December 29, 2014
Why can’t we have all of the active ingredients all in one?
February 26, 2015
Show all

Are the parabens in cosmetics harmful?

FDA (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services):
“Studies have shown, however, that parabens have significantly less estrogenic activity than the body’s naturally occurring estrogen. Parabens have not been shown to be harmful as used in cosmetics, where they are present only in very small amounts.”


Parabens are a group of excellent preservatives that have been used since the mid-1920s in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and foods. These compounds are some of the most commonly used cosmetic preservatives in the world and they are officially permitted or approved for use as preservatives in cosmetics by the U.S. FDA, the European Commission, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and other key regulatory bodies around the world.

Parabens are one of nature’s preservatives?
Plants and microbes have developed natural chemicals for self-preservation, and certain parabens and their breakdown product (p-hydroxybenzoic acid – PHBA) are found throughout nature. When ingested or used on the skin, parabens are rapidly broken down to PHBA, which is easily eliminated. PHBA is also found in fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, carrots, strawberries and peanuts. While the methyl, ethyl and butyl parabens used in cosmetics and foods are made synthetically, they are chemically identical to those found in nature.
Recent studies have found a number of roles for parabens and PHBA throughout nature, from methyl paraben in the roots of flowering plants such as thale cress, to ethyl and butyl paraben balancing microbe populations in marine sponges.

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review, published in the International Journal of Toxicology in 2008, consolidated over 65 submitted safety studies and more than 200 published studies and previous reviews, including extensive discussion of paraben reproductive safety. This review noted 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. This report further confirmed the safe use of parabens in cosmetics and noted that any parabens absorbed from use would be metabolized, easily eliminated from the body and would not accumulate.

The paraben breakdown product, PHBA is already naturally found in your bloodstream?
PHBA is a breakdown product of tyrosine, an amino acid used throughout the body.


These allegations are only based on a few limited studies that the U.S. FDA confirmed were not a concern for the use of parabens as a preservative in cosmetics. However, you may have heard some media reports suggesting that certain parabens might disrupt natural hormones, interfere with the reproductive system or cause harm to a developing child. The FDA further noted that the breast cancer allegations are based on a poorly designed study “that did not show that parabens cause cancer, or that they are harmful in any way.”  For more information see links below.

An extensive scientific review quoted in the FDA response specifically addressed the reproductive safety allegations against parabens and their ability to interfere with natural estrogen. This review involved discussion of over 110 studies and confirmed that there is no basis for concern, as parabens are 100,000-fold weaker than natural estrogen in the in vitro studies published, far too weak to have any effect in humans. For perspective, chemicals naturally found in our diet from soy as well as fruits and vegetables (known as phytoestrogens) have been shown to activate the estrogen receptor with much greater effect than parabens in these in vitro studies. The most comprehensive safety studies on parabens found no effect on estrogen-related processes in real-life. Parabens are rapidly broken down in humans to PHBA, and paraben breakdown products do not interact with the estrogen receptor.

Comments are closed.