5 Adverse Effects Of Parabens That Cosmetic Industry Does NOT Want You To Know

Written By Dr Surbhi, MD Skin

Last updated: 25/09/19

Parabens are preservatives that are used in cosmetics, foods and drugs; to inhibit the growth of fungus and bacteria. Recently, their use has been questioned due to various adverse effects, few of which are serious enough to reconsider their safety profile.

Did you know that Parabens was found in over 22,000 cosmetic products and in about 90% of the food samples tested in the US? 


We could not cite similar data for India, but most of the cosmetics contain Parabens, while only few of the pre-packed or semi-cooked food might contain Parabens.

What are the adverse effects of parabens?

Here are the five adverse effects of Parabens that cosmetic industry does NOT want you to know:

Breast cancer:

Numerous studies have shown the presence of Parabens in breast tumours, and Parabens might promote the spread of this cancer as well. I have listed a few studies here:

  • This study concludes that the actions of these parabens on the expression of ER(Estrogen receptors) and PGR(Progesterone Receptor) in non-cancerous cells point to possible actions on breast cancer initiation.

  • This recent study done in 2016 concludes that methylparaben increases breast cancer tumour proliferation through enhanced TIC(Tumour Initiating cell) activity that may play a direct role in chemoresistance by modulating stem cell activity.

  • Here is the conclusion of a study done in 2016 to find out what happens at the molecular level when parabens combine with Estrogen receptors. Our results show that HER(Human Epidermal growth factor receptor) ligands enhanced the potency of Butylparaben to stimulate oncogene expression and breast cancer cell proliferation in vitro via ERα, suggesting that parabens might be active at exposure levels not previously considered toxicologically relevant from studies testing their effects in isolation.

Estrogenic action: 

Parabens have weak estrogenic action, and CIR concludes that it is not enough to cause any visible effects. However, these studies show the contrary results:

  • In this study, parabens were shown to alter sexual behaviour.

  • Another study concluded that parabens have ER-dependent estrogenic activities.

  • This study done in 2016 concludes that there is in vivo estrogenicity of MP and EP at human exposure levels, and indicate that populations exposed to large amounts of MP and EP may have a high burden of estrogenicity-related diseases. 

Infertility in males:

Parabens have been shown to adversely affect the vitality of sperms in experiments conducted both in-vitro (outside body) and in Vivo (inside body). For more details, click here.

Promote skin ageing:

In a study, after one month of daily applications of methylparaben containing formulations, MP remained unmetabolized and persisted slightly in the Stratum corneum cells in the lab. Methyl parabens decreased the proliferating ability of keratinocytes and changed cell morphology. MP also decreased the expressions of hyaluronan synthase 1 and 2 mRNAs and type IV collagen. In contrast, it increased the expressions of involucrin and HSP27. Furthermore, MP influenced the epidermal differentiation of the skin equivalent. These results suggest that MP exposure through the application of dermatological formulations results in MP persistence and accumulation in the SC and that MP might influence the ageing and differentiation of keratinocytes. So, do not forget to check for the absence of Parabens, before buying anti-wrinkle creams next time.

Environmental toxin:

Due to the widespread use of Parabens, it has been detected in soil, sewage water, swimming pools, house dust, but not in drinking water in developed countries. This study found methyl parabens in fishes from Michigan, New York, and Florida, a bald eagle from Michigan, albatrosses from Midway Atoll, Northwestern Pacific Ocean.


However, FDA has following valid reasons to allow the use of Parabens:

  • All the studies and reports are either from the animal model or done at higher concentration, so it is not conclusive enough to withdraw this preservative.
  • There aren’t any safer and inexpensive alternatives to Parabens. This is significant because many organic products that claim to be "paraben free" use more harmful formaldehyde releasers as the preservative. The only safe alternatives are Sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, that is not potent enough to stop the microbe growth in cosmetics.
  • American Academy of Contact dermatitis has declared paraben as NON-allergen of the year 2019 because most paraben-free products contain preservatives that are more likely to cause skin allergies. Therefore, if you have sensitive skin, make sure you are not shifting to skincare products that can further increase your allergy.


How to avoid Parabens in food and cosmetics?

Here are a few suggestions on how to go green with Parabens-free products:


In a study conducted in the US, Parabens was found in beer, sauces, desserts, soft drinks, processed fish, jams, pickles, frozen dairy products, processed vegetables and flavouring syrups. Unfortunately, infants and toddlers food had a maximum concentration of Parabens. Here are some recommendations for going green with Paraben-free products:

  • Consume fresh fruits and vegetables rather than canned ones.

  • Avoid pre-packed foods for kids; food given to infants and toddler should be prepared at home.

  • Avoid semi-cooked or dehydrated food that needs very little cooking.

  • Prefer fresh dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt to packed ones that last longer.

  • Prefer fresh meat to processed or packed meat.

  • Avoid cereal-based or potato-based snacks and coated nuts.

  • Avoid confectionery (excluding chocolates).


Parabens can be found in almost all the skin care products; like face wash, creams, lotion, sunscreen, toothpaste etc. Due to the widespread presence, you might have to:

  • Scan the ingredient list for the absence of parabens.

  • Many skincare products without Parabens mention “Paraben-free” on the label.

  • Remember organic skincare products do not necessarily mean they are devoid of Parabens.

  • The best option to stay chemical-free is to prepare your own skincare products. We have recipies for making home made face wash, scrub, face packs etc on our Dermatocare YouTube channel, that can be stored without refrigeration. 



We recommend you to take your medicines regularly, even if they contain Parabens. As already discussed, occasional exposure to Parabens might not be a health hazard. It is the daily exposure to Parabens in cosmetics and foods that should be avoided.


How to scan the label for Parabens?

Here are the tips on how to scan the label for Parabens:

Tip 1: Parabens has many derivatives.

Parabens have many derivatives methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, n-butylparaben, and isobutyl paraben. These derivatives have a different prefix like ethyl, methyl, butyl etc. however the suffix remains the same "parabens.” 


Tip 2: The food industry labels preservatives with word “E” especially in Europe 






E 218

(Source: Wikipedia)

Tip 3: Parabens are listed at the end of the ingredients list

Parabens are listed at the end of the ingredients list because they are present in low concentration. Higher the position of the ingredient in the list more is the concentration.

Tip 4: Look for the word “paraben-free” on the label.

Most companies that do not put parabens in their products highlight this fact by using the word “Paraben free” on the front label.


Tip 5: The word “base” is dangerous.

The ingredients used for holding the active ingredients are all together clubbed into one word “base” (as shown by the red line in the above photograph). Now no one except the manufacturer knows what kind of ingredients makes the “base”. So better avoid products which mention the word “base”, but do not defer from taking the medicines with word “base” on the label.



All that glitters is NOT gold, take advantage of our research to know which skincare products are really the best:

Try Our product Finder tool

Did you know 80% people use wrong skin/hair care products