Parabens in Cosmetics – How Dangerous Are They?

Parabens are ingredients commonly found in the composition of cosmetic products and have become, in the recent years, a controversial topic

Parabens are preservatives widely used in personal care cosmetics, which prevents fungi, bacteria and other microbes, especially in humid, warm environment of the bathroom.

The most commonly used parabens are methylparabens, ethylparabens, propylparabens, butylparabens and isobutylparabens. These you will find listed on thousands of personal care products: shampoos, body lotion, moisturizing creams, shower gels, anti-wrinkle creams, make-up powder etc.

Information on Parabens and their Effects on the General Health

Parabens are used quite a lot in cosmetics because they are both cheap and effective. Specialists opinion on how parabens affect people’s health are divided. In recent years, scientists have debated the high probability that these substances are harmful to our health. Among the mentioned issues was increased breast cancer incidence, on the long term. This was partially linked to the fact that parabens, which have the ability to mimic estrogen, have been found in breast cancer tumors. Also, it is considered that parabens can be easily absorbed into the skin and may disrupt endocrine function, resulting in the decrease of sperm amount and quality and the increase of likelihood of testicular cancer. However, the researchers did not get too many clear results in these directions.

However, a Danish study recently raised question marks. Parabens have been found in the blood and urine of young male volunteers, a few hours after a lotion containing parabens was applied onto their skin. The authors concluded that since the chemicals within personal care products could be absorbed, metabolized and excreted by the body, they could also have serious adverse health effects, especially after prolonged, regular use.

In other studies, scientists that have evaluated the safety of cosmetic ingredients have found that parabens can be used safely, if there are no excesses made. At the European level has been officially confirmed that derivatives such as methyl and ethylparabens do not pose health risks.

Still other researchers and organizations bring to attention the fact that not only individual exposure to the product should be taken into account, but cumulative exposure to multiple products that contain parabens, which have been used for many years without even being aware of them. Currently there are no alternatives to fully replace parabens in term of quality to preserve the cosmetic products. It is a challenge for manufacturers to craft products that do not contain parabens as preservatives. The situation is particularly problematic in the case of creams and lotions.

Among the natural products that are able to naturally preserve some types of cosmetics to a certain extent are: oregano, thyme, rosemary, gentian root, grapefruit seed extract and lavender oil. Be aware that all these organic cosmetics should be usually stored in the refrigerator.

What are the Alternatives to Parabens?

We’ll start with an example of ingredient manufacturers often recommended as a healthy alternative to parabens: grapefruit seed extract. The problem? The seeds are the only ones that are really natural. Most products containing grapefruit seed extract (obtained from a chemical process applied to the seeds) require a large number of other preservatives (greater than paraben-based products) to ensure that the product is not liable to contamination. There are even cases where the parabens were added in the content of products promoted for their “natural extract of grapefruit seed”. Other alternatives to parabens, more or less natural, are the following:

Essential Oils

Potassium sorbate


However, all these options cannot offer but a moderate protection at best against product alteration. To reach the same level of protection offered by parabens, they should be used in high concentrations, which would be irritating to the skin and beyond. Regarding the remaining alternatives, here are the most common:

Diazolidinyl urea (ingredient possibly contaminated with Formaldehyde)

Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate (ingredient possibly contaminated with Formaldehyde)










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