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Parabens: Are they really harmful?


Parabens: Are they really harmful?

Doctor, Are Parabens really harmful?

Our research does reveal health concerns that can not be totally ignored. However, there is no conclusive evidence to prove them.

So, Should you go Parabens-free? Yes you should. However, few companies use more dangerous formaldehyde based preservatives under the label of “paraben-free”. Many safe preservatives are now available in the market.

We recommend our product finder tool to find skincare products with safe preservative.

Parabens are preservatives that are used in cosmetics, foods and drugs so that they don’t go stale. Parabens inhibit the growth of fungus and bacteria. Recently, their use has been questioned due to various adverse effects, few of which are serious enough to reconsider their safety profile.

In this article, we have discussed in detail studies regarding the side effects of parabens, “paraben” in the ingredients list and finally ways to avoid parabens.

In this article, we have discussed in detail studies regarding the side effects of parabens, how to scan ingredients list for parabens and finally ways to avoid parabens.

What are the adverse effects of parabens?

Breast cancer:

Numerous studies have shown the presence of Parabens in breast tumours. Few studies suggest but not prove that Parabens might promote the spread of this cancer as well.

A study  was done in 2014, found that parabens at a concentration of 20nM stimulated the expression of ER(Estrogen receptors) and PGR(Progesterone Receptor).  The author concluded that this study points to the possible mechanism actions of parabens on breast cancer initiation.

In recent study done in 2016, breast cancer cells to physiological levels of methylparaben which is commonly used in personal care products as a preservative. It was observed that methylparaben increases breast cancer tumour proliferation.

Another study done in 2016  suggested that Butylparaben stimulate oncogene expression and breast cancer cell proliferation in vitro.

Most studies point possible role of parabens in breast cancer in vitro.

There is lack of robust human studies that clearly point out cause and effect relation. Since parabens can be avoided easily. Then why not avoid it?

Estrogenic action:

Parabens have weak estrogenic action, CIR concludes that it is not enough to cause any visible effects. In this study,  it was found that dose higher than 100 mg/kg of parabens would be necessary to promote damages in the female reproduction in pregnant female rats.  Another study concluded that parabens have a very mild ER-dependent estrogenic activities.

Parabens have been demonstrated in urine sample in various studies. A recent study done on 95 Iranian pregnant woman demonstrated presence of Parabens in urine. However, research was not done to find out the effect of paraben on new born baby.

Infertility in males:

Parabens have been shown to adversely affect the vitality of sperms in experiments conducted both in-vitro (outside body) and in Vivo (inside body). For more details, click here.

Influence skin ageing:

In a study, after one month of daily applications of methylparaben containing formulations, MP remained unmetabolized and persisted slightly in the Stratum corneum cells in the lab. MP might influence the ageing and differentiation of keratinocytes. 

Environmental toxin:

Due to the widespread use of Parabens, it has been detected in soil, sewage water, swimming pools, house dust, but not in drinking water in developed countries. This study found methyl parabens in fishes from Michigan, New York, and Florida, a bald eagle from Michigan, albatrosses from Midway Atoll, Northwestern Pacific Ocean.

Why FDA has approved Parabens?

However, FDA has following valid reasons to allow the use of Parabens:

  • All the studies and reports are either from the animal model or done at higher concentration, so it is not conclusive enough to withdraw this preservative.
  • There aren’t any safer and inexpensive alternatives to Parabens. This is significant because many organic products that claim to be “paraben free” use more harmful formaldehyde releasers as the preservative. The only safe alternatives are Sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, that is not potent enough to stop the microbe growth in cosmetics.
  • American Academy of Contact dermatitis has declared paraben as NON-allergen of the year 2019 because most paraben-free products contain preservatives that are more likely to cause skin allergies. Therefore, if you have sensitive skin, make sure you are not shifting to skincare products that can further increase your allergy.

How to avoid Parabens in food and cosmetics?

Here are a few suggestions on how to go green with Parabens-free products:


In a study conducted in the US, Parabens was found in beer, sauces, desserts, soft drinks, processed fish, jams, pickles, frozen dairy products, processed vegetables and flavouring syrups. 

Unfortunately, infants and toddlers food even had Parabens. Here are some recommendations for going green with Paraben-free products:

  • Consume fresh fruits and vegetables rather than canned ones.
  • Avoid pre-packed foods for kids; food given to infants and toddler should be prepared at home.
  • Avoid semi-cooked or dehydrated food that needs very little cooking.
  • Prefer fresh dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt to packed ones that last longer.
  • Prefer fresh meat to processed or packed meat.
  • Avoid cereal-based or potato-based snacks and coated nuts.
  • Avoid confectionery (excluding chocolates).


Parabens can be found in almost all the skin care products; like face wash, creams, lotion, sunscreen, toothpaste etc. Due to the widespread presence, you might have to:

  • Scan the ingredient list for the absence of parabens.
  • Many skincare products without Parabens mention “Paraben-free” on the label.
  • Remember organic skincare products do not necessarily mean they are devoid of Parabens.
  • The best option to stay chemical-free is to prepare your own skincare products. Click here for recipes of home-made face wash, scrub, face packs etc. The best part is that  they can be stored without refrigeration.


We recommend you to take your medicines regularly, even if they contain Parabens. As already discussed, occasional exposure to Parabens might not be a health hazard. It is the daily exposure to Parabens in cosmetics and foods that should be avoided.

How to scan the label for Parabens?

Here are the tips on how to scan the label for Parabens:

Tip 1: Parabens has many derivatives.

Parabens have many derivatives methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, n-butylparaben, and isobutyl paraben. These derivatives have a different prefix like ethyl, methyl, butyl etc. however the suffix remains the same “parabens.” 

Tip 2: The food industry labels preservatives with word “E” especially in Europe

MethylparabenE 218

(Source: Wikipedia)

Tip 3: Parabens are listed at the end of the ingredients list

Parabens are listed at the end of the ingredients list because they are present in low concentration. Higher the position of the ingredient in the list more is the concentration.

Tip 4: Look for the word “paraben-free” on the label.

Most companies that do not put parabens in their products highlight this fact by using the word “Paraben free” on the front label.

Tip 5: The word “base” is dangerous.

The ingredients used for holding the active ingredients are all together clubbed into one word “base” 

Now no one except the manufacturer knows what kind of ingredients makes the “base”. So better avoid products which mention the word “base”, but do not defer from taking the medicines with word “base” on the label.


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