Parabens: Should We Worry?

Every time we put on our red lipstick, brush mascara on our eyelashes, and powder our face with that foundation, do we pause for a moment and think, "What do they do to my body?" We daily wash our hair with that shampoo for the promised glossy hair, and scrub that deodorant on our armpits for odor protection, yet do we even consider what side effects they may cause to our body?


Most of us do not care until studies started popping out about the alleged damaging effects of some personal care products. There have been several reports about so-called harmful compounds, and one of these compounds is paraben.




Parabens are the widely used preservatives in beauty and health products for longer shelf-life. They are derived from para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA) which naturally occurs in fruits and vegetables such as cucumbers, cherries, carrots, blueberries, and onions. PHBA is also naturally formed in the human body by the breakdown of some of our amino acids.




There are multiple types of parabens, but the more commonly used types are methyl, propyl, and butylparaben.They stop fungi, bacteria, and other microbes from growing in our creams, shampoos, shaving cream, makeups, and etc. They are absorbed through skin and gastrointestinal tract.

However, few studies have shown also that parabens, aside from personal care products, are found present in breast tumors.








According to a research published by the Journal of Applied Toxicology, a collaborative study spearheaded by Dr. Philippa Darbre, University of Reading and Mr. Lester Barr, University Hospital of South Manchester, "The research team studied tissue samples from 40 women undergoing mastectomies between 2005 and 2008 for first primary breast cancer in England. In total, 160 samples were collected, four from each woman, covering serial locations from the axilla (nearest the armpit) to the sternum (breast bone). 99% of the tissue samples contained at least one paraben and 60% of the samples had five."

However, the said study was able to confirm that there is no cause and effect relationship between parabens in underarm products and breast cancer. "The fact that parabens were detected in the majority of the breast tissue samples cannot be taken to imply that they actually caused breast cancer in the 40 women studied," said Dr. Darbre, Reader in Oncology at the University of Reading. "However, the fact that parabens were present in so many of the breast tissue samples does justify further investigation."

Aside from breast cancer, parabens are also said to have harmful effects on our endocrine system. In a healthy endocrine system functioning. Other studies also claimed parabens can cause low sperm counts and decreased levels of testosterone in men. Researchers from Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine in Japan also found that methylparaben increases the sensitivity of our skin to and damage from the sun. It means that when our skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays, our skin cells die at a much faster rate than normal.

As to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in United States, however, several assessments made by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) report that parabens are safe, with no side effects.

In cosmetics, the FDA’s recommended parabens content is up to 25%. As for food, according to European Food Safety Authority, the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of parabens ranges from 0 to 10 mg/kg body weight for the sum of methyl, ethyl, and propyl p-hydroxybenzoic acid esters and sodium salts.

According to the FAQs of, there are some important points to consider in the research done by Darbre and Barr, these are:

  • The researchers looked only for the presence of parabens in breast cancer samples. The study did not show that parabens caused or contributed to breast cancer development.  They only confirmed the presence of parabens, without clear information on why and how.
  • Although parabens have weak estrogen-like properties, the estrogens that are made in the body are hundreds to many thousands of times stronger. So, natural estrogens (or those taken as hormone replacement) are much more likely to play a role in breast cancer development.
  • Parabens are widely used as preservatives in shampoo, lotions, other cosmetics, and even food. This study did not contain any information to help find the source of the parabens present in the breast tissue – it's not clear if they might have come from antiperspirants or from some other sources.

Their FAQs also mentioned that, so far, studies have not shown any direct link between parabens and health problems, including breast cancer. There are many other compounds in the environment that can mimic naturally produced estrogen than parabens.

Based on the fact sheet released by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FDA determined that there was no need to change the CIR’s original conclusion that parabens are safe for use in cosmetics. FDA also allows single or multiple parabens to be added to food or food packaging as antimicrobials to prevent food spoilage and bacteria-causing diseases.

According to the 2008 Final Amended Report on the safety assessment of parabens by the American College of Toxicity, parabens do not accumulate in the body and both sub-chronic and chronic oral studies have shown that parabens are not significantly toxic. There are also numerous genotoxicity studies, including Ames testing (method that uses bacteria whether a given chemical can cause DNA mutations), Dominant Lethal Assay (method that tests a chemical can affect germinal tissue), Host-Mediated Assay (system that determines mutagenic potentials of mammalian metabolites of foreign compounds for bacteria), and cytogenetics assay (method that detects abnormalities in metaphase of cells) that indicate parabens as generally non-mutagenic, although Ethylparaben and Methylparaban did increase chromosomal aberrations in a Chinese Hamster ovary cell assay. 


Even though there are no studies yet to prove that parabens can cause health risks, it is still important to take caution as far as what we take into our bodies. Taking caution, however, does not mean inordinate panic or paranoia. The Jakarta Post stressed on its recently published article, "Should you avoid parabens? Of course having too much of anything can be harmful, but a small amount of parabens in your products is unlikely to damage your health." Besides, its acceptable intake is 25% in cosmetics while 0 to 10 mg/kg in foods.  Moreover, parabens are completely metabolized before they enter the circulatory system, and then gets discharged in the urine.

Corollary, without regulated and moderated preservatives,our favorite products may actually get even more harmful. Consider the possible growth of bacteria or microbes that may produce potential health problems, turning the "unpreserved" products into potentially toxic materials.

According to, parabens are permitted around the world. Safe ranges for the use of parabens as preservatives have been established in countries like the United States, the European Union, Japan, Australia, and Canada. FDA has also stated that there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about their cosmetics-containing parabens. FDA has also classified methyl and propylparaben as "generally regarded as safe" by various of medical and toxicological experts for use in food preservation.

Reference links:

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Always seek the advice of a health care professional.


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