Parabens (preservatives)

Parabens (preservatives)

Spotlight: Parabens are used as preservatives in cosmetic products, more particularly, if the products include water. Their use in cosmetic products was associated during the past years with adverse effects on health.

What are parabens?

  • Preservatives ensure the stability of cosmetics.
  • Prevent the propagation of bacteria and fungi (germs) after the opening of the products

Which regulations apply?

  • EU-wide approval procedures for preservatives
  • Use of preservatives only if they are listed (approved) in the Cosmetics Regulation
  • The risk assessment of a substance is first made by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS)
  • The authorisation is issued by the European Commission
  • Restrictions of concentration must be complied with
  • Combinations of preservatives are often used since a substance alone is often not able to prevent the growth of all relevant germs

Which parabens are approved?

  • As in medicines and foods some parabens are approved as preservatives in cosmetic products:
    • Propyl and butyl paraben
    • Methyl and ethyl paraben are safe up to a concentration of 0.4%
  • In 2015 the EU Commission tightened its rules for the use of preservatives:
    • Isopropyl paraben, isobutyl paraben, phenyl paraben, benzyl paraben and pentyl paraben may no longer be used in cosmetics since then
    • Propyl paraben and butyl paraben may no longer be used in non-rinse-off child cosmetics (eg nappy rash cream for babies’ bottoms). The maximum admissible concentration in shower gels and similar products for adults was significantly reduced to 0.14%.

What are the concerns?

  • Adverse side effects such as allergies or health risks
  • A British study has associated paraben-containing deodorants with the occurrence of breast cancer
  • Suspicion: parabens might at least in certain concentrations be able to influence the human hormone system

What do the experts say?

  • Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (Federal Institute for Risk Assessment – BfR)
    • No health risk originates from parabens in cosmetics
  • Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS)
    • Parabens are safer within their concentration limits
  • Allergenic potential of parabens is low
    • So far no causal link between breast cancer and parabens has been scientifically proven
  • Parabens have only a very weak hormone-like effect

INCI names

Names with the word components methyl paraben, ethyl paraben, butyl paraben as well as propyl paraben