1 in 10 skin and haircare products contain parabens. At the same time hundreds of products in the UK sell themselves as being “free from” these very same chemicals. What’s going on? We look at why some people are concerned about parabens, what to look out for on the label, and find an easy way to avoid them if that’s your goal.


What are parabens?

Parabens are chemicals which help to preserve many of the cosmetics we all use and couldn’t live without – makeup, shampoos, moisturisers, shaving gels, spray tans and hair products. They prevent bacteria and mould from growing so that products last longer. This sounds good given how many old pots and tubes many of us have lying around.


So why are people concerned?

However, there is growing evidence that parabens are endocrine disruptors (i.e. they interfere with our natural hormone functions) which they do because they mimic oestrogen in the body. As a result some people have linked them to increased breast cancer risk and fertility issues in men and women.

Although we don’t typically consume parabens they are readily absorbed through our skin when we apply products. Also the sheer volume of parabens that are used means they wash off into rivers and oceans and so can be found widely in the environment too. Not only are we being exposed through cosmetics but that they may also pose a risk to wildlife.



Given the risks it’s unsurprising that parabens are tightly regulated by the EU. There are 18 different parabens permitted for use in cosmetics and personal care products in the EU and in 2014, based on a safety assessment, the EU Commission significantly reduced the permitted levels of propylparaben and butylparaben, and banned these 2 parabens from products designed for the nappy area of toddlers and babies below the age of three.

Furthermore, in 2011, Denmark introduced a national ban on parabens in cosmetic products intended for children and parabens are one of the chemicals of concern highlighted in Breast Cancer UK’s #ditchthejunk campaign.

Despite this, and the availability of alternatives, parabens are effective and cheap so continue to be used. Indeed we found over 2400 products that contain parabens on sale in the UK which is just under 10% of all the skin and hair care product available. Skincare, foundation and eye make-up are areas where you’ll find parabens most frequently.


How to avoid parabens and #ditchthejunk

Always read the label and check if your cosmetics contain parabens. Sometimes they are called just parabens but also look out for the following tongue twisters: Methylparaben; Butylparaben; Isobutylparaben, Ethylparaben and Propylparaben or anything ending in paraben.

If you’re confused when reading long ingredients lists on cosmetics or personal care products (don’t worry we are too!), this is where Giki can help.

Simply download the Giki app and scan the barcode of the products you buy. If the product contains any parabens it will tell you which ones, plus any other chemicals of concern for that matter.

Giki holds a database of all chemicals that may be harmful based on scientific evidence, and will sense check the product ingredients against this list. If the product doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals it will be awarded a No chemicals of concern badge.

Look out for the Greener cosmetics badge too, this will indicate more natural or organic products too.


Right now what can you do?

  • Grab three products in your bathroom and scan them. Skincare, foundation and eye make-up are the most likely areas
  • See any parabens? Look for alternatives
  • If you like what you see share it with us

Lastly, for more information, check out Breast Cancer UK’s handy parabens factsheet .