Parabens. We get so many questions and e-mails from worried customers about parabens. We absolutely understand this concern. The last couple of years there has been major controversy around parabens, scaring people away from using them. But today we want to shed some light on parabens and their ‘’alleged’’ harmful effects. Because, unlike what scare-tactic using reports are trying to tell you, parabens are actually safe and very effective.
What are parabens?
Parabens are the most commonly used preservatives in not only cosmetics but also pharmaceuticals, foods, and industrial products. Preservatives have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties to ensure a healthy shelf life for products. The most commonly used parabens include: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and isobutylparaben.
For commercial use parabens are usually made synthetically, but parabens are also naturally found in many plants, fruits and vegetables. Synthetic and natural parabens are chemically identical.
When used in foods they are not called parabens, but given E-numbers instead, ranging between E200-E299.
Parabens are popular because they’re cheap, colorless, odorless, and practically nonirritating and nonsensitizing. Above all that, parabens are much more effective compared to other preservatives.
The controversy around parabens started in 2004, when a group of scientists at the University of Reading (U.K) performed biopsies and found parabens inside breast tumors. This instigated the theory that parabens can disrupt hormones and increase the risk of breast cancer. However, this study has been widely criticized because of its lack of a control group. This means that the scientists did not examine healthy breast tissue to compare the findings of the study to. Further research had found that parabens were present in 99% of healthy human breast tissue samples. In fact, parabens have been found in tissues all over the body. There has been no scientific data up to this day that suggests that parabens used in cosmetics can increase the risk of cancer.
Another concern surrounding parabens is their ability to mimic estrogens, a group of female sex hormones. Many worried that the estrogen-mimicking activity of parabens would disrupt the endocrine system and have harmful effects on the body. But in vivo studies (i.e. studies performed in living organisms) have shown that parabens have a 1000-1,000,000 times weaker activity than estradiol. Butylparaben for example, one of the most commonly used paraben, was found to have a 100,000 times weaker activity than estradiol, and only when used at a dose 25,000 times higher than the level that is typically used in cosmetics. Parabens do not have any effect when compared to natural hormones.
Other research that has caused concerns around parabens, includes a study that showed that a 100% concentration of parabens causes (non-intact) skin samples to break down. This result, again, doesn’t apply to the small amount (0.01-0.3%) that is typically used in cosmetics.
There are numerous more studies performed on the safety of parabens, but discussing them all in one blogpost would be absurd and would bore everyone to death.
In conclusion, the notion that parabens are unsafe to use in cosmetics and are harmful to humans is nothing but a falsity based on misunderstandings that has been floating around the internet. Parabens are still safely used as food-grade preservatives and we ingest them daily with our fruits and vegetables. It’s funny how there are so many media reports warning people about the dangers of using cosmetics that contain parabens, but none about the dangers of cucumbers or cherries.
Parabens do not have any harmful effects on the human body, especially not in the tiny amount that they are used in cosmetics. According to well-respected published research, government agencies and all major cosmetics regulatory organizations from around the world, parabens are one of the safest and most effective preservatives around.
We hope this post has provided you with useful information and will help you make better informed decisions on what kind of cosmetics you choose to use in the future.
Journal of Applied Toxicology, February 2004, pages 5-13
Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, May 2017, pages 320-325
Annual Review of Food Science Technology, February 2017, pages 371-390
Journal of Applied Toxicology, April 2017, ePublication
Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, November 1998, pages 12-19
Critical Reviews in Toxicology, June 2005, pages 435-458
Journal of Applied Toxicology, September 2014, pages 925-938