Health & Wellness

Are Parabens Actually Bad for You?

Some preservatives used in many beauty products have been linked to breast cancer, but it seems the media fuss and marketing hype is much ado about nothing

By Katrina Caruso


Over the last decade or so, you’ve probably noticed more and more products on the market that boast that they are “paraben-free.” Does that make them better? Should you avoiding products containing parabens?

What are parabens?
Parabens are preservatives found in almost all cosmetics and personal care products, from mascara and foundation to shampoo and body lotion. You can spot them in a list of ingredients by looking for the longer words ending with “paraben” (isobutylparaben, methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, or propylparaben). These preservatives give products longer shelf lives and prevent mould or bacterial contamination.

How did they get a bad reputation?
In 2004, a study published in The Journal of Applied Toxicology showed that paraben metabolites were found in 18 of 20 breast cancer tumors. However, the lead researcher, Dr. Philippa Darbre, later came out to say that although these traces were found in the tissue, there was no evidence that parabens had been the cause of the tumor. In fact, the study did not compare levels of parabens in non-cancerous breast tissue.

Should they be avoided?
According to Health Canada, “Currently, there is no evidence to suggest a causal link between parabens and breast cancer.” The US Food and Drug Administration has deemed parabens safe and said that there’s no cause for concern.

You should also know that if parabens aren’t in your products, it’s likely that other synthetic preservatives are. Meanwhile, parabens occur naturally, in foods such as soy, cucumbers, cherries, raspberries, and blackberries.




Photo: iStock/adekvat.