Parabens are a class of preservative used in cosmetics and health related products.

A large number of products, especially for infants, claim to be free of parabens implying that this is somewhat better. An even larger number of products contain this "dreaded" parabens and I have been using them for years.

Now, with a young kid, I have been arguing with my wife about the relative merits (and have, in numerous instances, been "strongly recommended" to only buy parabens-free products). I have a suspicion that it is a marketing story, but I wonder if it can be debunked.

Are products without parabens healthier than counterparts with them?

  • This is my first question on skeptics.SE so I tried my best to phrase it in a fitting way. Please edit if it can be improved.
    – Francesco
    Nov 10, 2012 at 12:35
  • Aren't the papers cited in the Wikipedia page good enough evidence?
    – nico
    Nov 10, 2012 at 13:12
  • @nico those references are good but if I didn't miss it they are focused on possible side effects of parabens. My question is not "are parabens harmful?" But "are parabens free products healthier? Is it recommended to use them for little babies hygiene? " it is imho slightly different.
    – Francesco
    Nov 10, 2012 at 20:44
  • The general idea on this website is to provide an example of the claim you want to debunk. How about citing the marketing of one of those products that claim to be good because they don't have parabens?
    – Christian
    Nov 10, 2012 at 22:11
  • 1
    If the only difference between products is that one has parabens and the other does not then the question is equivalent to "is parabens harmful?". which is probably what should be asked here.
    – matt_black
    Nov 12, 2012 at 0:02

1 Answer 1

  1. The conclusions of a report by Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), a U.S.based industry-sponsored panel of experts in 2012 states that parabens in cosmetics is safe at current exposure levels.

The SCCS considers the use of butylparaben and propylparaben as preservatives in finished cosmetic products as safe to the consumer, as long as the sum of their individual concentrations does not exceed 0.19%. This conclusion is based on the lack of scientifically sound data on the pivotal link between dermal absorption in rats and humans, in particular with regard to the metabolism of the parent compound in the skin. The latter can only be addressed through additional human data.

With regard to methylparaben and ethylparaben, the previous opinion, stating that the use at the maximum authorized concentrations can be considered safe, remains unchanged.

  1. There is no evidence to suggest a causal link between parabens and breast cancer per Health Canada.

  2. As of 2007, a statement by Federal Drug Agency assures that there is no reason for concern about the use of cosmetics containing parabens.

FDA believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens. However, the agency will continue to evaluate new data in this area. If FDA determines that a health hazard exists, the agency will advise the industry and the public, and will consider its legal options under the authority of the FD&C Act in protecting the health and welfare of consumers.

  1. Additional research is necessary to determine whether chemicals such as parabens can either alter the DNA in some cells or cause other breast cell changes that may lead to the development of breast cancer per NCI.

  2. There is a need to carry out detailed evaluation of the potential for parabens per Philippa D. Darbre in 2008.

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