Paraben Facts from the CDC
Parabens are man-made chemicals often used in small amounts as preservatives in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, foods, and beverages. Common parabens are methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. Often more than one paraben is used in a single product.
People can be exposed to parabens through touching, swallowing, or eating products that contain parabens. Many products, such as makeup, moisturizers, hair-care products, and shaving creams, contain parabens. Parabens in these products are absorbed through the skin. Parabens also can enter the body when pharmaceuticals, foods, and drinks containing parabens are swallowed or eaten. Parabens that enter the body are quickly excreted.
Human health effects from environmental exposure to low levels of parabens are unknown. In 2006, the industry-led Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), in a partnership with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), determined that there was no need to change CIR's original conclusion from 1984 that parabens are safe for use in cosmetics. The FDA allows single or multiple parabens to be added to food or food packaging as antimicrobials to prevent food spoilage.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists measured parabens in the urine of more than 2,548 participants aged six years and older who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) during 20052006. By measuring these chemicals in urine, scientists can estimate the amount of parabens that has entered people's bodies.
CDC scientists found Methylparaben and propylparaben in the urine of most of the people tested, indicating widespread exposure to these parabens in the U.S. population.
- In adults younger than age 60, non-Hispanic blacks had higher levels of methyl paraben than non-Hispanic whites.
- Females had several-fold higher concentrations of methylparaben and propylparabens than males, which likely reflect the greater use of products containing parabens.
Finding a measurable amount of parabens in urine does not mean that they cause an adverse health effect. Biomonitoring studies on levels of parabens provide physicians and public health officials with reference values so that they can determine whether people have been exposed to higher levels of parabens than are found in the general population. Biomonitoring data can also help scientists plan and conduct research on exposure and health effects.
In shaving products, parabens are fairly common and somewhat controversial. They are most often added to shaving creams, but also appear in some aftershave balms and lotions, and more rarely in shaving soaps and even in non-USP, alcohol-free witch hazel distillates.
While there is little scientific evidence for any health risks from use of products containing parabens, some B&B members may prefer to seek out paraben-free products. Also, some members have reported sensitivities to products containing parabens. As an aid, here are some user-maintained, non-authoritative, and incomplete lists of products which do not use parabens in their current formulations.
- Shaving Creams
- Few soaps include parabens: the notable exception is Proraso.
- Alcohol-free witch hazel distillates may contain parabens: check the ingredients before purchasing.
Caveat emptor: read the ingredients before purchasing, and check with the seller if you are in any doubt. Some of these products may have used parabens in older formulations, and some web sites may still sell older stock.
- Nancy Boy and parabens.
- Dr. Andrew Weil on parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).
- FDA Fact Sheet.
- NTP/NIEHS Review of Toxicological Literature, April 2005.
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