A bottle of parabens

Should You Avoid Products Containing Parabens?

Why do so many people fear parabens? Well, who really knows... We looked further into these illusive preservatives to figure out what the deal is.
Updated: November 9, 2022
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Parabens are a hot-button issue within the skincare industry, with many consumers being given mixed messages about whether they should be avoided or not. As with many of these topics, the truth isn’t black and white, and there is a spectrum on how parabens function.

In this post, we’ll give you the cliff notes on parabens. You’ll learn what they are, what they do, and whether you should be concerned about using products containing them. So let’s get started.

What are parabens and what do they do?

Simply put, parabens are chemical preservatives that ensure skincare products remain usable for a longer period of time. They are used in the majority of cosmetics products and have been for the better part of a century, so they aren’t a new phenomenon. They play a vital role in protecting products from bacterial infestation and from going rotten too quickly.

They aren’t only used within skincare and cosmetics but are also widely used in soft drinks, processed meats, glues, oils, sauces, and countless other regularly used everyday items.

Parabens are also extracted from natural sources. Within certain fruits and vegetables such as onions, cherries, blueberries, and carrots, parabens are taken from para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA) which is created naturally inside these foods.  Para-hydroxybenzoic is also naturally created within the human body, so technically we are sources of parabens too.

How do I know if a product contains parabens?

While the vast majority of cosmetics do contain parabens, you may want to check the label for yourself just to confirm whether your product is either paraben-free or using an alternative.

If your label lists any of the following ingredients – Isoparaben, Butylparaben, Methylparaben, and Propylparaben – you’ll know it contains parabens. Usually, any ingredients that are parabens will literally have ‘paraben’ at the end, so they are very easy to spot.

Paraben-free products usually contain an alternative preservative, with some of the most common being – Sorbic acid, Grapefruit seed extract, Benzyl alcohol, and Salicylic acid.

Are parabens harmful?

This is what you’re here to know, isn’t it? While there have been a lot of amplified concerns from consumers and forum posters over the last few years about the potential dangers of parabens, so far there is no scientific evidence that supports this.

Regulation bodies in different countries around the world regularly conduct research into parabens in order to test their safety. The U.S Food & Drug Association (FDA) [1] have said they see no information that links the use of parabens with human health, though they are continuing their scientific research on a constant basis. Further bodies such as Cancer Research UK and the American Cancer Society have also found no relationship between parabens and cancer development.

Conclusion

Parabens are sourced from natural chemicals and are used throughout the majority of the skincare and cosmetics industry (as well as many others). Experts have found no scientific evidence that they are harmful to humans, and regulatory organizations from across the globe are always conducting new research into the matter.

Of course, it is completely up to you whether you’d like to use products with parabens or not, and there are plenty of paraben-free products on the market if you wish to avoid them.

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This article has been reviewed by the in-field experts on our Medical Content Advisory Board to ensure everything is up-to-date and accurate.