Q. After reading about a British study reporting that parabens in antiperspirants contribute to breast cancer, some of my clients don’t want the substance in their cosmetics. I am looking to you to help clarify this issue for me. Are parabens harmful, or are they safe? Is it true that they have been banned in Europe and Japan?
A . Parabens, which are widely used antimicrobial preservatives for cosmetics, are among the most studied of all cosmetic ingredients and have a long history of safety. Although there is an Internet myth claiming that they have been banned in both Europe and Japan, it is not true. Parabens are allowed for use by every government agency that regulates cosmetics worldwide.
Used since the 1920s in thousands of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, as well as in a few foods, parabens are a family of chemicals known as alkyl esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid. They have various prefixes that refer to the length of the alkyl ester group that branches off of the acid. These include methyl, ethyl, benzyl, propyl and butyl.