Parabens in Cosmetics – Are They Dangerous or Harmless?

parabens in cosmetics cover pic

If you don’t know what parabens are, then you should do. They’re in your makeup, foundation, moisturizer and more. Practically every cosmetic product on the market contains at least 1 paraben.

The chances are you’ve probably heard about parabens in the news at some point. Some people say they are safe while others link them to cancer and a range of other health issues. So which should you believe?

We’ve put together a handy guide that explains exactly what parabens are, what they do and if you should be worried. Before we jump into if they’re safe, what are parabens?

What Are Parabens?

paraben in cosmetics

For those of you that don’t know, parabens are a family of chemicals that are most commonly used as preservatives in cosmetic products. These parabens are primarily used to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold in cosmetic products. After all, if your moisturizer went off after a month you wouldn’t be too happy right?

The most commonly used parabens in cosmetics are:

  • Methylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Ethylparaben

It’s fairly common for cosmetic products to list multiple parabens as they are often used in conjunction with each other and other types of preservatives.

All of these parabens work together to protect the consumer from a broad range of microorganisms.

What Products Contain Parabens?

unbranded cosmetics

Parabens are currently used in a wide range of different cosmetics as well as certain foods and drugs.

The most common cosmetics that may contain parabens are:

  • Makeup
  • Moisturizers
  • Hair care products (shampoo & conditioner)
  • Shaving products (shaving cream & gel)
  • Deodorants

Any cosmetic that is sold in stores or online must have a list of ingredients by law. These ingredients often have peculiar and unusual names depending on the chemical and where it is sourced.

Before using any cosmetics you should always read the ingredients list to make sure it doesn’t contain any ingredients you are trying to avoid.

Parabens are usually easy to identify on the list as their name often contains the word “paraben”. However, sometimes they are disguised or hidden under an alternative name.

Here’s a helpful list of parabens and their alternative names:

Common Name

Alternative Names

BenzylparabenBenzoic acid, 4-hydroxy-, phenylmethyl ester
4-Hydroxybenzoate de benzyle
Benzyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
4-hidroxibenzoato de bencilo
Benzyl p-hydroxybenzoate
Benzoate, 4-hydroxy-, benzyl
4-Hydroxybenzoic acid benzyl ester
Benzoic acid, p-hydroxy-, benzyl ester
p-Hydroxybenzoic acid benzyl ester
IsobutylparabenBenzoic acid, 4-hydroxy-, 2-methylpropyl ester
4-Hydroxybenzoate d’isobutyle
Isobutyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
Isobutyl-4-hydroxybenzoat 4-hidroxibenzoato de isobutilo
2-Methylpropyl p-hydroxybenzoate
Benzoic acid, p-hydroxy-, isobutyl ester
Iso-Butyl p-hydroxybenzoate
Isobutyl p-hydroxybenzoate
p-Hydroxybenzoic acid isobutyl ester
ButylparabenBenzoic acid, 4-hydroxy-, butyl ester
4-Hydroxybenzoate de butyle butyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
4-hidroxibenzoato de butilo
4-Hydroxybenzoic acid butyl ester
Benzoate, 4-hydroxy-, butyl
Aseptoform Butyl
Benzoic acid, p-hydroxy-, butyl ester
Butyl p-hydroxybenzoate
n-Butyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
n-Butyl p-hydroxybenzoate
n-Butylparabenp-Hydroxybenzoic acid butyl ester
n-PropylparabenBenzoic acid, 4-hydroxy-, propyl ester
4-Hydroxybenzoate de propyle propyl 4-hydroxybenzoate Propyl-4-hydroxybenzoat
4-hidroxibenzoato de propilo
4-Hydroxybenzoic acid propyl ester
4-hydroxybenzoic acid propylester
Propyl p-hydroxybenzoate
Propyl paraben
Benzoate, 4-hydroxy-, propyl
Benzoic acid, p-hydroxy-, propyl ester
n-Propyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
p-Hydroxybenzoic acid propyl ester
p-Hydroxybenzoic acid, propyl ester
p-Hydroxybenzoic propyl ester
EthylparabenBenzoic acid
ethyl ester
4-Hydroxybenzoate d’ethyle ethyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
4-hidroxibenzoato de etilo
Benzoate, 4-hydroxy-, ethyl
Ethyl parasept
4-Hydroxybenzoic acid ethyl ester
Benzoic acid, p-hydroxy-, ethyl ester
Ethyl p-hydroxybenzoate
p-Hydroxybenzoate ethyl ester
p-Hydroxybenzoic acid ethyl ester
MethylparabenBenzoic acid, 4-hydroxy-, methyl ester
4-Hydroxybenzoate de methyle
methyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
4-Hidroxibenzoato de metilo
4-Hydroxybenzoic acid methyl ester
4-hydroxybenzoesaeure-methylester benzoate
4-hydroxy-, methyl methyl p-hydroxybenzoate
p-hydroxybenzoic acid
methyl ester
methyl paraben
methyl ester of p-hydroxy benzoic acid
Benzoic acid, p-hydroxy-, methyl ester

As you can see, there are literally hundreds of different names for parabens that manufacturers use. Some are much more obvious than others. Before using any cosmetic products we suggest reading the ingredient list and Googling any name you don’t recognize.

Does the FDA Regulate Parabens?

fda sign

In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for protecting public health through the control and supervision of drugs and medicines.

Currently there are no special rules that apply only to parabens in cosmetics. Instead the law treats preservative in cosmetics the same as other cosmetic ingredients. This means that under current laws and regulations, cosmetic products and ingredients do not need FDA approval before they go on the market. However, it is still against the law to manufacture and sell any products that may cause harm to users when following the directions on the label.

The FDA at any time can take action against a cosmetic product on the market that doesn’t comply with these laws. Nonetheless, there must be proven scientific information about the product that shows it is harmful before the FDA can do anything.

How Safe Are Parabens in Cosmetics?

The FDA constantly review chemicals and decide if they are safe to be used by the public. As of today, the FDA have deemed parabens are safe and can be used in cosmetics as well as other products.

FDA scientists continue to research parabens and other chemicals to see what effect they have on humans. Currently there is no evidence to suggest parabens have an effect on human health so they have been deemed “safe”.

However, the FDA are currently investigating a number of different questions regard parabens, such as:

  • What do published studies show about the possible side effects of parabens on human health? Are these experimental findings just based on theory or do they also happen in real life?
  • What are the hazards and risks of not using parabens? If we stop using parabens to protect from bad bacteria and mold, what happens? Are there safer alternatives?
  • If there are any paraben related side effects, how do these effects relate to the use of parabens in cosmetics?
  • Do different kinds of parabens act the same way or differently in our bodies?

So Should You Avoid Parabens in Cosmetics?

The choice is really up to you.

The FDA say they are safe and there is no evidence to show they are harmful towards human health. There is still a risk you could be allergic or affected by certain parabens and chemicals without even knowing. When we shop for cosmetics and other household items, we always like to choose the product with the least chemicals.

If you’re looking for paraben free cosmetics then we’ve put together a comprehensive list of vegan shampoo & vegan toothpaste brands to check out.