Should Cosmetics Use Parabens?

Parabens are used as a preservative in cosmetics and food to prevent bacterial growth that would harm us and the product. The most commonly used parabens include methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben and the FDA currently has no restrictions on their use in cosmetics. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act states that cosmetic products and ingredients other than color additives do not require FDA approval. To ensure that products are safe when used according to their instructions, the FDA purchases and analyzes products, inspects shipments, and reviews the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel. However, due to limited resources only a small number of establishments and shipments are actually inspected each year and that includes foreign imports. The FDA also cannot recall any cosmetic product that it finds to be harmful, they can only implore the company to remove it from the shelves before more damage can be done [1]. The FDA is ineffective at properly protecting individuals from the harm that chemicals in cosmetics cause.

“Shampoo!” by Hannah Rosen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Allowing any and all chemicals to be used in cosmetics has led to an increase in the use of potential endocrine disrupting chemicals that have adverse effects on human health. Parabens are among these harmful chemicals. While its manufacturer’s purpose is to be a preservative, the reality is much harsher. As endocrine disruption has become more widely investigated, it has become necessary that we educate ourselves and protect ourselves. Parabens exist in many of the products in your home right now. Humans are exposed to the chemical through skin contact, ingestion, and inhalation, repeated or constant exposure increases these negative effects. Products such as moisturizers are more dangerous because they are left on the skin whereas others such as a face wash are removed shortly after application. Extended length of exposure allows for more of the chemicals to absorb into your body.

Through many scientific experiments, some of the detrimental effects of parabens have been discovered. The anti-fungal properties of parabens that allow it to keep products safe are also disrupting biological processes and inducing changes that alter human life. Parabens disrupt membranes and reduce metabolic activity in C. albicans [4] a fungus. The chemical effectively completes the task it was created for, however, these mechanisms are then distributive in the human body. Repeated exposure to the products creates a continuous renewal of chemicals to work against biological systems. A Swedish study found that in a paired study of mothers and their children, mothers had increased levels of parabens associated with their use of cosmetics such as lotions and sunscreens [3]. The increase in the amount of these chemicals circulating throughout the body indicates that people are constantly being exposed.

“Makeup” by Clean Wal-Mart is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Many of the effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals are unknown, this new field is slowly accumulating data on the mechanisms and observed side effects of exposure. A study in 2013 found evidence that parabens could be linked to the obesity epidemic in the United States [2]. In this study, they found that butylparaben was the most potent because it has the longest alkyl chain of the parabens and they rapidly absorbed into the body upon one dose. Parabens promote the creation of fat cells by altering signaling pathways for adipocyte differentiation, for example, butylparaben affects the glucocorticoid receptor signaling pathway to promote adipogenesis. Overall the paper found that parabens are able to mediate the metabolic system through nuclear receptors. However, the mechanisms remain unknown and require more research.

The use of cosmetics has many benefits but there are some complications. The chemicals that are used to help protect the products can ultimately hurt the people buying them. Research has shown that people are constantly exposed to and harboring these chemicals within their body. Parabens affect the membranes and metabolism of the bacteria and fungi manufacturers wish to keep out of the products, however, they also affect the metabolism of the consumer and cause long lasting negative health effects.


1. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Ingredients – Parabens in Cosmetics.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2017. <>.

2. Hu, Pan, Xin Chen, Rick J. Whitener, Eric T. Boder, Jeremy O. Jones, Aleksey Porollo, Jiangang Chen, and Ling Zhao. “Effects of Parabens on Adipocyte Differentiation.”Toxicological Sciences. Oxford University Press, Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Apr. 2017. <>.

3. Larsson, Kristin, Karin Ljung Björklund, Brita Palm, Maria Wennberg, Lennart Kaj, Christian H. Lindh, Bo A.G. Jönsson, and Marika Berglund. “Exposure Determinants of Phthalates, Parabens, Bisphenol A and Triclosan in Swedish Mothers and Their Children.” Environment International. Elsevier Science, Dec. 2014. Web. 21 Apr. 2017. <>.

4. Miceli, Marisa H., Stella M. Bernardo, T. S. Neil Ku, Carla Walraven, and Samuel A. Lee. “In Vitro Analyses of the Effects of Heparin and Parabens on Candida albicans Biofilms and Planktonic Cells.” Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. American Society for Microbiology, Jan. 2012. Web. 21 Apr. 2017. <>.