Parabens in cosmetics: should you be concerned?

Parabens do not have a good reputation, and during my consultations I frequently get questions about them. Is it bad for me? Should I avoid it? Is it carcinogenic? Serious concerns that require proper attention and depth.

Let’s start at the beginning: what are parabens?

Parabens are preservatives, also known as preservatives. A synthetic substance that results from the reaction between carboxylic acid and alcohol, that process is known in science as esterification. Parabens hardly occur in nature. It is therefore a myth that parabens can be obtained from fruit and vegetables.

Parabens are mainly used as preservatives in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry, in food and many other things. The antimicrobial properties of parabens are most effective against fungi and gram-positive bacteria, such as staphylococcus aureus.

Which products can contain parabens?

  • Pharmaceuticals: both for external and internal use
  • Skin care products: creams, lotions, makeup, lipsticks, soaps, sunscreen, depilatories, shaving gels, shampoos, conditioners and aftershaves
  • Foods: marinated, cooked and fried fish products, mayonnaise, seasoned sauces and salad dressings, fish pastes, mustard, salads, marzipan, beer and jam. These two synthetic parabens in particular are found in our diet. Methylparaben, food E number: E219 – also called methyl 4-hydroxybenzoate sodium salt and ethylparaben E214 also called ethyl 4-hydroxybenzoate.
  • Other: parabens can also be found in preservatives in oils, fats, glues, and shoe polish.

All fine, but what’s the problem?

Personal care products are the main source of exposure to parabens. Those parabens are absorbed into the body through the skin, metabolized and excreted in urine and bile.

One study found that adolescent girls who wear makeup every day have 20 times more propylparaben in their urine compared to those who never or rarely use makeup. Lotions for both body and face, as well as hair products, sunscreens and make-up are also directly related to increased paraben levels in the urine.


One of the biggest problems that is becoming more and more common is skin allergies. By skin allergy we mean everything that is accompanied by itching, redness and scaling. All parabens can cause allergies. This is due to frequent and prolonged contact with parabens. In addition, people with an atopic predisposition, such as eczema, hay fever or asthma, have an increased risk of developing a paraben allergy. The most well-known parabens are:

  • methylparabens
  • ethylparabens
  • butylparabens
  • benzylparabens
  • isobutylparabens
  • isopropylprabens
  • probylparabens

Hormone disruption & cancer

There is much debate among scientists and consumers about the potential endocrine disrupting effects of parabens. Mainly in animal experiments and in-vitro cell studies, parabens are believed to interfere with hormone function because they mimic estrogen. Because of this, it can potentially cause fertility or even breast cancer.
In 2004, a study on the latter subject caused quite a stir. Darbre’s group took breast tumor tissue under the microscope and found parabens in most of the patients. Whether this therefore reveals a causal relationship between parabens and breast cancer is another matter. Since this study did not examine the presence of parabens in healthy breast tissue, the link between parabens and breast cancer is not strong.

Parabens are 10,000x weaker than phytoestrogens, natural estrogens from fruits and vegetables, and even 100,000x weaker than your own estrogen (estradiol) production.

What can you conclude from this?

  1. Parabens can cause skin allergies that are accompanied by redness, itching, flaking and, above all, a lot of discomfort.
  2. Animal experiments and in-vitro studies have shown that parabens disrupt hormones, resulting in infertility, a disruption of thyroid function. It should be noted that these studies used high concentrations of parabens. These high concentrations do not occur in humans and, moreover, it is excreted in the urine and bile. According to European legislation, cosmetic products may contain a maximum of 0.3-1% parabens.

What about Iconic Elements skin care products?

After the previous explanation, this is of course a logical question. Iconic Elements has chosen from the start not to use parabens in its care products. For more info, you can read 10 reasons for Iconic Elements skincare.

Parabens Microplastics Icons Iconic Elements Fruit Acids, Targeted Pigment Serum, Light Skin Peeling


Harley KG, Berger KP, Kogut K, et al. Association of phthalates, parabens and phenols found in personal care products with pubertal timing in girls and boys. Hum Reprod. 2019;34(1):109-117.

Golden R, Gandy J, Vollmer G. A review of the endocrine activity of parabens and implications for potential risks to human health. Crit Rev Toxicol. 2005 Jun;35(5):435-58.

Darbre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, Coldham NG, Sauer MJ, Pope GS. Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours. J Appl Toxicol. 2004 Jan-Feb;24(1):5-13

Nowak K, Ratajczak-Wrona W, Górska M, Jabłońska E. Parabens and their effects on the endocrine system. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2018 Oct 15;474:238-251.

While you are here

The last menstrual period is also called menopause. Most women have their last menstrual period between the ages of forty and sixty; the average age is 51 years. In addition to physical complaints such as flushes and sweat attacks, skin changes can also take place. In the West, 75% of women suffer from menopausal symptoms. More about skin changes and menopause

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Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu, een vooraanstaande dermatoloog, is de drijvende kracht achter Iconic Elements. Hij heeft sinds 2004 zijn expertise ingezet om een veilige en effectieve huidverzorgingslijn te creëren, geschikt voor zowel gezonde huid als huidproblemen. Iconic Elements, opgericht in 2016, is de eerste brede skincare lijn in Nederland ontwikkeld door een dermatoloog. Als medisch specialist streeft Dr. Wu naar het bevorderen van het welzijn van mensen door hoogwaardige en effectieve huidverzorgingsproducten te bieden. De proefdiervrije en vegan producten vermijden schadelijke chemicaliën en bevatten natuurlijke ingrediënten.
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