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Are parabens dangerous?

Updated on November 5, 2008

Even if you have never heard of parabens, you have almost certainly been using and ingesting them for decades. They are in nearly every cosmetic, and many food products that we use everyday, and currently, their impacts on health are a hotly debated topic in the scientific and health-conscious communities.

What are parabens?

Parabens are a group of chemicals that are used in preservatives in cosmetics. They prevent the growth of bacteria and fungus, and are widely used in shampoos and conditioners, makeup, toothpaste, moisturizing lotions, self-tanners, shaving lotion, and other topical creams. They are also found in many foods. They are listed in the ingredients under names such as methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben.

Are parabens dangerous?

Recent studies have found disturbing results of paraben use, though they have yet to be deemed unsafe by the FDA.

Breast cancer

Parabens have been found in breast tumors, leading to concerns that parabens in deodorants, which are applied near the breast, may contribute to tumor development. The study did not, however, determine that parabens caused the cancer, nor contributed to it. These results have been hotly debated in the scientific community, and the current consensus is that parabens are safe and do not contribute to breast cancer.

Estrogen activity

Studies have shown parabens can have estrogenic activity in the cell, and some estrogens are known to drive tumor growth. Again, the scientific communities' consensus on this is that the very low doses of parabens in underarm deodorants make them unlikely to enter the breast tissue and remain to cause cancer.

Male reproductive systems

A Japanese study found that paraben exposure affected the secretion of testosterone and the general functioning of the male reproductive system in newborn male rats. This is merely one study, and a review of the literature declared that it was biologically impossible that parabens caused this.

Should I avoid parabens?

Currently the FDA does not regulate the cosmetics industry and manufacturers can use any ingredients they want in their products. The long-term use of parabens is largely the reason cited for paraben safety.

There have been times in the past when the toxicity of a particular substance (for example, lead) was unknown and the product was used in numerous substances that surrounded people everyday, leading to marked health problems. This may not be the case for parabens at all-science has yet to prove it. Thus, limiting one's exposure to parabens is a personal choice, and there are plenty of paraben-free products available. One of the best lines of paraben-free products I've found it the Burt's Bees line, which makes everything from face wash to diaper cream to lip balm to moisturizing cream. There are quite a few companies out there that provide and advertise paraben-free on their label if you do decide to take caution and avoid the chemical.


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    • profile image

      Kristy 6 years ago

      I always look at the ingredients label of my skin and hair care products to make sure that they don't contain chemical preservatives such as parabens and sulfates. It's always better to be safe than sorry.

    • On a Lark Design profile image

      On a Lark Design 7 years ago from USA

      Thanks for the hub! I've been trying more and more to not use parabens, but it's tough! has lots of good products that are mostly free of preservatives. For me, the products have to be as effective and not ridiculously expensive, so it's been a struggle. But there are alot of sources for homemade products that are cheap and great!

    • jonaitis profile image

      jonaitis 9 years ago from San Francisco


      Natural products are definitely best for both you and the environment. Thanks for stopping by!

      Melissa G,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I too shudder when I think of the chemicals I've slathered myself with. The EWG is a great resource--I've never seen it, thanks for sharing! And the best way to find natural products is personal recommendations--thanks for the Mountain Rose Herbs tip, I was unaware of them and will have to try some of their products!

    • Melissa G profile image

      Melissa G 9 years ago from Tempe, AZ

      Great hub, jonaitis! What's amazing to me is that we've just now begun to hear about the health risks associated with these chemicals! In retrospect, it makes perfect sense, and I shudder to think about how many toxins I've slathered on my skin over the years, often paying top dollar for a chemical concoction that probably cost about 2 cents to make and polluted our atmosphere in the process.

      I remember marveling at the 20+ character ingredients on our shampoo bottles as a child and wondering why it stung when it got in my eyes. Now, I am all about natural, organic, sustainable products--which are often less expensive than the heavily-marketing toxic products I used to go for.

      Two great resources are the Environmental Working Group's website (, which includes a Skin Deep cosmetic safety database (you can search for product types or enter in a brand and see which toxins they're associated with), and also Mountain Rose Herbs (, a zero-waste company that sells organic herbs, oils, teas, and other ingredients to create your own healthy concoctions.

      Thanks for educating people about the dangers of parabens!

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 9 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Very interesting and to the point hub jonaitis. Thanks for sharing this true health concern with us. I know myself I try to buy lotions and soaps that are made with natural ingredients, even if these products may have a shorter shelf life.

    • jonaitis profile image

      jonaitis 9 years ago from San Francisco


      I completely agree--whole foods without preservatives are much healthier than food loaded with chemicals. Especially over many years, our bodies can only handle so much. Thanks for stopping by!

    • jim10 profile image

      jim10 9 years ago from ma

      I surely don't wsnt it in my food. I really don't mind if my food expires within a reasonable time. I have to go shopping every week anyway. I much prefer safe food that can spoil than toxic food that could last on this earth longer than me.