What You Should Know About Parabens in Cosmetics

Parabens are in almost all cosmetics in daily use. Their use has both supporters and detractors, due to the chemical's impact on health.
What You Should Know About Parabens in Cosmetics
Leidy Mora Molina

Reviewed and approved by the nurse Leidy Mora Molina.

Last update: 15 December, 2022

Makeup, hair treatments, creams, lipsticks, sunscreens and virtually all beauty products need preservatives to prevent the growth of microorganisms and extend their shelf life. Because of this, it’s normal to know about the use of parabens in cosmetics.

So, what are parabens? In essence, they’re chemicals that fight yeasts and fungi. Although their purpose is to preserve the shelf life of beauty products, certain foods, and some drugs, the substance could have toxic effects on health.

However, they aren’t contraindicated in all cases. Science and laws approve the use of a few formulas with the ingredient, but only in certain concentrations. So, what do we need to know about these substances?

What are parabens?

Parabens are preservatives that have a bactericidal and fungicidal function. They belong to the para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA) derivatives and, due to their low cost, are widely used in cosmetic composition.

However, their use is controversial. A publication in the magazine Tecno-Logica warns of the importance of monitoring parabens because their high concentrations could accumulate in body tissues and cause skin sequelae.

These substances are rapidly absorbed by the body, metabolized, and excreted in the urine. However, the excretion is partial, as they’re detectable in blood and urine. In addition, it’s suspected that the substance is capable of altering the hormonal balance by activating endocrine disruptors.

The key to preventing damage is to opt for concentrations in permitted ranges.

Parabens in cosmetics.
Parabens help to preserve cosmetic formulas for longer. However, they must be used in the permitted amounts.

How to identify parabens in cosmetics

There are organic parabens, i.e., those that metabolize naturally. There are also synthetic parabens or those manufactured with chemicals, composed of propanol, ethane, or methanol.

Identify them on labels with names ending in paraben parabens, for example, butylparaben, propylparaben and methylparaben.

Cosmetics that don’t contain this ingredient usually specify “paraben-free” on the labeling. However, check the labels carefully, as the letters are usually very small or the nomenclature and codes have acronyms that tend to confuse one additive with another.

Sensitivity to parabens in cosmetics

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ranks parabens in second place among the most common ingredients in cosmetics. The same institution has no information that such preservatives in beauty products have effects on human health.

Although they do not inject odors or flavors, nor do they alter the properties of makeup or personal care products, inadequate doses of the ester tend to generate dermatological conditions such as rosacea, dermatitis and allergies.

Consult a doctor if you experience itching, swelling, red bumps, oozing skin, or a rash after applying a cosmetic containing parabens.

As for its link to cancer, an article in the Chemical SafetyFacts.org newsletter states that scientific studies have found no direct link between this substance and the disease.

Parabens you can use and those to avoid

Apart from the FDA, the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety authorizes parabens, but with certain rules.

Ethylparaben and methylparaben are safe at a maximum concentration of 0.4% per product or 0.8% if it’s a mixture. Alone or in combination, propylparaben and butylparaben are supported in formulations of 0.14 %.

Among the harmful ones are phenylparaben, isopropylparaben, pentylparaben, isobutylparaben, and benzylparaben. Regarding this group, it hasn’t been conclusively demonstrated exactly how harmful they are to health, which is why they’re prohibited.

For children under 3 years of age, it’s always better to use paraben-free personal care products.

How to store cosmetics with parabens

On a daily basis, many people decide to modify their consumption habits to stop using items with this kind of preservatives and try “green cosmetics”.

But if you still have some products with this substance, or you trust more in the effectiveness of the chemical, then take into account the following considerations for storage:

  • Store them in a place where light cannot reach them directly.
  • Close the containers tightly after applying the contents.
  • Aim for a medium temperature, as too high or too low temperatures will alter the stability of the formulas.
  • Ask your product supplier if it’s advisable to refrigerate the products. Some people use the refrigerator to keep creams, lotions, and facial tonics.
Some cosmetics.
Proper storage of products with parabens is key to preserving their formulas.

Products with alternative formulas to parabens

For skin with hypersensitivity, the Spanish Healthy Skin Foundation recommends avoiding contact or exposure to parabens. Check the labeling of the items before buying them and verify that they’re natural cosmetics.

You can also opt for products without preservatives, as they don’t contain water and are becoming increasingly popular. The preservation of this option is through antioxidants that prevent oxidation and prolong their usefulness.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.