This group of compounds includes chemicals such as methylparaben, isobutylparaben, benzylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben, and isopropylparaben. They are commonly used as preservatives in antiperspirants, shampoos, lotions, sunscreens, lipsticks, concealers, foundations, mascaras, shaving creams, and other personal care products.
Parabens have estrogenic properties; conditions that increase estrogen exposure can lead to an increased incidence of breast cancer. Parabens have also been linked with other types of cancer. They are rapidly absorbed through the skin, which according to the American Cancer Society, is a major concern because of the estrogenic properties they exhibit. Further, parabens have been linked with DNA damage, premature aging, immune system suppression, endocrine disruptions, and allergic reactions e.g. contact dermatitis, skin irritation, and rosacea.
Routledge and colleagues recommend that ‘given their [parabens] use in a wide range of commercially available topical preparations…the safety in use of these chemicals should be reassessed, with particular attention being paid to estimation of the actual levels of systemic exposure of humans exposed to these chemicals.’ Despite the recommendation, and the harm parabens can cause, they continue to be used in the food and pharmaceutical industry because they’re very cheap.
The European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety has banned five parabens from personal care product formulas. This hasn’t been the case in Australia and the US where parabens are generally considered safe.