Assessing the Public Health Implications of the Food Preservative Propylparaben: Has This Chemical Been Safely Used for Decades

Curr Environ Health Rep. 2021 Mar;8(1):54-70. doi: 10.1007/s40572-020-00300-6. Epub 2021 Jan 8.


Purpose: Parabens are chemicals containing alkyl-esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid, which give them antimicrobial, antifungal, and preservative properties. Propylparaben (PP) is one paraben that has been widely used in personal care products, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and food. In this review, we address the ongoing controversy over the safety of parabens, and PP specifically. These chemicals have received significant public attention after studies published almost 20 years ago suggested plausible associations between PP exposures and breast cancer.

Recent findings: Here, we use key characteristics, a systematic approach to evaluate the endocrine disrupting properties of PP based on features of "known" endocrine disruptors, and consider whether its classification as a "weak" estrogen should alleviate public health concerns over human exposures. We also review the available evidence from rodent and human studies to illustrate how the large data gaps that exist in hazard assessments raise concerns about current evaluations by regulatory agencies that PP use is safe. Finally, we address the circular logic that is used to suggest that because PP has been used for several decades, it must be safe. We conclude that inadequate evidence has been provided for the safe use of PP in food, cosmetics, and consumer products.

Keywords: Generally recognized as safe; Margin of safety; Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety; Uterotrophic; Xenoestrogen.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cosmetics* / adverse effects
  • Food Preservatives / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Parabens* / toxicity
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / toxicity
  • Public Health


  • Cosmetics
  • Food Preservatives
  • Parabens
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical
  • propylparaben