• parabens

What Is the Precise Situation with Parabens?

I frequently get asked the question on my weblog why parabens are missing from the list of substances to be avoided. I would like to explain this now. The answer, however, is not so simple. I find it important to let you know the situation, so that you can make your own decision whether you want to use products containing this substance or not.


An essential component of cosmetic beauty products. A product without, or with inadequate amounts of, preservatives is very susceptible to contamination. Many scientists think that there is a higher risk of getting skin problems if you use a product which is possibly contaminated rather than one which contains preservatives (Leslie Baumann: “Without preservatives, our beauty products would quickly be colonized by all sorts of nasty bacteria, mould and fungi”).

The fact remains that a higher quantity than necessary is added to many cosmetics. An example of this are products contained in pots. Through continually extracting the cream with your fingers/spatula and exposure to air, more preservatives are needed than, for example, using airtight containers. With regard to preservatives there are big differences in terms of effectiveness, toxicity and the risk of an allergy or skin irritation.

Low risk of allergies

Different preservatives vary significantly when looking at the risk of developing an allergy or skin irritation. Parabens are the most widely used preservatives (contained in around 90% of products) and are very effective. There is only a low concentration needed in order to keep a product in a useable state. In comparison to other preservatives the risk of skin irritation or a cosmetic allergy is low (‘Allergic Contact Dermatitis Caused by 2 Parabens: 2 Case Reports and a Review’- American journal of contact dermatitis – 2000). In terms of allergic reactions parabens are regarded as safer than many later alternatives. People can just as likely react to ‘natural’ preservatives, such as rosemary extract or tea tree oil, as to parabens in beauty products (‘Contact Dermatitis to Cosmetics, Fragrances and Botanicals‘- dermatologic therapy – 2004). In association with a relatively high chance of skin problems it is in any case sensible to avoid using products which contain the preservatives Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone and Quartenium-15.

Why is there so much consternation surrounding parabens?

When used in cosmetics parabens can, to some extent, infiltrate the skin and there is evidence that they can be present in human tissue. Through research on animals parabens have been found to cause low levels of oestrogen activity, where the substances have been linked to breast cancer. A direct link between breast cancer and parabens has never been proven though. There are many parabens and there is a significant difference between them in terms of safety. Unfortunately, in spite of long term use, there has been relatively little research carried out into the possible negative effects.

You can decide for yourself whether you want to use products containing parabens. If they are present in a product you can find them in the ingredients list (Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben or Benzylparaben).

I would like to give you a more complete picture on preservatives so I will shortly.

Regards Jetske

(Dr. Jetske Ultee-Research Physician Cosmetic Dermatology)

You can also read
Natural Cosmetics. Safe or Not?
‘Anti-Oxidants in Cosmetic Products
Anti-Wrinkle Creams‘,
A Good Suncream‘,
‘Spots. Should I Go to the Doctor or Not?

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