Parabens: A Review of Epidemiology, Structure, Allergenicity, and Hormonal Properties

Allison L. Cashman; Erin M. Warshaw


Dermatitis. 2005;16(2):57-66. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Parabens are the most commonly used preservatives in cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and industrial products. The epidemiology, structural properties, allergenicity, hormonal properties, and hypotheses regarding the 'paraben paradox' are addressed in this review.

Parabens were first introduced in the 1930s and currently are the most widely used preservatives in cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and industrial products.[1,2,3,4] Parabens are found worldwide in creams, pastes, beauty products, glues, fats, and oils.[5] Methyl and ethyl parabens are the most frequently used parabens and, with the exception of water, the most commonly used ingredients in cosmetic preparations.[1,6,7,8] Parabens are popular because they are inexpensive, colorless, odorless, and nontoxic; effective over an extensive range of hydrogen ion concentration (pH); and have a wide spectrum of antimicrobial activity.[3,9,10,11]

The antimicrobial effect of parabens and their use as preservatives were first established in 1924 by Sabalitschka.[12] In 1995, the US Environmental Protection Agency granted GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status to parabens, and current European Union cosmetic regulations permit a total concentration of 0.8% for methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, and butylparaben in cosmetic products.[9] However, as a result of recent evidence suggesting a link between parabens and breast cancer and testosterone levels, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel has elected to reevaluate their safety.[13,14] This evidence, as well as the structural properties, metabolism, antimicrobial properties, and allergenicity of parabens, will be discussed in this review.