Parabens are preservatives frequently used in skin care products. They were commercialized in the 1950s and possess antifungal and antibacterial properties. About 90% of grocery items contain parabens, as they are found in just about everything from deodorants to toothpaste, shampoo, hair conditioner, cosmetics and body lotion.
The role of parabens in product formulation is to kill fungus and bacteria that might grow in the bottle causing contamination and spoilage. Most skin care products must sit on the shelf for 3-6 months prior to purchase and then sit on the purchaser’s shelf for another year. Providing safe products that consumers can use with confidence requires preservatives of some kind.
The concept of preservation is not unique to skin care products. Even Mother Nature uses preservatives. Methylparaben is found in blueberries (consumed by humans) where it functions as a natural antimicrobial to prevent the berries from spoiling. Even plants have parabens to allow their seeds to be spread in a viable form over the earth.
Safety concerns over parabens arose because they can mimic estrogen by binding to estrogen receptors. Parabens have been considered as a possible cause of early puberty in females, lower fertility in males, and even breast cancer. However, at the present time, the US FDA has determined that paraben preservatives are safe at the levels currently used.