There is an increasing number of scientific studies showing endocrine-disruptive properties for parabens. Parabens can mimic the function of the female sex hormone estrogen and disturb the function of the male sex hormone androgen.
Adverse effects observed in animals include malformation of reproductive organs in pups born by exposed females and decreased sperm production in exposed males.
Function and use
Parabens are active against a broad spectrum of microorganisms (antifungal, antibacterial), possibly by disrupting their membranes. They are often used as preservatives in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and foods. Some fruits contain parabens as a naturally occurring preservative.
Areas of application
Parabens may be used in the following products: cosmetics, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, perfumes and fragrances. They are also used in rubber and plastics. Parabens are allowed as food additives and have their own E numbers. In cosmetics their function is mainly to preserve skin creams and other oil-containing products.
They are on the CoRAP list due to their possible role as endocrine disruptors.
Find more information about the substitution of parabens in our report: Parabens – everyday endocrine disruptors to be phased out.
Preservatives can be avoided by using very clean production and packaging that do not allow bacteria to enter the product.
Alternative compounds are available on the market. One alternative, phenoxyethanol, can be used in the EU at up to 1.0% in all product categories. Its safety has been re-confirmed recently by the SCCS10. Other alternatives are sodium benzoate (and benzoic acid), potentially in combination with potassium sorbate, and benzyl alcohol.