Parabens – What are They and Why are They Bad?

Parabens, esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid, are used in food, drugs, and cosmetics, such as makeup, hair care formulas, moisturizers, shaving products, personal lubricants, topical pharmaceuticals, and toothpaste.

Parabens are used as preservatives to protect against microbial growth. The most common parabens used in cosmetic products are methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben and they're used at very low levels, typically between 0.01 to 0.3%.

To determine whether a product contains parabens, look for words containing "para" in the ingredients list on the label:

  • methylparaben
  • propylparaben
  • butylparaben
  • benzylparaben
  • ethylparaben
  • isobutylparaben
  • parahydroxybenzoic acid

When looking for paraben-free products, check the label for the words "paraben free" and also check the ingredients listing. Organic and all-natural products are more likely to be conscientious about being free of parabens, using ingredients such as grapefruit seed extract, vitamin E, and essential oils to help preserve and act as anti-microbial agents.

A small percentage of the general population may present with skin irritation and contact dermatitis from a paraben allergy, however the main concerns with parabens are their estrogenic activity and possible carcinogenicity with regard to breast cancer. Thorough research has not been done and hopefully the future will bring further research in order to determine the safety of parabens.

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