Are Parabens Really Bad For You?

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It’s common knowledge that the beauty industry’s pariah aka ‘parabens’ are shunned by brands and consumers alike. In fact, everyone from skincare bloggers to enthusiasts will boast about their paraben-free selfie. But before you go around boycotting the ingredient, here’s the truth – they aren’t as bad as you think. We asked dermatologists to settle the debate once and for all.

What Are Parabens? 

Plainly put, they are a class of preservatives found in cosmetic products like skincare and hair care. Dr Kiran Kaur Sethi, MD and founder of Isya Aesthetics explains, “They prevent bacterial or fungal overgrowth in products which can cause toxic effects.” Dr Chytra V Anand, dermatologist and founder of Kosmoderma Clinics, adds, “They give a longer shelf-life to formulas with perishable ingredients and remain the safest and best way to preserve our beauty stacks.”

Are They Harmful? 

It’s a beauty myth that parabens are harmful and one we have accepted without much research. Even though parabens are blamed to cause hormone fluctuations as they can penetrate the skin barrier, there is no causal proof of their notoriety.

“In the past, studies have found that parabens can mimic estrogen in the body and its increased levels can cause breast cancer. But these were deemed too small to draw blanket statements and thus, the FDA has never banned them,” says Dr Anand.

While there is a lot of gray area in understanding the exact side effects of parabens, experts believe that the key lies in its concentration. “As an ingredient it’s not harmful in minute quantities. The ideal quantity should be 0.1 – 0.4 per cent, and a maximum 0.8 per cent in your daily bottles,” says Dr Sethi.


In terms of alternatives, there are preservatives like sodium benzoate, sorbic and benzoic acid among others. However, it should be clear that most of the noise around the ingredient stems from companies trying to green-wash their products and jumping on the clean beauty bandwagon. In a sea of marketing gimmicks, being a conscious yet educated buyer is always a good idea.

The clean versus dirty personal care debate is endless, but what’s crucial is understanding the complexity of balance. Dr Sethi says, “Not all natural products are good for you, and not all synthetics are bad. Dismissing preservatives from your skincare diet all together is worse because you’re inviting bacteria into your skin.”

As a consumer, the question remains – should you still use parabens? Dr Anand’s verdict is that, “It’s a subjective choice, you can choose to use them or not. Bottom line is that they are safe for adult use.”

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