Safety assessment of esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens)

Food Chem Toxicol. 2005 Jul;43(7):985-1015. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2005.01.020.


Parabens are widely used as preservatives in food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. Acute, subchronic, and chronic studies in rodents indicate that parabens are practically non-toxic. Parabens are rapidly absorbed, metabolized, and excreted. In individuals with normal skin, parabens are, for the most part, non-irritating and non-sensitizing. However, application of compounds containing parabens to damaged or broken skin has resulted in sensitization. Genotoxicity testing of parabens in a variety of in vitro and in vivo studies primarily gave negative results. The paraben structure is not indicative of carcinogenic potential, and experimental studies support these observations. Some animal studies have reported adverse reproductive effects of parabens. In an uterotrophic assay, methyl and butyl paraben administered orally to immature rats were inactive, while subcutaneous administration of butyl paraben produced a weak positive response. The ability of parabens to transactivate the estrogen receptor in vitro increases with alkyl group size. The detection of parabens in a small number of breast tumor tissue samples and adverse reproductive effects of parabens in animals has provoked controversy over the continued use of these substances. However, the possible estrogenic hazard of parabens on the basis of the available studies is equivocal, and fails to consider the metabolism and elimination rates of parabens, which are dose, route, and species dependent. In light of the recent controversy over the estrogenic potential of parabens, conduct of a reproductive toxicity study may be warranted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cosmetics
  • Excipients
  • Food Preservatives / adverse effects
  • Food Preservatives / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Parabens / adverse effects
  • Parabens / pharmacokinetics
  • Parabens / toxicity*


  • Cosmetics
  • Excipients
  • Food Preservatives
  • Parabens