Plasma concentrations of parabens in postmenopausal women and self-reported use of personal care products: the NOWAC postgenome study

J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2011 Nov-Dec;21(6):595-600. doi: 10.1038/jes.2011.22. Epub 2011 May 25.


Parabens are used extensively in personal care products; however, their estrogenic properties have raised concern over risks to human health. High levels of total parabens, mainly as conjugates, have been reported in human plasma/serum, with limited data on native parabens. Our objective was to assess and link plasma concentrations of native common parabens to self-reported use of personal care products in women from the general population. The information was obtained from an extensive questionnaire on diet and lifestyle previously answered by the women in the NOWAC study. Plasma samples from 332 individuals were extracted and cleaned up by automated solid phase extraction and analyzed by ultra high performance liquid chromatography time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Native methyl paraben dominated and was detected in 63% of the samples, with a median level of 9.4 ng/ml. Ethyl paraben (median < 3 ng/ml) and propyl paraben (median < 2 ng/ml) were detected in 22 and 29%, respectively. Butyl and benzyl parabens were not detected. For the first time, elevated levels of native parabens are reported in women from the general population. The concentrations were significantly associated with the use of skin lotions, indicating that frequent (daily or more) use maintain elevated concentrations despite the parabens short half-lives. These findings clearly emphasize the need to study potential health effects in the general population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Cosmetics / chemistry
  • Cosmetics / metabolism
  • Cosmetics / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Parabens / chemistry
  • Parabens / metabolism
  • Parabens / toxicity*
  • Postmenopause / drug effects*
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / chemistry
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / metabolism
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / toxicity*
  • Solid Phase Extraction
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • Cosmetics
  • Parabens
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical