What Are Parabens and Why are They Banned in Some Countries?

What Are Parabens?

We all use several personal care products as part of our daily life. Toothpaste, shampoo, moisturizers and the like are a common part of our everyday life. Have you ever stopped to look at the ingredients in these products?

“I’m sure they’re safe” you’re saying to yourself. But did you know that your body absorbs what is put on your skin?

“Our skin is the largest organ in our body, and we absorb through the skin.” says Dr. MaryAnne Harrington of Costa Mesa, CA.

26 seconds for chemicals to be absorbed into bloodstream_Organic_Radiance_Skincare_Raw_for_Beauty

26 seconds for chemicals to be absorbed into bloodstream

Research has suggested that some of the ingredients common in cosmetics may cause health problems with prolonged usage. The European Union cosmetic Regulation has banned five parabens and prohibited their use cosmetic products. Let us take a look at a group of ingredients called parabens, which are commonly used preservatives which are becoming a source of major health concern.

Widespread Use

Paraben is a blanket term used within the cosmetic industry to describe a group of chemicals called parahydroxybenzoates or esters of parahydroxybenzoic acid. These hard-to-pronounce names stand for chemicals have bacterial and fungicidal properties, which make them useful as preservatives in personal care products. Their low cost has led to widespread usage in both the cosmetic and personal care industries. Parabens can be found in shaving gels, personal lubricants, topical pharmaceuticals, spray tanning solution, makeup, shampoos, moisturizers, and toothpaste.

Concerns About Parabens

  • Cancer – The usage of parabens is now becoming controversial as this chemical has been found inside breast cancer tumors1,2. The ability displayed by parabens to mimic estrogen, a hormone known to play a role in the development of breast cancer, adds to the need for more scientific studies on this topic. Currently there is insufficient evidence to conclude that parabens are direct cause of breast cancer. Until research proves that parabens are safe for long term use, we stay away from products that contain them.
  • Estrogen mimicking and endocrine disruption 3,4 – The estrogen mimicking property of parabens may also disrupt the body’s endocrine system. Any system in the body controlled by hormones may be affected by hormone disruptors.
  • Early puberty – The estrogen mimicking property may also a factor affecting the increasing prevalence of early puberty in young women5.
  • Allergic reactions – If you happen to be allergic to parabens, you may experience skin allergies, and develop skin irritation, rosacea, and contact dermatitis with prolonged use of these common personal care items 6.
  • Skin aging and DNA damage – Studies also indicate that paraben usage combined with UV light exposure from sunlight or 7tanning beds leads to increased photo-aging and DNA damage 7.

What can be done?

Since research on parabens is ongoing, there is no conclusive evidence yet and no regulation on the usage of parabens in the United States, except for a limit on their amount. Many parabens have been banned in the EU.



There is no doubt that there is a measure of risk involved in the continued usage of products containing these controversial chemicals, even though our society may not yet understand the biochemistry behind it.

All of this leads to the question of “what can I do about it when this is so widely used?” Let us take a look at some of the measures that we as a conscientious consumer can make.

  • Use home made products – Try to substitute cosmetics with simple and proven home made products. For example, a combination of organic liquid castile soap, apple cider vinegar, Tea tree oil, and water can be combined in a spray bottle and used as a shampoo. There are many other homemade recipes available online that can be tailored to your needs.
  • Use organic products – If the “Do it yourself” approach does not work for you, then there are a host of organic products available online as well. For example, Organic Radiance Skincare (ORS) offers a line of organic facial care products like the Purifying Black Facewash, Clarifying Toner, and Herbe Sois Calming Moisturizer, which are guaranteed to be free of parabens.

Since paraben usage concerns the health of your family, it is advisable to know what is in the products that you use regularly. Scientific articles and the government regulatory agencies make regular health bulletins that can be used to make an informed decision for your family. Because we may not yet fully understand the effects of paraben usage, it is wise to take a “Safety First” approach. Make informed decisions and keep yourself updated. Cheers to organic products and your health!



  1. Harvey PW, Everett DJ (Jan 2004). “Significance of the detection of esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens) in human breast tumours”. Journal of Applied Toxicology 24 (1): 1–4. doi:10.1002/jat.957. PMID 14745840.
  2. Darbre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, Coldham NG, Sauer MJ, Pope GS (Jan–Feb 2004). “Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours”. J Appl Toxicol 24 (1): 5–13. doi:10.1002/jat.958. PMID 14745841.
  3. Golden R, Gandy J, Vollmer G (2005). “A review of the endocrine activity of parabens and implications for potential risks to human health”. Critical Reviews in Toxicology 35 (5): 435–58. Doi
  4. Harvey PW, Darbre P (2004). “Endocrine disruptors and human health: Could estrogenic chemicals in body care cosmetics adversely affect breast cancer incidence in women? A review of evidence and call for further research”. Journal of Applied Toxicology 24 (3): 167–76. doi:10.1002/jat.978. PMID 15211609.
  5. Weil, Elizabeth (March 30, 2012). “Puberty Before Age 10: A New ‘Normal’?”. The New York Times.
  6. Nagel JE, Fuscaldo JT, Fireman P. Paraben allergy (April 11, 1977). “Paraben allergy.”. J Am Med Assoc237 (15): 1594–5. doi:10.1001/jama.237.15.1594.PMID 576658.
  7. Osamu Handa, Satoko Adachi, Tomohisa Takagi et al. (3 October 2006). “Methylparaben potentiates UV-induced damage of skin keratinocytes”. Toxicology227 (1-2): 62–72. doi:10.1016/j.tox.2006.07.018.PMID 16938376.

3 thoughts on “What Are Parabens and Why are They Banned in Some Countries?”

  1. Great content. I’m starting to substitute my cosmetics, and the more I research, the more I’m astonished by the real and potential risks of many cosmetics components.

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