What are parabens in skincare

Megan Dominion

We’ve come a long way in skincare and awareness around different skin conditions and treatments. We’re learning to read labels and really look at ingredients and how they affect or can improve our skin.

Parabens are an ingredient used in many skincare products. Not only that, but you’ll find them in products like shampoo and shower gel, too. Parabens are basically preservatives. They assist in keeping active ingredients stable and free from bacteria and bacteria growth. Think about all the times that you’ve dipped your fingers in a jar of face cream. Our hands carry a plethora of bacteria or germs that can grow in warm, sealed environments. 

Parabens may appear on skincare labels under the names ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben.1Parabens in Cosmetics, U.S. Food & Drug Administration

Are parabens safe?

According to the FDA the use of parabens are completely safe in cosmetics, even in large doses.2Parabens, ChemicalSafetyFacts.org However, recent research has shown that parabens are probably not safe.3Tasha Stoiber, What Are Parabens, and Why Don’t They Belong in Cosmetics?, EWG In short, parabens mimic estrogen, creating a disruption to the endocrine system, and traces of parabens have been discovered in breast cancer tissue. A paraben is essentially a chemical and science suggests that they can also disrupt hormones in your body. Further studies have also shown that they can affect a woman’s fertility and reproductive organs, too. Even more concerning is that parabens can increase the risk of cancer (most commonly breast cancer). Milder side effects also include skin irritation and can be detected in nearly all urine samples taken from adults in the US in a study conducted in 2006. The traces were found in both men and women.


Parabens in skincare

Should I avoid Parabens?

Yes, and no, it depends. To answer this question we need to remember that parabens are being used for a reason in the first place, as a preservative to protect us from germs developing in our products. Taking these preservatives away could potentially be more harmful than having them there in the first place.4Janna Mandell, Shaky science led to a rush of ‘paraben-free’ beauty products. But they might not be safer, The Washington Post and many paraben-free cosmetic products have been recalled due to mold or bacteria growth.

So what do you do, avoid or consume? My personal opinion is, our body is equipped to handle a certain amount of chemicals. When we collect too many parabens in our bodies, this is when there is the potential for this chemical to start disrupting our endocrine system. Just how our bodies can cope with a bit of sugar now and then, but consume too much of it and it’ll start to cause inflammation and other side effects.

If you are struggling with hormone imbalances, perhaps having a look at what is in your cosmetic products would be a good idea to decide whether your products may be contributing to this or not. Always talk to a specialist if you do have any concerns.

What products contain parabens?

Parabens are used in a variety of products that are both leave-on (such as beauty creams, sun protection products and serums) as well as rinse-off products like face washes, exfoliators and soaps. They’re also commonly used in haircare products like shampoos and conditioners. Parabens (a chemical preservative) is used to extend the shelf-life of products, so it’s best advised to read labels carefully – and to use natural products and ingredients where possible.

Note: You’ll also find parabens in products like toothpaste, aftershave and even makeup and deodorants. The alarming issue is that all of these parabens are absorbed into the body through your skin; even if it’s the toothpaste that’s penetrating your gums. In fact, every single hygiene product you’re currently using could contain parabens, meaning that you’re absorbing a whole lot more than you should be – without even knowing it. From your serum, to your foundation to your deodorant to your sunscreen and shampoo.

If you are trying to avoid parabens, it’s best to avoid products that list the following ingredients: Propylparaben; Isopropylparaben; Butylparaben and Isobutylparaben. It’s important to note that of these listed parabens, they’re all rated either 7 or 8 out of 10 in terms of a “high hazard” score.

I’d like to avoid parabens now. What can I do?

Gather all your hygiene, skincare, makeup and beauty products and put them on a pile. Spend a few minutes reading the labels on the products and put all those aside that contain parabens. You might be shocked at how many do. Avoid purchasing those in future and instead, take your time reading the labels of future products and also look at natural, organic hygiene products most commonly found in health stores.

Beauty and hygiene should not be jeopardizing your health, so please take care with not only the products you use, but also the foods (especially artificial or ‘long life’) that you consume.

Footenote Links

  1. Parabens in Cosmetics, U.S. Food & Drug Administration
  2. Parabens, ChemicalSafetyFacts.org
  3. Tasha Stoiber, What Are Parabens, and Why Don’t They Belong in Cosmetics?, EWG
  4. Janna Mandell, Shaky science led to a rush of ‘paraben-free’ beauty products. But they might not be safer, The Washington Post
Megan Dominion

Megan Dominion is SILKUP's Managing Editor. She's been down both the curly hair and skincare rabbit holes many times and loves that there's always something new to learn; a new science, method, product or personal experience.