Are Parabens Really that Bad for You?

by Brittany Hogan November 06, 2023 4 min read

person reading the ingredients on a shampoo bottle

In the labyrinth of skincare, beauty, and pharmaceutical products, a term often encountered is 'parabens.'

But what exactly are these substances, and why have they become a cause of growing concern among health-conscious consumers?

This article aims to address these concerns, shedding light on the matter, and presenting a comprehensive view of parabens and their impact on our health and wellbeing.


What are Parabens?

Parabens are a group of chemical compounds widely used as preservatives in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products.

Discovered in the 1920s, they are used for their bactericidal and fungicidal properties. These synthetic compounds were developed to mimic para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA), which occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables.

Unfortunately, when isolating compounds from the totality of the whole, as is common in society today, the isolates can become dangerous as singular compounds in the body and the environment.


chemists looking at parabens in lab


The most common parabens found in consumer products are methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. (1)

They are included in products to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold, thereby prolonging shelf life. Albeit efficient preservatives, the safety of parabens has been under scrutiny for quite some time.


The Common Uses of Parabens

Parabens are ubiquitous in modern consumer products. They are commonly found in a wide array of personal care products such as shampoos, conditioners, lotions, facial and shower cleansers, and shaving gels. Even makeup products like foundation, lipstick, and mascara often contain parabens.

In addition, parabens are also used in numerous pharmaceutical preparations. Many over-the-counter and prescription drugs contain parabens as preservatives.

These include, but are not limited to, topical creams and ointments, cough syrups, and various types of oral medications.

Even certain food products employ parabens to inhibit microbial growth and extend shelf life.


microbes in petri dish


Why are Parabens Bad for You?

Despite their widespread use, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that parabens pose significant health risks. The primary concern arises from their potential to disrupt hormonal function.

Parabens possess estrogen-mimicking properties, which raises the concern of their contribution to the development of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity.

Moreover, parabens are classified as xenoestrogens, foreign substances that mimic the body's natural estrogen.

High levels of estrogen in the body have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Some studies have found parabens in human breast cancer tissues, suggesting a possible association between parabens in cosmetics and cancer.


Scientific Evidence Backing Paraben Dangers

Several research studies have highlighted the potential dangers of parabens. A study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology in 2004 detected parabens in human breast tumor tissue, suggesting their possible role in the development of cancer. (2)

Another study conducted by the University of Reading, UK, found a higher concentration of parabens in the upper outer quadrant of the breast where most breast cancers are found. (3)


woman holding chest


Moreover, a 2016 report by the Endocrine Society expressed concern over the disruptive effects of parabens on the endocrine system. (4)

The report suggested that even low-dose exposure to parabens could interfere with hormone function, leading to a variety of health issues, including fertility problems and developmental disorders in children.


How to Avoid Parabens in Daily Life

Avoiding parabens might seem daunting, given their widespread use. However, there are several strategies consumers can employ. First, read product labels carefully. Look for products labeled 'paraben-free.' However, be aware that some companies may use other harmful preservatives instead of parabens.

Second, familiarize yourself with the common parabens used in products: methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. If a product lists any of these in its ingredients, it contains parabens.

Third, consider using natural or organic products. However, make sure they are truly natural or organic by reading the labels and doing your research, as the terms 'natural' and 'organic' are often misused in marketing.


natural skincare products without parabens



Alternatives to Parabens in Products

There are numerous alternatives to parabens available in the market. These include natural preservatives like grapefruit seed extract, rosemary extract, and vitamin E.

In addition, several companies are simply choosing to use non-aqueous solutions, or anhydrous blends, which do not require preservatives because they do not contain water, the source of bacterial growth which would require a preservative.

Such cosmetic products include: tallow salves and moisturizers, body butters, whipped shea butters, and oil-based cleansers.

Such over-the-counter prescriptions and drug alternatives include: natural remedies, herbal teas, and essential oil based ointments.

Keep in mind however, that even though a package might say “paraben-free” that does not always mean 'risk-free.' Some paraben replacements have come under scrutiny for potential health risks as well. Hence, it's crucial to research and choose products wisely.


paraben free cosmetics



The Impact of Parabens on the Environment

Parabens are not just a concern for human health but also pose a threat to the environment. These compounds are known to persist in the environment, leading to potential risks for wildlife. A study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found parabens in the bodies of marine mammals, suggesting that these substances might be entering the food chain. (5)

Moreover, parabens can disrupt the hormonal systems of wildlife, similar to their effects on humans. This could have severe implications for animal populations and the broader ecosystem.


The Real Danger of Parabens

Research has proven that parabens pose significant health and environmental risks. As consumers, it's essential to be informed and make choices that prioritize both personal health and environmental well-being.

A good starting point is to opt for products that are paraben-free and made with natural ingredients.

One such product line is Nefertem Naturals. Try Nefertem Naturals paraben-free, tallow skincare. 100% natural, made with 90% organic ingredients and zero synthetic ingredients. No parabens, no preservatives, no junk. Guaranteed.


paraben free skincare by Nefertem



(1) What are Parabens? Mindful Living Choice

(2) Harvey PW, Everett DJ. Significance of the detection of esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens) in human breast tumours. J Appl Toxicol. 2004 Jan-Feb;24(1):1-4. doi: 10.1002/jat.957. PMID: 14745840. 


(4) Diamanti-Kandarakis E, Bourguignon JP, Giudice LC, Hauser R, Prins GS, Soto AM, Zoeller RT, Gore AC. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: an Endocrine Society scientific statement. Endocr Rev. 2009 Jun;30(4):293-342. doi: 10.1210/er.2009-0002. PMID: 19502515; PMCID: PMC2726844.

(5) Parabens and their byproducts found in dolphins and other marine mammals

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