Type of Ingredient: Preservative, comes from the family of methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben
Main Benefits: Used in cosmetics to preserve products longer; however, there are studies that show parabens to be endocrine disruptors
Who Should Use It: It is commonly used in many different products, but mainly in cosmetics with a long shelf life
Ideal For These Concerns: Protecting some products from contaminations caused by bacteria and fungi
How Often Can You Use It: According to FDA, it can be safely used in your average everyday cosmetics
Works well with: Methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben are often used in combination with each other in minimal concentrations for more efficient results
What are Parabens?
Parabens are derived from esters of parahydroxybenzoic acid, a chemical that's naturally found in plants to protect themselves from bacteria and molds, now it is famously used in most cosmetics to ensure longer shelf life. Parabens can also be found in a wide variety of foods and drugs. Some cosmetics that may contain parabens include makeup, moisturizers, hair care products, and shaving products.
"Parabens are derived from a chemical known as para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA) that occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables, like blueberries and carrots," explains Kathryn St. John, the director of communications at the American Chemistry Council. "PHBA is also naturally formed in the human body by the breakdown of some amino acids."
The Benefits of parabens
Parabens are found in various products such as cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and certain foods.
"Parabens are widely used because they are extremely effective [and] hypoallergenic and cost very little to produce," said Sandra Arévalo, director of nutrition services and community outreach at Community Pediatrics at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. Because parabens are inexpensive, they can be found in a wide range of beauty products, even mouthwash.
Paraben’s Skincare Power Duo
The most used parabens in the cosmetics industry are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben, usually, the manufacturers use more than one, as they each are significantly different from one another, allowing use in lower concentrations. The most commonly used paraben mix is methylparaben and ethylparaben; when paired together they offer are strong protection against a wide range of bacteria for safer use of your favorite products.
Parabens have been classified by the FDA as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) a chemical preservative. Since it is used in very small amounts, typically less than 1% in a single product, studies have shown that it has no direct effect on our overall health and well-being. Many health advocates say that the FDA is ignoring the cumulative effect of parabens and more recent studies that have linked parabens to breast cancer.
According to the health advocacy group, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, “Parabens are known endocrine disruptors that can mimic estrogen in the body. Several studies have shown that parabens can affect the mechanisms of normal breast cells and potentially influence their abnormal growth, leading to increased risk for breast cancer.” In a study conducted by a team of scientist from the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology at UC Berkeley found that the presence of a growth factor called heregulin leads parabens to stimulate the estrogen receptor at levels that had been considered non-toxic in cell-based research.
Anthony F. Fransway et al., Parabens: Contact (Non) Allergen of the Year. American Contact Dermatitis Society (2018). DOI: 10.1097/DER.0000000000000429