PARABENS: Are They Really Dangerous?

PARABENS: Are They Really Dangerous?

Ingredient: Paraben

Different types of parabens can be found listed as; methylparaben, eethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, heptylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, or benzylparaben. 

What Are Parabens

Parabens are a synthetically made chemical with preservative like qualities created by combining an alcohol with an acid. The most commonly used parabens are butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben. Typically, products will contain more than one type of paraben, or use parabens in combination with other chemical preservatives to better protect a product.

What Do Parabens Do 

Parabens are the most widely used preservative in personal care products over the last 10 decades. They can also be found in foods, injectables, and in nature. Parabens stop fungus, bacteria, and other potentially harmful microbes from growing in your favorite skincare and makeup products.

Why Parabens May Be Unhealthy

Parabens are a hotly debated product today amongst the scientific community, skin care companies, and consumers. Many are concerned about the potentially harmful side effects of putting these chemicals on their skin. The most common fear is due to the suspected link between parabens and cancer, namely breast cancer.

This first came about when a study was published by Dr. Darbre in the UK. The study found parabens in the samples of cancerous breast tumors leading to concern that parabens may play a role in the development of breast cancer.

Scientists later pointed out that noncancerous tissue from healthy breasts were not tested for parabens as a comparison and that the presence of parabens in the tumors does not prove that they caused the breast cancer. Both conclusions are valid and since then, further studies have gone on to examine the role parabens may play in our body. 

Parabens have been widely detected in human tissue and bodily fluids like urine, breast milk, and skin samples. Darbe and her team continued their studies showing that parabens administered at high doses over a short period of time in the lab can cause DNA damage. Further, parabens have also been shown to disrupt estrogen and the endocrine system (the system that controls our hormones). A more recent study published in 2016, concluded that parabens might be active at exposure levels not previously considered toxicologically relevant (at lower levels than previously thought). However, all of these reports express the need for more studies to be conducted using humans, and over longer periods of time in order to establish a clearer relationship.

Alternatives to Parabens

While there are several alternatives to parabens, there is no perfect or simple replacement. One alternative quickly becoming one of the most commonly used is phenoxyethanol. It is found naturally in green tea and very good at killing off bacteria. Other alternatives are potassium sorbate and sodium benzonate, both good against invading fungi. Organic acids like benzoic acid and sorbic acid are becoming more popular as they can be naturally derived, however their effectiveness is still questionable. Depending on the product, a combination of two or more of these is an effective alternative to parabens. 

The Bottom Line

Parabens have been used for many decades and are very good at killing harmful bacteria, fungi, and other microbes in our products. Their link to cancer is still relatively unproven. However, the fact that they show the ability to damage DNA and work as estrogen disrupters is troubling. Especially for populations at high risk like pregnant women and children. Thus, scientists continue to research parabens and other alternatives. 

To avoid parabens in your life, reading labels is the key. Looking for the ingredients mentioned above with paraben in the name, and markings on the packaging like “paraben free” or “no parabens” is a good place to start. Also look for parabens in food products like jams, dressings, and sodas that need preservation. At Valentia, we like to keep all of our products paraben free, and instead we seek other alternatives that keep our products safe and fungi free for our health conscious customers.


Barr L, Metaxas G, Harbach CA, et al. Measurement of paraben concentrations in human breast tissue at serial locations across the breast from axilla to sternum. J Appl Toxicol. 2012 Mar;32(3):219-32.

Darbre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, et al. Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours. J Appl Toxicol. 2004 Jan;24(1):5-13.

Darbre PD, Harvey PW. Parabens can enable hallmarks and characteristics of cancer in human breast epithelial cells: a review of the literature with reference to new exposure data and regulatory status. J Appl Toxicol. 2014 Sep;34(9):925-38.

Kirchhof MG, de Gannes GC. The health controversies of parabens. Skin Therapy. 2013 Feb;18(2):5-7.

Konduracka E, Krzemieniecki K, Gajos G. Relationship between everyday use cosmetics and female breast cancer. Pol Arch Med Wewn. 2014;124(5)264-9.

Pan S, Yuan C, Tagmount A, et al. Parabens and Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Ligand Cross-Talk in Breast Cancer Cells. Environ Health Perspect. 2016 May;124(5):563-9.

Still have questions or concerns about parabens? Let us know in the comments below! 


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