Best used: To preserve your skin careCaution:Sensitive skin, compromised skin barrier, greenies & activistsBest for:Preserving your skin care 
Comments:Tried & tested preservative since the 1920s. Controversial since 2010Mode of action:


Science Score:



What are parabens?

Parabens are chemicals that are esters of para-hydroxy benzoic acid. This is a preservative that is commonly found (more common before the organic skin care bullsh*t) in prescription creams, toiletries & foods. They stop stuff from going off as they function as preservatives. 

The irony of the green movement is that this chemical is found in many fruits & vegetables. Try ordering a paraben free bean curd & tofu meal at your local vegetarian restaurant. 

The risk benefit ratio of every chemical needs to be considered. Paraben free skin care has evolved not based upon scientific evidence, but scaremongering. Fact,

Where are parabens found?

Parabens are found in cosmetics, shampoos, deodorants, medications including rectal & vagina creams, make up, lipstick, nail products, toothpaste & even in shoe polish, gules & textiles. In other words, lots of things you come into contact with. Hence by going from a paraben free cleanser to a no paraben cleanser you are only avoiding a small portion of parabens. (If you are going to do it, do it properly & avoid parabens all together, which can be challenging as you will see later.)

Most companies have a Paraben free line, not because it is safer but because consumers search for it online.

Why the need for parabens?

You need to preserve skin care products, shampoos, & topical medicine, otherwise they go off (though not as quick as organic skin care yoghurt mix). Parabens have been used for the past century as an effective, cost effective & safe preservative. It has action against bacteria, fungi & atypical mycobacterium & hence is the preservative of choice in over 80% of products.

I hate patch testing, hence why I spent most of my time trying to remember sh*t when it comes to cross reactions & chemical composition of topicals. I still hate it, but because I studied so hard, I can’t freaking get rid of it. True story.

Davin’s Viewpoint on the use of Parabens

As dermatologists we are constantly aware of parabens due to the real & every present danger that these chemicals have in the context of identifying contact allergens in patients with chronic ulcers & wound management. Parabens are a frequent contact allergen in this group of patients, & avoidance substantially reduces morbidity, again in this high risk group. 

Lowest common denominator that knows how to type… so the scaremongering will continue until IQ drops below 68.

In the general population however, parabens are banal with a pick up allergic rate of around 0.6% of all patch testing. This is pale in comparison to fragrance allergies, formaldehyde & quaternium 15 & is much lower than the organic skin care favourite, tea tree oil. Hence in the scheme of things, true contact dermatitis from parabens are extremely rare.

5 14

The debate continues as to whether there is an increased risk of malignancy with parabens, in particular topicals as parabens are a very weak oestrogen mimicking molecule. To date, there is no evidence. Nevertheless the industry will grow due to the scaremongering of organic skin care companies. The consequence? Increased reactions to all the other preservatives out there. 

Join the conversation

Join Dr Davin Lim on Instagram to stay up to date


Enquire now!

Get In Touch

Quick Contact

Dr Lim has unparalleled experience in dermatology. Fill in the form below and he will get back to you with your query