Parabens are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that may interfere with your hormones, particularly oestrogen.

Parabens can be found in cosmetics, beauty products, processed and canned food.

They can enter your body through your skin or the food you eat.

Reducing your use of cosmetics and beauty products is the best way to reduce your exposure to parabens.

Some studies suggest that there may be a link between exposure to parabens and breast cancer.


Our tips to reduce your risk

Use organic cotton period products.

Avoid processed or precooked meat.

Limit canned or tinned food.

Check cosmetics and beauty products’ ingredients.

Reduce your use of cosmetics or creams.

What are parabens? 

Parabens are chemicals used as preservatives in many cosmetics, beauty products and food. They stop the growth of microorganisms, such as bacteria, allowing a longer shelf life.

How can you be exposed to parabens? 

Parabens can enter your body through your skin from cosmetics and beauty products such as shampoo, cream and toothpaste. They can also be ingested when eating food, mainly from processed or canned food.

Studies have shown that practically everyone is exposed to parabens. The levels of parabens in your body are linked to your use of cosmetics and beauty products containing these chemicals. Reducing your use of these products is an effective way to reduce exposure.

Why are parabens harmful?

Parabens are Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) that can interfere with your hormones, particularly the female hormone oestrogen. High levels of oestrogen are linked to an increased breast cancer risk.

Parabens can mimic the action of oestrogen or increase its activity. Parabens may also interfere with how hormone levels are controlled in the breast tissues, causing increased oestrogen levels. This may be particularly relevant post-menopause when the ovaries stop producing oestrogen, and the breast regulates its own oestrogen production.

Is there a link between exposure to parabens and breast cancer?

To this date, studies on humans are too limited to say if there is a conclusive link between parabens and breast cancer. However, studies on cells and animals suggest that this association is possible. Parabens may be involved in various stages of tumour formation and growth and may contribute to the spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body.

For this reason, Breast Cancer UK recommends a precautionary approach and suggests you limit your exposure to parabens as much as possible.

How can you identify parabens in products?

Look out for cosmetics and beauty products containing:

  • methyl-paraben
  • ethyl-paraben
  • propyl-paraben
  • butyl-paraben

Even if the use of parabens in food in the UK is less common than in other countries, make sure you check food labels for these additives:

  • E214
  • E215
  • E218
  • E219

For more details and references, please see our Parabens and breast cancer science review.

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