Review of the safety of application of cosmetic products containing parabens

J Appl Toxicol. 2020 Jan;40(1):176-210. doi: 10.1002/jat.3917.


Cosmetics are a source of lifetime exposure to various substances including parabens, being the most popular synthetic preservatives. Because the use of cosmetics shows an increasing trend and some adverse health outcomes of parabens present in these products have been reported, the present review focused on the safety of dermal application of these compounds. Special attention has been paid to the absorption of parabens and their retention in the human body in the intact form, as well as to their toxicological characteristics. Particular emphasis has been placed on the estrogenic potential of parabens. Based on the available published data of the concentrations of parabens in various kinds of cosmetics, the average ranges of systemic exposure dose (SED) for methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben have been calculated. Safety evaluations [margin of safety (MoS)] for these compounds, based on their aggregate exposure, have also been performed. Moreover, evidence for the negative impact of methylparaben on skin cells has been provided, and the main factors that may intensify dermal absorption of parabens and their impact on the skin have been described. Summarizing, the use of single cosmetics containing parabens should not pose a hazard for human health; however, using excessive quantities of cosmetic preparations containing these compounds may lead to the development of unfavorable health outcomes. Due to the real risk of estrogenic effects, as a result of exposure to parabens in cosmetics, simultaneous use of many cosmetic products containing these preservatives should be avoided.

Keywords: cosmetics; dermal absorption; estrogen potential; health effects; parabens; safety; skin; systemic exposure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Burden
  • Consumer Product Safety
  • Cosmetics / metabolism
  • Cosmetics / toxicity*
  • Endocrine Disruptors / metabolism
  • Endocrine Disruptors / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Parabens / metabolism
  • Parabens / toxicity*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Skin / drug effects*
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin Absorption
  • Toxicity Tests*


  • Cosmetics
  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Parabens