Are Parabens Bad In Sunscreen & Other Beauty Products?

What are Parabens?
Why they don’t belong in cosmetics and why they do in sunscreen


Parabens Overview


Let’s start off with what exactly are parabens. Parabens are a group of chemicals that are widely used as a preservative in cosmetic and body care products since the 1920s. The reason cosmetic manufactures use parabens in cosmetics is because they contain ingredients that biodegrade and help prevent and reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and mold; helping these products have a longer shelf life.


The issue with using parabens has come into concerns about scientific studies claiming that parabens can disrupt hormones in the body and other functions such as: fertility, reproductive organs, birth outcomes and even increase the risk of cancer. Many have reported experiencing skin irritation from cosmetics and body products that contain parabens.


Since this discovery, it is clear that long-chain parabens (isobutyl-, butyl-, isopropyl- and propylparaben) are not ideally to be used in personal care items or cosmetic products. Instead looking for products that do not contain parabens seems to be safest choice for beauty care products, but what about sunscreen? Keep on reading to find out…


Most Commonly Used Products Containing Parabens


Parabens are used in many leave-on and rinse-off products such as shampoos, conditioners, face wash, moisturizers – which people use every day. They have antimicrobial properties which are most effective against fungi and gram positive bacteria.


Parabens are absorbed into the body through the skin, metabolized and excreted in urine and bile, however, daily exposure can cause health concerns. Personal care and beauty products are the greatest contributors to high paraben exposure levels in women, men and even teenagers who regularly use cosmetics and beauty products. Adolescent girls who wear makeup every day had 20 times the levels of propylparaben in their urine compared to those who never or rarely wear makeup.


Other ways people are exposed to parabens is by eating foods and beverages that do not just contain parabens but are also preserved with them.


Health Effects of Parabens


Reproductive Harm


In the body, parabens act somewhat like a hormone estrogen that can disrupt the normal function of hormone systems in both male and females reproductive systems. They also interfere with the production of hormones. The U.N. Environment Programme has identified parabens as a group, including propyl- and butylparaben, as endocrine-disrupting chemicals or potential endocrine-disrupting chemicals.


In animal studies, propyl-, isopropyl- and isobutylparabens disrupted hormone signals, and exposure to all these parabens and butylparaben harmed female reproductive development. In another animal study, developmental exposure to butylparaben harmed male reproduction by decreasing sperm production and lowering testosterone levels.




With previous findings, scientist are concerned about the exposure to such parabens as to how they may contribute to the risk of breast cancer in women. Propylparaben can alter the expression of genes, including those in breast cancer cells.



How to Protect Yourself Against Parabens


Many actions have been taken by manufacturers and governments to protect people from these preservatives. Major retailers in the U.S. have planned or have placed active bans or restrictions. Some include Whole Foods Market, CVS, Target and Rite Aid.


Since 2015, the EU has banned isopropyl- and isobutylparaben in all personal care products. Many of the other forms of parabens have been banned in 10 Southeast Asian countries.


Are Sunscreens Safe That Contain Parabens?


Contrary to everything that has been said so far, FDA regulations have deemed parabens in their modern form to be officially safe to use in very small concentrations (up to around 0.4 percent). As long as manufacturers stick to the FDA guidance, using parabens in personal care and sunscreen is considered safe. It’s when cosmetic and personal care manufacturers over do the allowed amounts of parabens in their products where they can have side effects. Just like anything in excess is not good for anyone, for example drinking too much water can lead to water poisoning and even disruption of brain function. Anything in excess is dangerous.


Much More Harmful Chemicals Found in Sunscreen


• Chemical Filters


oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. All these active ingredients are used to help the sunscreen penetrate in our skin more easily, and even more so when exposed to sunlight. They then accumulate in our bodies, burden our liver, and disrupt our hormones, throwing off our entire endocrine system and causing hormone disruption.


• Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles


These particles are so small that they may be absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream, causing inflammation in the body. Titanium dioxide is a potential carcinogen, and can cause lung damage when inhaled.


• Spray-On Sunscreen


Yes, yes… I know this isn’t really an ingredient. However, I think it’s important to bring up. Spray sunscreen, while being convenient, can easily be inhaled by you and those around you, causing internal harm especially if you are using a chemical-based sunscreen. It’s also flammable and can be toxic to the environment. Just say no to spray-ons!


• Retinyl Palmitate or Retinol


These active ingredients are forms of Vitamin A that, while may be a great antioxidant on its own, is harmful when used on skin exposed to sunlight. Many skincare manufacturers add this ingredients to their products because they believe that it has anti-aging benefits. However, when it comes in contact with sunlight, retinyl palmitate may speed up the development of skin lesions and tumors. This is because when exposed to UV rays, these antioxidant compounds break down and produce free radicals that damage our DNA and may lead to skin cancer.


As you can see, there are many more dangerous chemicals when it comes to sunscreen ingredients. The over-emphasis on parabens in sunscreen can make it confusing on which sunscreen is best; especially for those of us who love reading labels.


So…Which Sunscreen Should I Use?


If you want to tread on the safe side, use a sunscreen that are formulated with zinc oxide. Some parabens in sunscreen is considered safe as regulated by the FDA. Read the label! Just because a sunscreen claims to be paraben-free does not mean it does not contain any of the harmful chemicals mentioned above.

Many believe sunscreen is only meant for the summer, truth is sunscreen is meant to be used all-year-round. The sun still produces harmful rays during all seasons, while we may feel the effects during the summer most over other seasons, protecting our skin year-round is our responsibility for a lifetime.

That being said, using sunscreen should be part of everyone's daily skincare routine!!