Parabens can be found in every sort of personal care product including color cosmetics, skin care, deodorant, and hair care.

parabens - synthetic preservatives in cosmetics

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Parabens are synthetic preservatives (methylparaben, propylparaben, isoparaben, and butylparaben) that easily and cheaply preserve personal care products for up to 2 years. Parabens can be found in every sort of personal care product including color cosmetics, skin care, deodorant, and hair care.

The problem with parabens is that they are absorbed in to the skin and accumulate in the body. This build up of parabens in the body can increase our “toxic-load” and may contribute to disease. Parabens may cause skin irritation, influence breast cancer, and are recognized endocrine disruptors.

The body sees parabens as estrogen (xenoestrogens – a foreign estrogen). Parabens can disrupt the endocrine system, affect fetal development, and are especially harmful to children’s developing bodies. Multiple studies have discovered parabens in breast cancer tumors. Parabens have also been found to cause heart tissue problems over time.

Paraben Free Cosmetics: What You Need to Know



Used as solvents in many cosmetics, phthalates are industrial chemicals that have also been added to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products, such as building materials, food packaging, clothing, and children’s products, to provide flexibility and durability.

Phthalates are commonly found in dozens of personal care products including deodorants, nail polishes, fragrances, and hair mousses. Research has found that this preservative is an endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemical that can cause reproductive defects in the developing male fetus and cause early puberty in girls.

In addition, the American Academy of Pediatricians Committee on the Environment issued a report in 2000 indicating that phthalates are carcinogens. In laboratory animal studies they have been shown to cause fetal death, malformations, and reproductive toxicity, depending on dose potencies.


Used primarily as a preservative, parabens can be found in makeup, moisturizers, hair care products, deodorants, shaving products, and other cosmetics. Some companies and government organizations, including the US Food and Drug Administration, assure us that exposure to these chemicals is not harmful to our health. However, research continues to cast doubt on this assertion.

Parabens are easily absorbed through the skin. They have lipophilic properties, which means they can accumulate in fatty tissue such as that found in the breast. This makes the use of parabens in underarm deodorants, skin cremes, and sunscreens a concern if they are found to be harmful to our health.

In 2003 British researcher Dr. P.D. Darbre authored a paper in the Journal of Applied Toxicology on the potential connection between the use of paraben-containing deodorants and breast cancer. Darbre’s concern was that cosmetics such as deodorants and skin cremes are left on the skin, allowing more direct absorption and escape from normal systemic metabolism.

This publication sparked increased public and scientific interest in the area. Yet despite a large number of clinical trials to determine the toxicity of parabens, to date, there is still no conclusion.

Toxicity testing of parabens in laboratory studies has been inconsistent; some studies suggest parabens can increase uterine weight and affect male reproductive health, while others find no signs of toxicity.

A 2006 study from China noted that parabens act like the hormone estrogen. The suggestion alone that parabens are estrogen-disruptors and may affect human health has raised enough concern that parabens are now a topic of discussion in government meetings around the world, and they are on many consumer’s watch lists of chemicals to avoid.

Check Your Label

Before you take your personal care products to the checkout, check out the label. If you find any of the following ingredients listed, you may want to reconsider your choice:

butyl benzyl phthalate
dibutyl phthalate
diethyl phthalate
diethylhexyl phthalate
dimethyl phthalate
dioctyl phthalate
sodium methylparaben
sodium propylparaben

Although these ingredients must be listed, they are also known by various names. To get more information consult the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database at

Phthalates in Children’s Products

Phthalates can be released when children suck or chew on products that contain them. The European Union, which placed a temporary ban on phthalates in all children’s toys and childcare articles in 1999, later made this ban permanent in 2005. Mexico, Japan, and Argentina have banned phthalates. In 2007, California also enacted a bill banning phthalates in children’s products.

Phthalates and Parabens: Cosmetic culprits?


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