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Are Parabens Safe in Skincare Products? Experts Explain

Are Parabens Safe in Skincare Products? Experts Explain

Stroll through any store carrying skincare and other beauty products and you’re bound to find quite a few products bearing the words “paraben-free.” If you weren’t familiar with parabens, you’d immediately assume they were a bad ingredient to have in your beauty products. But is that truly the case? Or is this ingredient the victim of a PR smear campaign? I reached out to some experts to find out if parabens were safe in skincare products.


Parabens are a type of preservative commonly found in skincare products. They’re used to prevent bacteria, fungus, and mold growth. Basically, they’re there to extend the life of your products and keep you safe.

In fact, products aren’t safe if they don’t have preservatives. “If we didn't put preservatives in cosmetic products, then the product would need to be treated as raw food [meaning] it would need to be used within four days, kept in refrigeration, and should not be touched by bare fingers,” says Los Angeles esthetician Biba de Sousa.

However, it was discovered that parabens can mimic estrogens, so many became concerned about a potential link to infertility and cancer. That said, there’s no hard proof that this link actually exists yet, since longer term studies are still being conducted, says Manhattan Beach, CA dermatologist Nina Desai, MD.

It’s important to note that the concern over this potential link caused five different parabens (isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben, phenylparaben, benzylparaben, and pentylparaben) to be banned in the European Union (EU) for lack of data, says cosmetic formulator Annalisa Branca. And use of other types of parabens such as butylparaben, propylparaben, methylparaben, ethylparaben has been limited to allowed concentrations.

Branca adds that parabens have been assessed thoroughly. “What they found is that parabens get absorbed through the stratum corneum, but are metabolized almost entirely within the skin and get transformed into a substance that is readily expelled through urine. They don’t accumulate in the body, not even with intravenous administration. In regard to the fear of them being endocrine disruptors, CIR has found them to a very weak activity, thousands of time weaker compared to estradiol.”

These fears aside, there is another concern many have about parabens. And that is they have been found to cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis in some individuals, particularly those of Asian descent or those with sensitive skin, says cosmetic product developer Ginger King.

The verdict? Parabens are currently deemed safe as used in cosmetics. But if you’re worried about it or have sensitive skin, it’s extremely easy to find paraben-free products.

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