What are parabens and how safe are they?

A question often raised by our clients is, what exactly are parabens?

And for good reason, there is a lot of misinformation about them.

So to live up to our philosophy of transparency in beauty.

We wanted to address this subject in more detail, and look at how safe they are on your skin.

What are parabens?

Parabens are effective chemical agents that have been widely used as preservatives since the early 1930s.

Not so long ago, manufacturers of cosmetics were using parabens regularly. Their popularity was due to their low cost and efficacy at poisoning bacteria.

They do this by indirectly releasing chemicals that poison microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and yeast.

They help to reduce the chance of contamination and extend the shelf life of your skincare products.

What are the types of parabens used in skincare

  • propylparaben
  • butylparaben
  • isobutyl paraben
  • isopropyl paraben
  • methylparaben E number E218
  • ethylparaben E214 and Butylparaben E216

These are the most commonly used parabens.

Each paraben has its own chemical and toxicology properties, which have different effects when it comes to controlling the growth of yeasts and mould.

Although they are a primary fungicidal, they also offer some protection against bacteria. This is why you may notice your skincare product containing more than one type of paraben.

Why the controversy?

In 2004, Dr. Philippa Darbre a scientist at Reading University published an article in the Journal of Applied Toxicology. This article was in relation to a random test that was carried out on breast cancer patients.

Dr. Darbre discovered that parabens were in all twenty of the breast tissue samples from tumours that were tested; this is where the direct link between parabens and breast cancer came from – an alarming fact, which created a media frenzy.

So, should we avoid products with parabens?

Since this time, there have been a number of studies carried out on the toxicology of parabens. Yet no research has ever been able to make a connection with parabens found in personal care products and breast cancer.

So NO EVIDENCE shows that they STAY in the BODY, or cause irritation.

Clinical studies have shown that whilst parabens are absorbed into the skin’s tissues, they are fully metabolised before entering the bloodstream, and quickly eliminated by the body.

One such study carried out on the oestrogen activity of parabens, released a report that stated; “It is impossible for Parabens to increase any risk associated with exposure to Oestrogen chemicals”.

So, it seems the very idea that Parabens found in your personal care products can cause breast cancer, is largely unsubstantiated.

What is the FDA view of this?

As of 2020, FDA continues to review published studies on the safety of parabens.

At this time, they state that we do not have information showing that parabens, as they are used in cosmetics, have a detrimental effect on human health – however, this is under ongoing review.


There is no doubt that there has been a lot of controversy around parabens.”>

If you are using personal care products without parabens or preservatives, you need to ensure the formula you are using on your skin is safe. The microbes that grow in this environment include mould, yeast, and fungi, which can be far more deadly and more toxic than parabens, and if anything, the use of natural ingredients increases the need for them.

Natural materials have more chance of breaking down and become contaminated with organisms.

It’s certainly an interesting subject, one that obviously does come down to personal choice, but here at NC, we feel that it is a subject that does require sensible consideration before you decide to go preservative-free.


2 replies on “What are parabens and how safe are they?”

So I’ve read up on all the studies and I’m sure parabens are fine to use topically, however I’m wondering about the effect on the price of a product. I associate parabens with cheaper products. If a high end/expensive product contains parabens am I being ripped off? For instance SK-II’s treatment essence has a paraben but it cost almost $100. Is it still worth the price even if they use cheap preservatives?

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