out the positive way.

Did you know that parabens are normally found in the natural world?

Parabens can be found in plants and microbes as natural chemicals for auto-preservation. On the skin, parabens are broken into PHBA and are eliminated.

Did you really think that a natural mask with blueberries, carrots, strwberries is better because it doesn’t have preservatives?

Think again, cause these naturally contain PHBA!!! The parabens (methyl, ethyl and buthyl) used in the beauty industry are synthetically made indeed, but they are chemically identical to the ones found in mother nature.

I bet you thought parabens were a pure chemical product. I don’t even low how the word “chemical ” itself ended having a bad conotation. That’s just not fair or logical since all ingredients found in cosmetics contain chemicals.

Not only are parabens used as preservatives for our material world goodies but they seem to do exactly the same work for mother nature too: naturally occurring ethyl and buthyl paraben control the microbes growth in marine sponges! And they have much higher concentrations that the paragons found in cosmetics!

Parabens don’t accumulate in the body!

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review, published in the International Journal of Toxicology in 2008 shows that a woman’s daily cosmetic regimen would result in paraben exposures 840 times less than an amount that caused no adverse reproductive effects in the most conclusive safety studies.’ The parabens used are metabolized and eliminated from the body.

Paraben safety has been long proven and re-proven

So why bother questioning it?

The American Cancer Society, The FDA, The European Safety Committee and Health Canada, all concluded the same thing: parabens are safe in personal care products.

What other options to parabens are there?

Although other preservatives are available and can be used instead of parabens, in most cases their efficacy need more supportive data.

Other commonly used preservatives include ormaldehyde, quaternium-15, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea and dimethyloldimethyl hydantoin. These ones may cause allergic reactions or pose an even greater health risk.

Unfortunately, not even the “natural” world doesn’t offer better options. Organic preservatives aren’t as reliable, grapefruit seed extract (GSE) can interact with other compounds while thymol, cinnamaldehyde, allyl isothiocyanate, citric acid, ascorbic acid and rosemary extract lack proven results.

Many of the famous also back up the safety of parabens and Rene Rouleau is one of my favourite ones. She’s known for being a celebrity esthetician who has her own skin care line and an excellent blog I follow.

She has a very practical approach saying that parabens are safe and any entity that states the contrary has its own agenda. Even so I keep wondering why her products are paraben-free. Give her article a go.

Now, I’m not going to praise the safety of parabens, many companies decided to remove parabens from their products and not just to look good in the public eye. Yes, parabens won’t cause cancer but they are responsable for 2 major problems:

Premature agingStudies show that UVB rays may react with methylparaben applied on the skin damaging DNAs

Allergies and irritations– for individuals with normal skin parabens are non-irritating and non-sensitizing but, in individuals with paraben allergies can cause skin irritation, contact dermatitis and rosacea.

I have used lots of products that contain parabens and my skin didn’t show any adverse reaction. I think we should avoid ingredients that cause proven damage and don’t dismiss a product just because it contains parabens, unless you know exactly that your skin can’t take them.


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