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Why Are Parabens Bad? The Truth Behind Your Makeup and Cosmetics

Medically reviewed by Martha Juco, MD · Aesthetics

Written by Fred Layno · Updated Jul 26, 2022

    Why Are Parabens Bad? The Truth Behind Your Makeup and Cosmetics

    Parabens are chemical preservatives. They are common ingredients in cosmetics that prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold. These chemicals help protect both products and consumers.  They come in many forms; ethylparaben, propylparaben, methylparaben, and butylparaben are just some of the most common ones. You may have encountered these chemical names before, and given the negative things you may have heard about them, wondered “Why are parabens bad?” 

    What Products Contain Parabens? 

    Cosmetics such as makeup, shaving products, moisturizers, and shampoos may contain parabens. Many major brands of deodorants do not contain these chemicals, but some do. Even products such as food and medicine often have multiple parabens in them. When combined with other types of preservatives, they can enhance protection from a variety of microorganisms. 

    Cosmetics sold to consumers in stores or online must label their products with a list of ingredients using their common names. This is to help consumers know if the products they buy contain ingredients they want to avoid. Ingredients with parabens in them usually have the word “paraben” at the end.

    Links to Breast Cancer 

    There is no evidence to associate paraben exposure with breast cancer. In fact, human tissues and body fluids also contain these chemicals. However, the discovery of these chemicals in the breast tissue of breast cancer patients has raised public concerns about their use. It is suspected that the estrogenic properties of parabens may be involved in the development of breast cancer. But medical science has yet to arrive at a conclusive answer. Studies examining the health effects of these chemicals have been inconsistent. 

    In 2004, a small study detected trace amounts of parabens in some breast cancer tumor samples. But it is important to note that the researchers only specifically looked for their presence in breast cancer samples. It is not clear in this study whether parabens were indeed the cause of breast cancer —the study only showed that they were there. It’s still unclear what the presence of parabens means in relation to cancer. 

    Parabens have poor estrogen properties, but the estrogen produced by the body is hundreds or thousands of times more potent. Therefore, natural estrogens (or hormone substitutes) are much more likely to be involved in the development of breast cancer. 

    Do Parabens Cause Allergic Dermatitis? 

    Since the 1960s, there has been controversy over paraben use and safety because it is a possible cause of allergic contact dermatitis. Despite the cloud of suspicion since those times, multiple studies over the last 40 years have not produced any definitive evidence on its toxicity. In fact, they are the least sensitive preservative for commercial use. 

    There are conflicting reports of the effects of parabens on the skin. Some reports suggest that the presence of these chemicals in food cause unexplained dermatitis, while others show that even concentrations up to 5% do not cause skin irritation.

    So, Why Are Parabens Bad?

    There is little evidence that explain why parabens are bad, or if they are indeed harmful. Currently, there are no clear health risks of these chemicals in food, medicines, cosmetics and skin care products. But those concerned about exposure to products containing these chemicals can avoid them by checking the labels. 

    The truth is most people are exposed to parabens. In fact, studies show that up to 99% of people in the United States have some form of paraben in the urine. Meanwhile, other studies have failed to prove a direct link between them and health problems such as breast cancer. 

    Key Takeaway

    While the use of cosmetics containing parabens does not pose a danger to human health, excessive use of cosmetics should always be kept to a minimum. Excessive use of products containing these compounds can have adverse health effects. Due to the actual risk of estrogenic effects from exposure to parabens, the extensive use of cosmetics containing these preservatives should still be avoided.

    Learn more about Skin Health here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Martha Juco, MD


    Written by Fred Layno · Updated Jul 26, 2022

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