Parabens are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics. Here are answers to questions that consumers often ask about the safety and use of these ingredients.
- What are parabens, and why are they used in cosmetics?
- What kinds of products contain parabens?
- Does FDA regulate preservatives in cosmetics?
- Are parabens safe in cosmetics? Are they linked to breast cancer or other health problems?
Parabens are a family of related chemicals that are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetic products. Preservatives may be used in cosmetics to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold, in order to protect both the products and consumers.
The parabens used most commonly in cosmetics are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben.
Product ingredient labels typically list more than one paraben in a product, and parabens are often used in combination with other types of preservatives to better protect against a broad range of microorganisms.
Parabens are used in a wide variety of cosmetics, as well as in foods and drugs. Cosmetics that may contain parabens include makeup, moisturizers, hair care products, and shaving products, among others. Many major brands of deodorants do not currently contain parabens, although some may.
Cosmetics sold to consumers in stores or online must have a list of ingredients, each listed by its common or usual name. This is important information for consumers who want to find out whether a product contains an ingredient they wish to avoid. Parabens are usually easy to identify by their name, such as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, or ethylparaben.
FDA doesn’t have special rules that apply only to preservatives in cosmetics. The law treats preservatives in cosmetics the same as other cosmetic ingredients.
Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, do not need FDA approval before they go on the market.
However, it is against the law to market a cosmetic in interstate commerce if it is adulterated or misbranded. This means, for example, that cosmetics must be safe for consumers when used according to directions on the label or in the customary way, and they must be properly labeled.
FDA can take action against a cosmetic on the market that does not comply with the laws we enforce. However, to take action against a cosmetic for safety reasons, we must have reliable scientific information showing that the product is harmful when consumers use it according to directions on the label or in the customary way.
For more on this subject, see
- FDA Authority Over Cosmetics
- Key Legal Concepts: "Interstate Commerce," "Adulterated," and "Misbranded
- Prohibited and Restricted Ingredients
Are parabens safe as they’re used in cosmetics? Are they linked to breast cancer or other health problems?
FDA scientists continue to review published studies on the safety of parabens. At this time, we do not have information showing that parabens as they are used in cosmetics have an effect on human health. Here are some of the questions we are considering:
- What do published studies show about the possible hazards of parabens, and on the effects of parabens on human health? For example, do experimental findings with various parabens also happen in real life?
- What are the hazards and risks of not using parabens? If we stop using parabens to protect cosmetics and consumers from harmful bacteria, are there safer alternatives for preservatives?
- If there are paraben-related health effects that are scientifically supported and documented, how do these effects relate to the use of parabens in cosmetics?
- Do the different kinds of parabens act the same or differently in our bodies?
FDA will continue to evaluate new data in this area. If we determine that a health hazard exists, we will advise the industry and the public, and will consider the agency’s legal options under the authority of the FD&C Act to protect the health and welfare of consumers.
- How FDA Evaluates Regulated Products: Cosmetics
- Microbiological Methods for Cosmetics
- Shelf Life/Expiration Dating