Chemical Profile: Parabens

This October, for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re highlighting common chemicals linked to breast cancer across a range of everyday products. According to Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, a woman’s risk of breast cancer has increased by more than 40% over the last two decades, to a lifetime risk of 1 in 8.

Mounting studies show links to chemicals in everyday products and breast cancer. The good news is studies also show that actively avoiding these toxic chemicals reduces levels of those chemicals in our bodies.

Which means that every step you take, no matter how small, weights the scales toward better health! Let’s get started with parabens.

What Are Parabens?

Parabens are preservatives that can be found in shampoos, conditioners, lotions, facial cleansers, shower gels, and scrubs, as well as cosmetics, feminine care wipes, and feminine washes. Parabens are most commonly found in products that contain water, because they discourage the growth of microbes.

Women use an average of 9-15 personal care products per day. Given that parabens are so commonly used in these items, that can add up to a significant amount of paraben exposure.

The Health Concern

Parabens are hormone disruptors that mimic estrogen in the body.[1] They’re linked to breast cancer, and some parabens are linked to reproductive and developmental harm.[2],[3],[4],[5]

How to Avoid Them

Luckily, parabens are easy to avoid:

  • Read labels for ingredients ending with –paraben, like ethylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben.
  • Look for the MADE SAFE seal on products, which means it’s made without parabens and other toxic chemicals linked to human health and ecosystem harm.

[1] Darbre PD., et al., Paraben esters: review of recent studies of endocrine toxicity, absorption, esterase and human exposure, and discussion of potential human health risks. Journal of Applied Toxicology, 2008.

[2] Oishi S., Effects of butylparaben on the male reproductive system in rats. Toxicology and Industrial Health, vol 17, pp 31-9, 2001.

[3] Taxvig C., et al., Do parabens have the ability to interfere with steroidogenesis? Toxicological Sciences, vol. 106, no. 1, pp 206-13, 2008.

[4] Kawaguchi M., et al., Maternal isobutyl-paraben exposure decreased the plasma corticosterone level in dams and sensitivity to estrogen in female offspring rats. J. Vet. Med. Sci., vol. 71, no. 8, pp 1027-33,

[5] Kawaguchi M., et al., Maternal isobutyl-paraben exposure alters anxiety and passive avoidance test performance in adult male rats. Neuroscience Research, vol. 65, no. 2, pp 136-40, 2009.


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