Parabens are preservatives found in many cosmetic products. They have been proven to reduce bacterial and fungal growth in skin care preparations and cosmetics. According to the American Journal of Contact Dermatitis, parabens applied directly to the skin have a low risk of causing a form of irritation known as contact dermatitis. This occurs in a very small minority of individuals.
There have been claims that parabens may cause cancer, influence estrogen levels, accumulate in tissues, and increase UVB-mediated DNA damage. These claims stem from research showing that parabens bind to estrogen receptors in certain types of breast cancer cells and the uterus of rats. Many of these animal studies, however, don’t apply to humans and their daily use. For example, one such study examined breast cancer cells exposed to parabens in concentrations that were tens of thousands of times beyond what someone would be exposed to from cosmetic products. And, even if parabens do accumulate in tissues over time, this effect would lead to levels in the body that are still far lower than the amounts of parabens used in the animal studies. This is the reason why the FDA continues to allow parabens in skin care and cosmetics products.
The potential bacterial or fungal growth and infection, and irritation from alternative preservatives is a far larger risk then any of the claims above. Still, paraben-free products are popular and available for those looking for other options.