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What are Parabens?


Paraben-free beauty is all the rage, but should you be switching your cosmetic regime for these products? We’ve put together the ultimate guide to parabens, so you can decide whether you want to use or omit them from the products you use.
what exactly are parabens?

by Ellen Hill


With the phrase ‘paraben-free’ floating around the beauty industry, you may be wondering what parabens actually are. There are many myths surrounding these commonly used chemicals and we’re here to break them down for you. Our guide discusses what parabens are, how you can identify them in cosmetics, and whether they are safe for use. 

What Exactly are Parabens?

Parabens are a group of chemicals used in cosmetics as preservatives. They help to prevent harmful bacteria growing in your beauty items. Parabens were first used in the 1950s and can help to prolong the shelf-life of your cosmetics. 

How are Parabens Made?

Parabens can occur naturally from para-hydroxybenzoic acid found (PHBA) in many fruits and vegetables. In fact, even our own bodies make PHBA from amino acids. However, the parabens found in cosmetics are commonly man-made, although they are identical to those that occur naturally. 

can parabens be made naturally?

Are Parabens Safe in Cosmetics?

There are many myths surrounding the effect parabens can have on the human body, with some places even linking the chemicals to cancer. Despite this, both UK and US authorities, alongside charities such as Cancer Research UK have stated that a link cannot be made between parabens and cancer. At this point in time, the FDA states that, ‘we do not have information showing that parabens as they are used in cosmetics have an effect on human health.’ However, they will continue to evaluate any data that comes to fruition in this area.

are parabens bad?


Whilst there is currently no reason to believe parabens are unsafe in cosmetics, some people may wish to avoid them still. This is because there is evidence that parabens can enter the body through the skin. There is a belief that parabens can mimic oestrogen, but again research has shown that in the levels humans may encounter this is not a cause for concern.

What Types of Cosmetics Use Parabens?

As parabens are a preservative, they are used in a vast array of cosmetic items. From your skincare, all the way to your haircare, the chances are many of the beauty items you own contain parabens. Here are 5 places you’re likely to find parabens as an ingredient:

  1. Moisturisers 
  2. Mascara
  3. Shampoo
  4. Foundation
  5. Deodorants

However, these ingredients are not just limited to these five products and could be included in every step of your beauty routine.

Are Parabens Bad for the Environment?

Like many man-made products, synthetic parabens have found their way into the oceans - most likely from our sewer systems. A study found parabens (that were most likely man-made) in both polar bears and dolphins. There is little evidence to say that parabens are dangerous for wildlife, but as these findings are relatively new there is not a definitive answer.

can parabens harm the environment?

List of Parabens

For those looking to reduce their use of parabens, you can easily check the ingredients list on your cosmetics for their use. Each individual type of paraben contains the word itself, making it simple to spot!

  • Methylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Ethylparaben
  • Isopropylparaben
  • Isobutylparaben

You’ll often find that more than one paraben is used within a product, and it may be used alongside other preservatives.

Paraben Free Cosmetic Brands

Whilst there is currently no scientific evidence to cause concern in our use of products that contain parabens, some people may still wish to opt for paraben-free cosmetics. 

  • Pureology - is a vegan haircare brand from sunny California. Formulated specifically for colour-treated hair, these paraben-free and sulphate-free products will leave your locks feeling and looking gorgeous.
  • Skyn Iceland - is a vegan skincare brand that incorporates the beauty of Iceland into stunning products. They focus on creating products that give you glowing, younger-looking skin. 
  • Pacifica Beauty - are a paraben-free brand that does it all. From vegan makeup, to skincare, to fragrances, they have all your beauty needs covered!
  • Palmers - are a well known household brand. With paraben-free products ranging from body lotions, to lip balms, your skin will be kept hydrated! 
  • P20 Suncare - for those looking to catch some sun without added parabens, P20 is a fabulous choice. With SPFs for the whole family, you’ll enjoy your time outdoors. 

The Future of Paraben Preservatives

As there is currently no evidence to suggest that parabens have a harmful effect on either the human body or the environment, it’s fair to assume they will be used in cosmetics going forward. However, for those who still don’t feel comfortable using man-made chemicals in their beauty regime, there are plenty of incredible alternatives!