Important things to know about Parabens

Have you ever looked at the ingredient list of household products and toiletries and seen ingredients, such as methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben? Perhaps you’ve even seen products that say they are “paraben-free”? While there are numerous chemicals, some with long and perplexing names, these class of chemicals, called parabens, have gained a reputation for their supposed health effects, particularly their link with breast cancer.

What are parabens? They are a class of chemicals, which are technically alkyl esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid and are widely used as antimicrobials and preservatives because they are inexpensive and have had a long record of safety. They are usually used in combinations, so you will usually see more than one type of paraben in a product (that contains them). Specific products that usually have these preservatives are shampoos, lotions, cosmetics, and shaving products.

In 2004, a study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology reported the presence of parabens in breast tumors. This raised the question of whether the estrogen-like activity of these compounds would contribute to the risk of breast cancer. However, this study did not assess the mechanism of parabens in causing breast cancer, paraben levels in non-cancerous tissue, or if they are harmful. Additionally, other studies disprove the potency and effect of the estrogen-like activity of these chemicals (Hossaini, Larsen & Larsen, 2000; Shaw & deCatanzaro, 2009). The biggest caution to take with parabens is if there is a high concentration of them in a product.

It is important to note that, although it would be assumed that the Food and Drug Administration regulates these type of ingredients, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act states that the FDA cannot authorize or approve cosmetic ingredients, and cosmetic companies can actually use any ingredient in their products (except a few ingredients that are prohibited).

You should also know that the FDA’s Fair Packaging and Labeling Act requires that ingredient listing is arranged from highest amount to lowest amount. This is useful for not only assessing whether you’re getting your money’s worth for a particular ingredient (for example, you should reconsider a product marketed for an expensive ingredient when it’s listed last on the label), but also for tracking the paraben levels. Typically, they are listed last on the list, but you should possibly reconsider the product if they are listed closer to the beginning of the list.

Eleni Gage of also lists brands that do not use parabens, which include:

Burt’s Bees
Dr. Hauschka
Josie Maran Cosmetics


Golden, R., Gandy, J., & Vollmer, G. (2005). A review of the endocrine activity of parabens and implications for potential risks to human health. CRC Critical Reviews in Toxicology35(5), 435-458.

Hossaini, A., Larsen, J. J., & Larsen, J. C. (2000). Lack of oestrogenic effects of food preservatives (parabens) in uterotrophic assays. Food and Chemical Toxicology38(4), 319-323.

Shaw, J., & deCatanzaro, D. (2009). Estrogenicity of parabens revisited: Impact of parabens on early pregnancy and an uterotrophic assay in mice.Reproductive toxicology28(1), 26-31.

The CDC’s Paraben Fact Sheet:

The FDA’S Statement about parabens:

The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act:

Eleni Gage’s article about parabens on


4 thoughts on “Important things to know about Parabens

  1. Superb post! Very informative about parabens! I especially liked that you provided a listing of paraben-free products. The everyday reader would find this posting very helpful and useful in their decisions about makeup and other cosmetics!

  2. Awesome post!! I recently learned about parabens and how dangerous they can be to use. I think it is just terrible that cosmetic companies are still allowed to create products with harmful materials, especially when they are alternative options. I have slowly been changing some of my beauty products to more environmentally healthy options, including Tom’s Antiperspirant. There antiperspirant doesn’t contain parabens or aluminum.

    Aluminum’s in beauty products also pose a number of health risks, including breast cancer! I found this great article about them. Enjoy!

  3. This is a very interesting topic. It is very important to know what is in the products that we are using daily. It’s kind of scary to think that something we use everyday could be causing us harm. It’s even scarier to think that these products are not regulated by the FDA and companies could use whatever chemicals they choose to make their product. Cancer is already very hard to predict and there are so many possible cancer causing agents that adding another product to our bodies that could possibly be linked to cancer is not the best idea.

    In my opinion the FDA needs to be more active in regulating what chemicals can be included in products. Although it is it very useful to know that the ingredients are listed in order of highest to lowest amounts but that is not enough being done by the FDA. The FDA needs to be proactive in monitoring which products will have a negative effect on health status of consumers.

  4. It seems that I keep hearing battling opinions on parabens. The advice posted here to keep them to a minimum in your products sounds good to me! Ensuring that parabens are not listed as one of the main ingredients, but not necessarily cutting them out entirely, is doable. It seems that too often we are told that an ingredient is very bad for us and that we should stop using it immediately. However, this can often lead to a much more expensive option. I like to see this advice about moderation. Thanks for your post!

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