Parabens: potential impact of low-affinity estrogen receptor binding chemicals on human health

J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2013;16(5):321-35. doi: 10.1080/10937404.2013.809252.


Parabens, alkyl esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid, are widely used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, personal care products and as food additives to inhibit microbial growth and extend product shelf life. Consumers of these compounds are frequently exposed via the skin, lips, eyes, oral mucosa, nails, and hair. Parabens are estrogenic molecules but exert weaker activity than natural estrogens, which would imply a low risk. Consistent with this idea, a number of recent commission reports from different countries suggested that parabens pose a negligible endocrine-disrupting risk at the recommended doses. However, individuals are not routinely exposed to a single paraben, and most of the available paraben toxicity data, reviewed in these reports, are from single-exposure studies. Further, assessing the additive and cumulative risk of multiple paraben exposure from daily use of multiple cosmetic and/or personal care products is presently not possible based on current studies. In this review, current and recent studies of paraben exposure and public health policies as well as critical gaps in the knowledge are discussed and new research directions regarding multiple exposures and novel target cohorts are recommended.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cosmetics / toxicity
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Parabens / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / toxicity
  • Receptors, Estrogen / drug effects*


  • Cosmetics
  • Parabens
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical
  • Receptors, Estrogen