What Are Parabens?


Preservatives play an important role in our society. Many pre-processed foods include preservatives to extend shelf life. But did you know that many common cosmetics include preservatives as well, including parabens?

Parabens show up in everything from makeup to toothpaste to deodorants. However, increasing scientific research indicates a connection between parabens and certain cancers (The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology). The potential for parabens to mimic the activity of estrogen in the body, along with its associated risks, has caused the European Union to issue a strict Scientific Committee on Consumer Products report limiting the presence of parabens in cosmetics to under 0.4%.

There are essentially four different types of parabens: methyl, ethyl, propyl, and butyl. These compounds are almost guaranteed to be in products from your medicine cabinet, so take a few minutes to understand the world of parabens:

Methylparaben and Ethylparaben

These parabens are added to both cosmetics and foods during the manufacturing process to inhibit bacterial formation. Studies have shown concern about these parabens because it seems that they may contribute to cancer and allergy issues. One study even showed parabens, in the presence of UV rays from sunlight, caused DNA damage.


In synthetic form, these parabens are used in cosmetic products that are water-based instead of oil-based. This paraben is used to keep the water from separating or breaking out of solution from the other ingredients. Some studies indicate that the propylparabens may have a negative effect on the male reproductive system.


The final type of parabens is used specifically to keep fungus and mold from growing in cosmetics. When used in small amounts, these parabens seem to be relatively safe. However, in higher quantities, they can cause skin irritation and may contribute towards significant reproductive issues.

Cosmetics that Contain Parabens

Are you wondering what products you may be using that contain these preservatives? It is a very long list, but some categories include:

  • Facial moisturizer
  • Wrinkle creams
  • Makeup
  • Makeup removers
  • Lotions
  • Deodorants
  • Sunscreen
  • Concealer
  • Eye Shadow
  • Lipstick

Parabens of all types pose a significant health risk, even at concentrations under 1%, when used in common cosmetics. Consumers who are worried about the potential side effects of paraben exposure should consider switching to organic cosmetics, specifically those that avoid the use of dangerous preservatives.