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Todays Chemical:

Parabens (methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, benzylparaben, isobutylparaben, propylparaben)

What is it:

Parabens are a group of chemicals used as preservatives in lotions, conditioners, shampoos, shower gels, deodorants, etc. 

Safety/Hazard Data:

  • Although the results have been hotly debated, parabens have been found to accumulate in breast cancer tissue. (Source)  [Critics of this study claim that the samples tested were contaminated during the study.]
  • Parabens are suspected to raise levels of estrogen by interfering with the enzyme that flushes estrogen from the body. This enzyme is found in the skin, lessening counterarguments that parabens are not absorbed in to the body enough to be problematic. (Source)
  • Parabens are absorbed in to the body.  In one study of Danish men, "methyl-, ethyl-, n-propyl- and n-butyl parabens were measurable in 98%, 80%, 98% and 83% of the men, respectively." (Source)  An American study found methyparaben in 99.1% of the study samples.  Women had significantly higher concentrations of parabens, likely due to higher use of personal care products.  Older women had even higher concentrations, likely due to higher absorption rates due to a thinner skin barrier.  (Source)  Another study in Denmark found that urinary concentrations of parabens increased after application of a paraben-containing cream, furthering the evidence that parabens applied dermally are absorbed.  (Source)
  • The European Journal of Cancer Prevention reported that “Frequency and earlier onset of antiperspirant/deodorant usage with underarm shaving were associated with an earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis.” It is possible that the parabens (and other chemicals) in the antiperspirant are to blame for this.

What type of products is it found in:

Any water-based formula--conditioner, shampoo, body washes, lotions, hair creams, makeups.

Brands that use this ingredient:


Desert Essence

Peter Thomas

Derma Pro


Estee Lauder

For a full list, click here:

Steph's Opinion:

Over the last few years the EWG hazard score of this ingredient has crept from a 4 to an 8.  It seems like the evidence keeps piling up against parabens.  The good news is that a lot of companies are reformulating their products without parabens because the word is getting out.  The bad news is, though, that they're just replacing parabens with other harmful preservatives like diazolidinyl urea and tetrasodium EDTA. 

For more detailed information about the parabens debate, check out my article here.

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Reader Comments (12)

Plants which produce significant amounts of parabens include carrots, olive, cucumber, honeysuckle and ylang ylang (Bach M et al, Plant Physiol, 103(2), 1993); (Aziz N et al, Microbios 93(374), 1998); Smith-Becker J et al, Plant Physiol, 116(1), 1998); (Dweck A, “Natural Preservatives”, Cosmet Toilet, Aug 2003).

Plants known to synthesise Methylparaben include Guan pepper (Piper guanacastensis) (Pereda-Miranda R et al, J Nat Prod, 60(3), 1997); Thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) (Walker T et al, J Agric Food Chem, 51, 2548, 2003) and Oca (Oxalis tuberosa) (Pal Bais H et al, Plant Physiol Biochem, 41(4), 2003).

Mangoes produce Propylparaben as a self defense mechanism (Mangifera indica) (Chirawut B, Sangchote S, 15 th Australasian Plant Pathology Society Conference, Deakin University, Geelong, 26-29 September, 2005).

In fact, parabens have been used as preservatives in foods and beverages and exhibit little or no toxicity in the concentrations used. The cancerous breast tissues that had parabens were probably caused by preserved food rather than underarm deodorants!

If you want to blame excess estrogen for causing breast cancer, look no further than soy beans (Sob M, Naturally Occurring Estrogens, in CRC Handbook of Naturally Occurring Food Toxicants, Miloslav R (Ed), CRC Press, 1983); (Davis D & Bradlow H, Sci Amer, Oct 1995); (Davis D et al, Nature Sci Med, May/June 1997); (Zava D et al, Proc Soc Exp Biol Med, 217(3), 1998).

Soy beans contain the natural endocrine disrupter genistein and stimulates the activity of estrogen receptors at considerably lower concentrations (100x) than synthetic hormones (Bernhoft A, Endocrine Disrupters - Synthetic Chemical Contaminants and Natural Compounds in the Diet, Lecture, Norwegian Acad Sci Letters, 1997).

Most phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) show some beneficial effects on estrogen-dependent disease. However, these can also promote tumor growth (Hilakivi-Clarke L et al, Oncol Rep, 6(5), 1999); (Newbold R et al, Cancer Res, 61(11), 2001).

Asians who consume soy products do so with fermented or soaked soy beans (which reduces the levels of toxins) before consumption. Many Western soya products are not made this way - so the toxins remain.

Hence, the reason behind higher rates of breast cancer could be attributed to soy, or improved cancer screening equipment, or pollution, lack of vitamin D (sunlight), or lifestyle factors of the individual (such as smoking). Eating enough preserved food stuffs will probably result in residue traces of parabens. This does not mean parabens have caused the disease.

Mon, September 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChloee

Stephanie I would like to hear (read) your opinion about what Chloee said... Is it true???

Wed, December 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaz

Thanks for reminding me about this post, Paz. I think this would be a fun article to write about--I'm going to research this in-depth and write about it in our Most Controversial section. Thanks!

Thu, December 30, 2010 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

Thank you Stephanie!! I really trust your opinion, I know you are an expert. I can't wait to read that article =)

Sun, January 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaz

Always two sides to the coins, but although the CDC says they are still "deemed safe for use in cosmetics etc." ( you have to think ( and I mean REALLY think) parabens easily absorb into the body and are readily detected in urine samples. Now, imagine the concentrations when most people use at least a dozen different products a day that contain parabens.

Now further imagine that parabens do have some effect on our bodies (because EVEYRTHING has some type of effect on our bodies one way or the other) and then imagine a child's body (or baby's) that does not eliminate toxins as efficiently as a teens or adults.

The extent of paraben damage is not well known or even well studies (shame on the gov't!) but Denmark recently banned parabens from children's products (Dec 2010) and they must've done some research to move to such drastic measures.

All preservatives have consequences, it's just about choosing the lesser of the evils!

Fri, March 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTamara Laschinsky

Thanks so much for this post. I've been using only all-natural/organic makeup since age 14, but this clarified and expanded on my knowledge of parabens. I'm glad I stumbled upon your site today: I'll continue reading for sure!

Sat, March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCat

Stephanie, Do you think your reviews on the potential dangers of parabens or peg 40- castor oil helped to have Desert Essences remove their Anti-Aging Toner from there product line?

Fri, June 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary

I would also like to know more about what Chloee said. I recall reading a post once by someone in a forum, mentioning some difference between manufactured parabens and other parabens (not sure if she called non manufactured). I could never really get in touch with her because she was no longer an active member but I did manage to trace her to a blog (trying to figure how to contact her from there without sounding like a nut). Regardless, I definitely feel that the less we use of synthetic chemicals, the better.

Sat, October 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Here's my response to Chloee and similar inquiries:

Wed, September 4, 2013 | Registered Commenter[Stephanie Greenwood]

I would like to mention and see you add Germaben and Germaben II to the parabens list, as they are growing in use. These 2 preservatives contain parabens, propylene glycol, and Diazolidinyl Urea. One could and should be suspicious of the name, but I've seen it showing up in ingredient lists where one might otherwise assume non-toxic ingredients.

Sat, August 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

I purchased an organic shampoo that containes " GERMABEN II , and HEC ".
I've tried googling but no info that was beneficial... can anyone advise me on these ingredients ? .


Mon, February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterOren


Sat, May 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMayday

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