The Truth about Parabens

Woman holding skincare product

Parabens, ugh. With all these products proudly sporting the words paraben-free, parabens must be bad for you right? Well, not necessarily. Here’s the quick breakdown of what parabens are and why they aren’t as bad as they seem that can help you make an informed decision on whether to only purchase paraben-free products.

What are parabens?

Parabens are a group of ingredients commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics, food, and medicine. It’s naturally found in plants like carrots, blueberries, grapes, and other foods. There are many kinds of parabens including: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. The most common are methyl- and propylparabens.

Effective and inexpensive, parabens have been in widespread use since the 1950s to prevent the spread of bacteria growth. They have a long track record of being safe to use. In recent years, demand by consumers for paraben-free products have pushed companies to produce products without parabens.

Why do people want paraben-free products

In a 2004 study, the researchers found traces of parabens in breast tumor tissue samples. The results of the study have been interpreted to mean that the products (deodorant) contained parabens that could cause breast cancer. These results quickly drew huge amounts of media attention.

Do parabens cause breast cancer?

In short, no. The study has come under widespread critique by other researchers. There were major flaws with the study. The control group samples had been contaminated by parabens of an unknown source and the researchers didn’t know where those parabens came from.

The researcher who conducted the study even responded in Journal of Applied Toxicology with the statement, “No claim was made that the presence of parabens had caused the breast cancers.”

Peer reviews of the study show that there is no causal link between the parabens and cancer and no studies so far have proven that parabens cause cancer.

Should you avoid parabens to be extra careful?

Unless you’re allergic to parabens, it seems to be more effort than it’s worth to avoid parabens. Cosmetics use a tiny amount of parabens as preservatives and again, there has been no proven link to cancer. According to Michelle from Lab Muffin Beauty Science, many alternatives to parabens “have more allergenic or irritating potential (e.g. formaldehyde, ureas) or don’t work very well except in large, irritating amounts (e.g. alcohol, rosemary extract, citric acid), or both.”


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