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Paraben-free – no longer indulgence?
elena lezhneva
Paraben-free – no longer indulgence?

In January 2018 European Union updated guidelines on “free from” claims with a specific note on “paraben free” claim.

A cosmetic product that states “paraben-free” on its packaging is now not compliant with EU regulations. The explanation says: claims for cosmetic products shall be objective and shall not denigrate the competitors, nor shall they denigrate ingredients legally used.

Science won over the myths again! Below you can find the translated article, originally published by Yulia Gagarina, the chemical engineer and technologist, specializing in cosmetic ingredients and manufacturing. Here, Yulia provides a deeper information why parabens are not scary and why “paraben-free” is an outdated marketing trick.

How it all started

Selling cosmetics without parabens became almost the rule of good taste some time ago. Oddly, short-chain parabens (methyl- and ethylparaben) have always been considered to be among the safest preservatives. However, in the early 2000s, parabens were suddenly called carcinogens (substances capable of causing cancer in living tissue.

It all began in 2007 with an article published by the English researcher Philippe Darbre on the possible connection between antiperspirants (containing parabens) and breast cancer. This thought was brought by the fact that approximately 60% of analysed tumours, located in the upper outer square, close to the armpits, contained parabens. After this material reached the public, the words "preservatives” and “parabens" became familiar literally to everyone. These words are easy to remember and quick to find on the product label.

Science comes in

These accusations were taken with a serious care by FDA (USA) and SCCS (Europe). The new safety research on parabens was launched.

On the 22d of March 2011, the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) published a report, consisting of the new research and findings. It says the following:

  • According to the data available to date, there is no evidence of a risk of developing breast cancer caused by the use of cosmetics, applied in the armpits.
  • The European Commission introduced the following requirements (EU) 1004/2014 valid from April 2015:
  • In cosmetics, parabens can be used at a concentration of 0.4% (for one paraben) and in a concentration of 0.8% for a mixture of parabens.
  • Prohibition of complex parabens, such as Isobutylparaben, Benzylparaben
  • Restriction of use for Propyl and Butylparaben (max input concentration 0.14%)
  • Prohibition to use parabens in children's cosmetics that are applied "under the diaper" (without washing off) and in products for children under the age of three (due to the fact that children's skin is more permeable at this age). And if the parabens are used, then the label must have a clear warning: "Do not use under the diaper"
  • Confirmed the safety of Methyl and Ethylparabens (max concentration up to 0.4%)

Back to where it started

In a recent publication, F. Darbre (the scientist behind the initial research) noted that their study was preliminary because it was based on a small number of patients. Parabens were found in tissue samples at the level of nanograms (ie, critically small doses), and the researchers did not receive reliable confirmation that parabens had entered the body from cosmetic products, not from other sources.

The group of scientists summarized the data on the topic "parabens as provocateurs of breast cancer" and came to the following conclusion: "There is no scientific evidence to support the hypotheses put forward and, apparently, there are no hypotheses that could open a way in the research direction of interest. Ultimately, it can be argued that this issue doesn't constitute a health problem and therefore it's useless to engage in research on this topic. "

Paraben-free: does it make sense?

While the scientific community was fighting in disputes over the safety/dangers of parabens, cosmetics manufacturers reacted with a lightning speed. The market began producing products with labels "without parabens." The demand for "green", natural types of preservatives has become more acute. By the way, an interesting moment: p-hydroxy-benzoic acid (from which parabens are obtained) is present in plants, including berries (acai, cranberries) Therefore, with some stretch, it can be said that methyl- and ethylparaben are almost natural preservatives.

Parabens are widely used not only in cosmetics, but also in pharmaceutics, and in the food industry. We literally eat them in such a decent quantity that the industry produces them in millions of tons per year. And all because they have low cost and almost don’t cause allergic reactions while showing a high efficiency. That’s why they are still considered the best choice for cosmetic products for the sensitive skin.

We are what we eat

Short-chain parabens (methyl- and propylparaben) have long been included in the composition of syrups, tablets and other drugs for internal use. Easily absorbed, digested and withdrawn from the body without visible side effects – it’s clear why they are so popular. If you are looking for parabens in medications, you should note that they appear in a slightly different spelling: methylparaben is methyl parahydroxybenzoate (E218), propylparaben is propyl parahydroxybenzoate (E216).


1. Pugazhendhi D, Sadler AJ, Darbre PD. Comparison of the global gene expression profiles produced by methylparaben, n-butylparaben and 17b-oestradiol in MCF7 human breast cancer cells. Journal of Applied Toxicology 27, 67-77 (2007)

2. SCCS/1348/10. Opinion on parabens

3. Namer M, Luporsi E, Gligorov J, Lokiec F, Spielmann M (2008 Sep). «[The use of deodorants/antiperspirants does not constitute a risk factor for breast cancer]» (French with English abstract). Bulletin du Cancer 95 (9): 871–80. DOI:10.1684/bdc.2008.0679

4. Soni MG, Carabin IG, Burdock GA (2005). «Safety assessment of esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens)». Food and Chemical Toxicology 43 (7): 985–1015

5. https://knowledge.ulprospector.com/7603/pcc-eu-cosmetic-claims-updated-free-from-claims/

6. https://revivserums.com/blogs/serumscoop-tips-tricks-and-news/problems-for-preservatives

This article was translated from Yulia Gagarina's post with the permission of the author: https://www.facebook.com/gagarina.j/posts/1874216062645996

- Korean Kiwi Beauty

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