What Are Parabens and Why Should We Avoid Them in Cosmetics?

Parabens have been widely used as preservatives in cosmetic and body care products since the 1920s. They are added to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold, thus increasing the shelf life of the products. However, scientific studies have raised concerns about the potential negative effects of parabens on our health.

The Risks of Parabens

Research suggests that parabens can disrupt hormones in the body, leading to fertility issues, reproductive organ harm, birth complications, and an increased risk of cancer. Skin irritation is another common side effect of parabens. In fact, studies have detected parabens in nearly all urine samples taken from adults in the US, regardless of demographic.

Given the potential risks of long-chain parabens (such as isobutyl-, butyl-, isopropyl-, and propylparaben) to hormone disruption and reproductive health, it is evident that these chemicals should not be used in personal care or cosmetic products. The good news is that products can be made without using parabens.

Where Are Parabens Found?

Parabens are commonly used in a wide range of products, especially those with high water content, such as shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, face and skin cleaners, sunscreens, deodorants, toothpastes, and makeup. The absorption of parabens through the skin, as well as their subsequent metabolism and excretion in urine and bile, can result in direct and continuous exposure.

Studies have shown that personal care products are the main contributors to paraben exposure. Research comparing paraben levels in individuals who regularly use cosmetics to those who do not has found significantly higher levels in those who use these products. For example, adolescent girls who wear makeup every day had 20 times the level of propylparaben in their urine compared to those who rarely or never wear makeup.

The Parabens to Avoid

In order to make informed decisions about the products we use, it’s important to be aware of which parabens to avoid. According to the EWG’s Skin Deep® database, some of the most commonly used parabens in personal care products include:

  • Propylparaben
  • Isopropylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Isobutylparaben

It’s worth noting that scores of 7 to 10 in the Skin Deep Score indicate a high hazard. Instant Global News presents a comprehensive analysis of the potential dangers of parabens in personal care and cosmetic products.

Other Sources of Paraben Exposure

Apart from cosmetics, people can also be exposed to parabens through foods and beverages that contain these chemicals. Although propylparaben was designated as “generally recognized as safe” for food addition up to 0.1 percent, recent studies have identified potential health effects associated with parabens, raising concerns about their safety.

Potential Health Effects of Parabens

The hormone-disrupting effects of parabens are a significant concern. Parabens can mimic estrogen in the body, disrupting hormone systems and affecting reproductive development, fertility, and birth outcomes. Furthermore, studies have found that exposure to parabens can interfere with hormone production.

Animal studies have shown the detrimental effects of parabens on reproductive systems. In rats, exposure to butylparaben during development led to decreased sperm production and lower testosterone levels. Similar effects were observed in human studies, with urinary propylparaben levels being associated with decreased fertility.

Additionally, parabens have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer in women. Studies have demonstrated that propylparaben can alter gene expression and accelerate the growth of breast cancer cells.

Parabens in the Body and the Environment

Parabens have been detected in various populations, ranging from infants to pregnant women. They may bioaccumulate in the body over time, as metabolites of parabens have been found in fat tissues and correlated with age.

In addition to their potential harm to human health, parabens are also linked to ecological damage. Laboratory tests have shown that low levels of butylparaben can be harmful to coral. Parabens have also been detected in surface waters, fish, and sediments, further highlighting their environmental impact.

Taking Action to Avoid Parabens

Many major retailers have implemented bans or restrictions on the use of parabens in their products. For instance, Whole Foods Market has banned all four parabens as part of its premium body care standard. CVS and Target have committed to removing parabens from their store brand products by specific deadlines.

Several governments have also taken steps to restrict the use of certain parabens in personal care products. The European Union, ASEAN, and Japan have imposed bans or restrictions on specific parabens based on safety concerns.

By being aware of the potential risks associated with parabens and choosing products that are free from these chemicals, consumers can take steps to protect themselves and the environment.


Q: Are all parabens harmful?
A: The concern lies in long-chain parabens, such as isobutyl-, butyl-, isopropyl-, and propylparaben. These chemicals have been linked to hormone disruption, reproductive harm, and an increased risk of cancer.

Q: Are there alternatives to parabens?
A: Yes, products can be made without using parabens. Many brands now offer paraben-free options, and retailers are actively promoting safer alternatives.

Q: Are parabens banned globally?
A: While some countries and regions have imposed bans or restrictions on certain parabens, there is no global ban on the use of parabens in personal care products. However, awareness and consumer demand for paraben-free products have prompted retailers to take action.


Given the potential risks associated with parabens, it is important to be informed and make conscious choices when selecting personal care and cosmetic products. Understanding the potential health effects of parabens and seeking out paraben-free alternatives can help protect our well-being and contribute to a greener, more sustainable future.