The Health Controversies of Parabens

Mark G. Kirchhof, MD, PhD; Gillian C. de Gannes, MD, MSc, FRCPC


Skin Therapy Letter. 2013;18(2) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Parabens are preservatives used in a variety of personal care, cosmetic, pharmaceutical and food products. Studies have confirmed the ubiquitous presence of parabens, with levels detected in wastewater, rivers, soil and house dust. Parabens have also been detected in human tissues and bodily fluids, but it is the discovery of these chemical compounds in the breast tissue of patients with breast cancer that has raised public concern over their use. It is hypothesized that the estrogenic properties of parabens may play a role in breast cancer development. However, studies investigating the health effects of parabens are conflicting. At this point, there is an insufficient amount of data suggesting serious consequences from paraben use and exposure to warrant drastic avoidance measures or government regulations.


Parabens are preservatives that are used in a wide range of cosmetic, pharmaceutical and some food products. Parabens are esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid and commonly include methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben.[1] The recent health concerns regarding parabens stem from a study published in 2004 that detected parabens in breast tissue from patients with breast cancer.[2] Public pressure has persuaded several governments to introduce regulations on the use of parabens in consumer products. In this review, we examine the data regarding the health effects of parabens to provide physicians and patients with a better understanding of this issue.