Parabens

Good

Preservative

No known benefits

Parabens description

Parabens are a group of controversial preservatives that include butylparaben, isobutylparaben, propylparaben, methylparaben, and ethylparaben. All of these were at one time the most widely used group of preservatives used in cosmetics. Parabens were so popular because of their gentle, non-sensitizing, and highly effective profile in comparison to other preservatives but also because they were derived naturally from plants, a rare phenomenon for a preservative. Parabens are found in plants in the form of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA), a chemical that breaks down to become parabens for a plant’s own protection. Over the past 10 years parabens have become criticised and condemned for use in cosmetics due to their alleged relation to health concerns affecting women and men. The research about parabens is conflicting and polarising. Some research indicates they are safe as used in cosmetics and are preferred over other preservatives to keep a formula stable. These studies also showed parabens did not have any effect when compared to natural hormones in the body. However, other research has concluded they are indeed problematic: Some studies determined a 100% concentration of parabens caused skin samples (meaning not intact skin on a person) to break down. However, these studies don’t apply to the tiny amount (1% or less) of parabens typically used in cosmetics. In low amounts, parabens were not shown to harm skin; in fact, they offer a benefit due to their ability to thwart the growth of mold, fungi, and harmful pathogens. Other studies casting parabens in a negative light were based on force-feeding them to rats, a practice that is not only cruel but unrelated to what happens when parabens are applied to skin. There are studies indicating absorption of parabens through skin associated with application of skin care products, but those studies did not take into consideration that parabens are still used as food-grade preservatives or that they are found naturally in plants, so either source could have been the origin, not the cosmetics. We also looked at studies showing other questionable effects, but those were done in vitro (meaning in a petri dish) or, again, they were animal studies in species whose biologic makeup does not closely relate to people. We appreciate the concern about parabens and understand if people choose to avoid them. At Paula’s Choice Skincare we use parabens in a very limited number of products, but that decision is based on other reasons than the scare tactics rampant on the internet. For transparency, we list all ingredients on individual product pages and packaging and our Client Services team is always happy to help.

Parabens references

  • Journal of Applied Toxicology, January 2020, pages 176–210
  • Dermatitis, January/February 2019, pages 32-45
  • Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, May 2017, 320-325
  • Annual Review of Food Science Technology, February 2017, pages 371-390
  • Journal of Applied Toxicology, April 2017, ePublication
  • Environmental Science and Technology, April 2017, page 4009-4017
  • Dermatitis, November-December 2015, pages 254-259
  • Toxicology Letters, December 2013, pages 295-305
  • Skin Therapy Letter, July-August 2013, pages 5-7
  • Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, June 2008, pages 4631-4636
  • http://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/paraben-information

Peer-reviewed, substantiated scientific research is used to assess ingredients in this dictionary. Regulations regarding constraints, permitted concentration levels and availability vary by country and region.

Ingredient ratings

Best

Proven and supported by independent studies. Outstanding active ingredient for most skin types or concerns.

Good

Necessary to improve a formulas texture, stability, or penetration. Also includes non-irritating, effective ingredients.

Average

Generally non-irritating but may have aesthetic, stability, or other issues that limit its usefulness.

Bad

There is a likelihood of irritation. Risk increases when combined with other problematic ingredients.

Worst

May cause irritation, inflammation, dryness, etc. May offer benefit in some capability but overall, proven to do harm than good.