What Are Parabens And Why Should You Avoid Them.

June 21, 2007

**Update: Following the continued interest and concern over parabens we have followed up on this issue with this post. Be sure to check it out to stay fully informed on how to find out if there are parabens in your favourite brands of cosmetics.**

So, what are parabens, you ask? You may have heard rumors and saw news reports about how you should avoid parabens in the personal care products you buy, but you might be wondering why you should do so. After doing some research, I decided to no longer purchase any products that have parabens in them. Parabens can be found in shampoos, commercial moisturizers, deodorants, shaving gels, tanning lotions, sunscreen, cleansing gels, personal lubricants, topical pharmaceuticals and toothpaste, while they are also used as food additives in processed meats such as sausages. (Damn, who doesn’t love sausage?) A large percentage of the products we buy for everyday use contain some form of paraben, so it can be difficult to find products that do not use them. But what are parabens and what can they do to us?

What Are Parabens?

Parabens are a chemical compound of para-hydroxybenzoic acid and they are used as preservatives – that’s why they are found in so many products. They are used to fight bacteria and fungus, are widely available, and cost very little to manufacture and use. Nearly all of the parabens used as preservatives are man-made and not naturally occurring. Naturally occurring parabens have been found in blueberries, of all places!

Why Are Parabens Bad?

Now, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, I know that there have been studies on both sides of the argument about what parabens are and whether parabens are bad or parabens are safe. But because there have been studies that say that it is potentially dangerous and that have linked parabens to various cancers, I have chosen to take the precautionary route and not use products containing them when I can help it. Whether or not they are as bad as some say they are, I would always rather err on the side of safety when it comes to my body and health. If there is a more natural alternative, I routinely choose it instead.

Parabens can mimic the hormone estrogen, which is known to play a role in the development of breast cancers. Researchers have found parabens in breast tumors and believe there is a relationship between parabens and tumors. And in the July 2002 issue of the Archives of Toxicology, Dr. S. Oishi of the Department of Toxicology, Tokyo Metropolitan Research Laboratory of Public Health reported that exposure of newborn male mammals to butylparaben “adversely affects the secretion of testosterone and the function of the male reproductive system.” If a causal link between a chemical and cancer is not enough to avoid a product that can easily be avoided, I don’t know what is. There are a lot of other reports available all over the internet, but most of them are all related to reproductive health in some way or another.


The jury is still out on how and why parabens might affect development and growth of both babies and adults. But I decided a while ago to get rid of any products that have it and replace them with products that don’t. There is no harm being more careful with this kind of stuff – remember, things that were deemed safe in the past then came back to haunt us all when we were told that they actually caused all sorts of diseases. And when there are safe alternatives available, I would rather not take the chance that I or future generations develop strange reproductive problems from using a product that was avoidable in the first place.

So back to the initial question – what are parabens? They are chemicals we need to work hard to avoid, period. Be sure to shop for paraben-free products and foods whenever possible, and always read the labels on the things you buy.

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Comments (157)

  1. MacKash says:

    Hey Dave,
    I’m a big fan, been reading your articles for a few months now… I just stumbled upon this article from wired magazine… thought you might be interested… http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/C/CONGRESS_ENERGY?SITE=WIRE&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

    keep up the good posts!

  2. Shannon says:

    Do you have any recommendations for paraben-free products that you have found?

  3. David says:

    Hi Shannon

    I will put together a follow up post of good products once I get back from vacation!

  4. David says:

    Anything with the word “paraben” in the word is a paraben and you are better off buying another product.

  5. Glenn says:

    Hi there, I watch your article feed and enjoy visiting. The article above describes parabens, but doesn’t really go into detail about how to identify them in products. Wikipedia has some supporting information, but also doesn’t help us identify possible product names we can look for on ingredient lists.
    I guess it’s not a good idea to single out any particular ingredient?