Used as preservatives in cosmetics – and in certain foods and drugs – parabens protect against microbial growth. They’re easy to spy on labels – check for butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben.
Parabens are easily absorbed by humans, especially when applied to the skin in moisturizers, shaving products, and makeup. They accumulate in fatty tissue, adding to a person’s body burden.
Once inside a person, parabens break down into p-hydroxybenzoic acid, and they’re also known to mimic estrogen. 1 This is particularly problematic because some forms of breast cancer are influenced by high estrogen levels. 2
In 2004, the Journal of Applied Toxicology published a study detecting the accumulation of parabens in breast tumors. While the parabens were present in breast tumors, the study did NOT link paraben use to breast cancer. 3
It’s important to note the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration consider parabens to be safe ingredients. 4
Parabens may very well be safe. But because they are known to accumulate in tissue and act like estrogen, I’d rather limit my exposure as much as possible. How about you?
1. “The Dirty Dozen in Cosmetics.” National Geographic’s Green Guide for Everyday Living.
2. and 3. “Concentrations of Parabens in Human Breast Tumours.” P.D. Darbre, et al. Journal of Applied Toxicology.
4. “American Cancer Society on Parabens.” American Cancer Society. “Parabens.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Oct. 31, 2007.
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