Characteristics and Uses of Parabens

Parabens directly contribute to the quality of products by extending their shelf life.
Characteristics and Uses of Parabens

Last update: 24 December, 2020

Parabens are chemical preservatives in cosmetics, food, and pharmaceutical products. They’re quite effective in preventing the proliferation of fungi, bacteria, and yeasts. Thus, they prevent the proliferation of elements that can contaminate products. Find out all about the uses of parabens in this article.

As you can see, parabens contribute directly to the quality of products by extending their shelf life. This doesn’t mean these bacteria would appear without parabens though. In fact, there are many other alternatives.

These preservatives are derived from para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA), naturally produced in the body by the decomposition of some amino acids.

Types of parabens

Three bottles of lotion.

There are two types of parabens:


Organic parabens are derivatives of para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA), which occurs naturally in many types of fruit and vegetables. The parabens used in cosmetics are identical to those found in nature. For this reason, they’re quickly transformed by the body into natural PHBA and subsequently eliminated.


These parabens are chemical; the group consists of six different preservatives. They appear under names that end in -paraben and their content is either methanol, ethane, or propanol.

Parabens are approved by the health authorities who consider them low toxicity substances and safe for health. This is because they’re absorbed and metabolized by the body and eliminated without leaving toxic traces behind.

What are the uses of parabens?

There are many uses of parabens. They’ve been used since 1925 as cosmetic preservatives but are also used in their various types to preserve pastries, precooked food, soft drinks, sauces, and even fresh meat.

They’re also a part of the composition of various pharmaceutical products, such as cough syrups, antacids, vaginal fungicides, and antibiotics, as well as in paracetamol and ibuprofen.

They have a preservative and protective function since they prevent infection with microorganisms such as fungi or bacteria. We can identify them perfectly on the label by their names: methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, or benzyl paraben. The usual concentration of these parabens is from 0.01 to 0.3%.

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What are the effects of parabens?

An assortment of cosmetics.

A study came out to light between 2002 and 2004 and its results indicate that parabens could be carcinogenic.

Some oncologists from the University of Edinburgh discovered it while they conducted studies on cancerous tissues that came from biopsies performed on women with breast cancer. They found traces of parabens when analyzing such tissues. Thus, they concluded these can increase the risk of developing tumors and breast cancer.

These preservatives also alter the body’s hormonal balance. In addition, there’s been an increase in cases of allergic reactions and skin problems, such as redness, dryness, inflammations, itching, and pain.

Several studies also concluded that the intestinal tract absorbs them well and the urine carries them out. However, it seems their elimination from the skin isn’t that simple or fast.

All these problems are making many people opt for natural products that don’t contain parabens. For instance, ecological cosmetics use other types of natural preservatives that aren’t toxic.

Are parabens safe?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified a number of commonly used parabens as GRAS. This designation means experts consider the substance safe. That is, safe under the conditions of intended use.

The FDA also participates in the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR). This is an independent group of medical and scientific experts who meet quarterly to evaluate the safety of cosmetic ingredients. They evaluate it on the basis of data published in scientific literature and provided by the cosmetic industry.


Parabens remain a “non-toxic” product and health authorities continue to recommend them. However, studies in regard to their long-term effects continues around the world. In particular, on their application in children’s cosmetics, deodorants, and nail polish.

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