Parabens: a real hazard or a scare story?

Eur J Dermatol. 2012 Nov-Dec;22(6):723-7. doi: 10.1684/ejd.2012.1835.


Parabens belong to a family of preservatives that are widely used, particularly in the cosmetic, pharmaceutical and food industries. Four esters are commonly used: methyl, ethyl, propyl and butyl parabens. They are either used alone or, for better efficacy, in the form of a mixture. They have been the target of a media smear campaign since 2005. Several studies have failed to formally prove their alleged responsibility in the occurrence of breast cancer. At recommended concentrations, methyl and ethyl parabens have no hormonal effect in humans. Propyl and butyl parabens are still being investigated as regards their effects on fertility in men exposed during early childhood. Parabens are well-known for having weak sensitising properties and for their absence of toxicity whereas new substitution products, not as well-known, may lead to new cases of contact allergy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Consumer Product Safety
  • Cosmetics / adverse effects
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Parabens / adverse effects*
  • Parabens / metabolism
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / adverse effects*
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / metabolism


  • Cosmetics
  • Parabens
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical