Parabens are very commonly used in cosmetics. It is estimated that up to 90% of cosmetic products contain parabens. Parabens are used in cosmetic preservatives. The harmfulness of parabens has been discussed for a long time. Unfortunately, there are only few alternatives to parabens. Parabens and their avoidance is one of the main reasons why I make cosmetics myself.

This article belongs to the series “Dirty Dozen of Cosmetics”. In this series, I am taking about harmful chemicals commonly found in cosmetics. This time we take a closer look at parabens; what they are and why they are harmful.

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Parabens are preservatives in cosmetics

Parabens are esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid. The most common parabens are ethyl paraben, methyl paraben, propyl paraben and butyl paraben.

Parabens are very effective preservatives. They are used in cosmetics, detergents and even foodstuffs. Parabens effectively inhibit the growth of bacteria and mould in various products.

In which products are parabens used?

Most water-based hygiene- and cosmetic products contain a paraben-based preservative. Parabens are not allowed in certified natural cosmetics. Parabens are also generally not used as a preservative by small non-certified natural cosmetics producers.

Parabens also occur in nature. For example, blueberry contains methyl paraben. It is blueberry’s own preservative. However, paraben levels in natural products are really low. Harmful levels of parabens are obtained from cosmetics and hygiene products such as shower soaps.

Why should parabens be avoided?

Preservatives are absolutely essential in many products. Preservatives ensure product safety. Without the preservative, the product would be spoiled in a few days. Parabens are definitely a better thing than no preservative at all.

According to official recommendations, a person can tolerate parabens 10mg / day per kilogram of body weight without a risk of getting ill. This is quite a huge amount. There are, of course, many views on this. The industry does not want to give up an effective preservative and the research results are in line with that. Once parabens have been found to be harmful in some studies, the industry immediately conducts its own study in which they are found to be completely safe. It is entirely up to the authorities what studies are relevant. That is why we consumers must be awake.

Only one paraben at a time has been used in studies on the harmfulness of parabens. In reality, products always contain several different parabens at the same time. The interaction of different parabens has not been adequately studied.

The problems of parabens also continue in nature. Paraben decomposition residues are highly toxic and harmful to both nature and humans.

Parabens are irritating and sensitizing ingredients

Parabens are very common preservatives. If you use non-natural cosmetic products bought from supermarket, it is virtually impossible to avoid them. The majority of the population is exposed to parabens on a daily basis. Although parabens are not actually allergenic, sensitization is very common. Because the body is so often exposed to parabens, paraben allergy is very common. In general, changing a cosmetic product does not help because parabens are found in almost every product. Only Natural Cosmetics does not contain parabens. Even then, you should make sure that the manufacturer uses only ingredients that are allowed in natural cosmetics. ECOCERT and COSMOS certificates are the most reliable guarantee of product quality. The products of small natural cosmetics manufacturers are quite often paraben-free but unfortunately not always.

Parabens cause hormonal disorders

The main concern for parabens is their estrogenic properties. Parabens have been classified as weak xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are substances that mimic oestrogens. Xenoestrogens are harmful to health. They interfere with hormonal function by advancing puberty. Therefore, products containing parabens intended for children should definitely be avoided. Denmark has banned parabens in products for children under 3 years of age.

Xenoestrogens increase the mucosa of the uterus, causing endometriosis. Xenoestrogens also cause a painful condition in the uterus called adenomyosis.

The effect of xenoestrogens has been studied among other things in reproduction of fish. Xenoestrogens were found to interrupt the normal development of fish genitals. The fish could no longer reproduce. Xenoestrogens also affect men’s health. It has been speculated that the decrease in sperm count in men may be due to exposure to xenoestrogens in uterus.

Some parabens are more harmful than others. It has been found that different paraben groups have varying degrees of estrogenic activity. Therefore, Isopropyl paraben, isobutyl paraben, phenyl paraben, benzyl paraben and pentyl paraben were banned by the EU decision.

Environmental hazards of parabens

Parabens are abundant in cosmetics and hygiene products such as shower soaps and shampoos. Some parabens are absorbed through the skin into the body. Most are flushed down the drain and end up in water. Parabens are relatively rapidly biodegradable. In wastewater treatment plants, parabens are either removed, chemically modified, or released into the environment with the sludge. 40-98% of parabens can be removed from wastewater. Parabens are a major environmental problem in countries where the wastewater problem has not yet been solved. Fortunately, parabens decompose rapidly in nature.

The use of shampoo and shower gel in natural water systems is a problem. Parabens and other chemicals in shampoos are harmful to fish and algae. Therefore, hair should never be washed using any kind of detergent or shampoo in a lake, river or sea. Always wash your hair in proper place and make sure the wastewater is properly treated.

The decomposition products of parabens react sensitively with chlorine

Parabens decompose relatively quickly. However, their degradation products are quite problematic. When parabens enter the sewer with wash water, they often come into contact with choral compounds. Remember that even tap water is chlorinated. Sodium hypochlorite is used in the disinfection of wastewater treatment plants. Chlorinated parabens are no longer biodegradable. They are removed with the treatment plant sludge to the fields. Chlorinated parabens in sludge will remain for a long time.

Chlorinated parabens are many times more harmful than the original parabens.

Chlorinated parabens tend to accumulate in cell membranes. Decomposition products of parabens cause, among other things, abnormal development of the foetus.

Decomposition products of parabens also cause problems for the environment. If sludge containing decomposition products of parabens is applied to fields, it is easily drained into ditches and thus into water systems. The chemical is very toxic and easily destroys various algal species.

Read more about the harmful ingredients in cosmetics

Siloxanes in cosmetics; why should you avoid siloxanes?

How Dangerous is Talc

Nanomaterials in cosmetics

Polyetyleeniglykoli, PEG

How can I avoid parabens?

As I said at the beginning, up to 90% of cosmetic products contain parabens. Preservatives must be used to make cosmetics safe. Parabens have been replaced by phenoxyethanol, for example, in cosmetics.

Learn to read the INCI list

By law, products cannot be labelled “free of parabens”. This rule was created because parabens are completely allowed to be used in the cosmetics industry. If you know INCI names, you can try to look for parabens in the ingredients of the product. There are 25 parabens in the INCI search. Parabens are easy to identify from the list of ingredients.

Use certified natural cosmetics

Eco-certified natural cosmetics do not contain parabens. For example, the prestigious ECOCERT and COSMOS standards do not allow the use of parabens in certified products. Parabens are preferred preservatives and are used in products for the masses. It is desired that the product remains usable for up to years. Natural cosmetics are more expensive because high quality and safe ingredients cost more. The shelf life of natural cosmetics is also shorter because the products do not contain strong preservatives.

Anhydrous products

No preservative will take care of your skin. All preservatives are useless or harmful. A completely preservative-free, anhydrous product is always a better option. Therefore, prefer anhydrous products whenever possible.

Anhydrous creams, butters and balms are generally preservative-free. Even bar (soap bar etc) products usually do not contain parabens. Ordinary, familiar and safe soap bar is the best alternative to liquid shower soap. Many small cosmetics manufacturers make preservative-free cosmetics by leaving the water out from the product.

Anhydrous products should always be applied to well-moisturized skin. This way they work on the skin just like products containing water.

Parabens should be taken seriously

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Parabens are one of the most harmful chemicals in everyday cosmetics. So seriously consider how to replace products containing parabens in your home. Parabens are especially harmful to children.

Parabens accumulate in the skin in large amounts during the day from various products. They are found in every liquid hand soap and hand creams. If you are starting to reduce parabens, I recommend replacing your liquid soap with a bar of soap. Even a small change can make a big difference.

Are you worried about parabens?

When making home cosmetics preservatives are usually no problem. If you make a lot of anhydrous cosmetics, preservatives are hardly needed. However, lotions are convenient to use. When you learn how to make them quickly, you just don’t want to use industrial creams anymore.


Lotions are perishable products. This is one of the main reasons why people don’t want to make them. Preservatives are feared because they are one of the most allergenic ingredients in cosmetics. However, when preparing home cosmetics, there is no need to use methyl isothiazolinones (MI or MIT) or formaldehyde release agents. These substances are sensitizing contact allergens when used continuously and they really should be avoided. Methylisothiazolinones and formaldehyde release agents can cause symptoms even at very low concentration.

There is surprising amount of safe preservatives used in home cosmetics. Find out how to protect your product from getting spoiled by using different methods.

The preservation of the cream depends on many things

All raw materials must be absolutely fresh. The oil must have a life span of at least one year, preferably one and a half years.

Sterilize the herbs and other dry ingredients in the oven at about 100 ° C (212 F) for 20 minutes up to half an hour. This is how most bacteria and mould germs are destroyed.

Sterilize also the glass bottles and jars in the oven at 100 degrees for 30 minutes. Caps and plastic jars can be wiped with strong alcohol. 60% proof vodka is strong enough to destroy all microorganisms in cans.

The acidity of the product also prolongs the preservation time

Always dose the cream with suitable tool. Avoid touching the product with fingers as even clean fingers do always contain bacteria.

Keep creams and other products away from light and in a cool place

I always store creams and oils in the refrigerator. Even though you make every effort to keep the cream usable as long as possible, it is sometimes necessary to get to know certain ingredients improving the shelf life of the product and the actual preservatives.

Certain ingredients are not classified as actual preservatives.  They have been found to inhibit bacterial activity in a natural way. In foodstuff preservation, such substances are, for example, sugar, salt and vinegar. They act as flavouring agents in products but also improve shelf life.

Vitamin E is the most common and natural preservative


Products rich in cold pressed oils contain vitamin E naturally. The only preserving agent in anhydrous ointments made by melting hard fats and waxes and then mixed with cold-pressed oils is natural vitamin E.

Vitamin E is destroyed when heated, so always add a few drops to the product after cooling. Especially if you heat the product for 30 minutes at 80 degrees C (176 F) or above, the amount of vitamin E will be significantly reduced.

In home cosmetics we can use herbal extracts to improve shelf life.

Antioxidants inhibit oxidation

All antioxidants are welcome in lotions. Not only do they protect your skin from signs of aging, they also protect the product itself from oxidation. There are countless good antioxidants in creams. Here are  few good ones

Many cold pressed natural oils are high in antioxidants

Rosemary extract is a very good preservative

Rosemary extract is not the same thing as rosemary essential oil. You can find rosemary extract at online stores.

Rosemary extract acts as a preservative agent in creams. Rosemary extract effectively prevents fats from oxidation. So, it acts as an antioxidant.

Use rosemary extract 20-40 drops / 100 ml (3,38 us fl oz) of finished ointment. It is best to add the drops only after the cream has cooled down at least to  40 degrees C (104 F).

Grapefruit extract or grapefruit seed oil is a powerful antimicrobial product

Grapefruit seed extract is also used internally in inflammation of the mouth and throat as a natural ‘antibiotic’ product. Similarly, grapefruit seed extract works in cosmetics. It prevents the growth of bacteria and moulds naturally. Of course, anyone can also be allergic to grapefruit seed extract. Therefore, it is advisable to test it on the skin before use. Possible allergies usually occur within 48 hours.

Grapefruit seed extract is sold in both liquid and dried powder form in capsules

The liquid extract is sold in a glass bottle with a pipette dispenser. The substance is quite pasty in nature. It is very difficult to dispense with a pipette. A great deal of the valuable paste is lost because it cannot be taken out of the glass bottle.


Grapefruit seed extract is added about 20 drops / 60ml (2.029 us fl oz) to finished ointment. Do not add and mix the extract with the cream until its temperature is below 40 ° C.

Grapefruit seed extract capsules are easier to use

I always use them myself. I don’t know if the liquid version is more effective but the powder is so much easier to use.

You can add 2 capsules of grapefruit seed extract to 60 ml of finished ointment. Open the capsules and pour the powder into the finished cream when the temperature is below 40 degrees. Mix the powder well with the cream. Grapefruit seed extract lumps are not nice in the finished cream.

Essential oils and hydrolats also improve the shelf life. However, the essential oils cannot be added to the ointment enough to function as a preservative alone. However, essential oils do improve the shelf life generally.

There are a few actual preservatives you can use in home-made cosmetics

Geogard 221 Cosgard is an eco-certified preservative


Geogard is certified by COSMOS and ECOCERT. If you want to make genuine natural cosmetics, Geogard 221 is the right choice. Geogard can be used in all cosmetics.

Geogard 221 contains a chemical called dehydroacetic acid, which has been found safe in cosmetics. The substance is an inhibitor of microorganisms. It is commonly used in cosmetics as a preservative.

Geogard also contains benzyl alcohol

Benzyl alcohol is not actually a preservative. It acts as a supportive agent to preservative. Benzyl alcohol has a pleasant, mild aroma. Benzyl alcohol is naturally present in jasmine and clove oils. It has been found to be slightly irritating to the skin. Therefore, benzyl alcohol must always be included in safety data sheets.

The dosage of Geogard 221 preservative is 0.2-1%. Here again, I would remind you of getting the most accurate scale or other measuring equipment. In fact, I have used a pipette for dosing. Each pipette is different. Therefore, I cannot directly report the number of drops per millilitre. Here is a handy way to measure really small volume measurements

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PCG preservative

PCG is a mixture of phenoxyethanol and caprylic glycol. It is recognizable by its sticky, bright appearance and the scent of the rose. Phenoxyethanol is not a natural cosmetic. It is a chemical that has been found to cause skin irritation and nervous system symptoms in children. Therefore, phenoxyethanol should not be used in products intended for children. In the case of products intended for adults, the content may not exceed 1%.

Another component of PCG is caprylic glycol

Caprylic glycol is prepared from caprylic acid obtained from coconut oil. Caprylic glycol can also be manufactured synthetically. Chemically caprylic glycol is alcohol. It is a moisturizing and caring ingredient for the skin. Caprylic glycol can be used in natural cosmetics if its origin is natural.


If you will decide to use PCG preservative in your product, you need to obtain a very accurate scale or measuring equipment. The product is dosed at 0.5-1.5ml / 100ml. 0.5 ml is such a small amount that it is very challenging to measure. Overdosing is very easy to do.

What if you only want to make 60ml of cream. How do you manage to measure the preservative correctly?

This is the most challenging problem in home cosmetics. If you decide to use synthetic chemicals that have side effects, how can you make sure that the dosing is accurate.

Consider carefully what chemicals you would like to use in your products


You will sometimes come across other preservatives in home cosmetics too. However, here were some of the most common ones that can be obtained fairly easily.

Be very careful with preservatives

However, you should always be very careful with preservatives. Carefully study the various ingredients of the product and its effect on humans and the environment. If you have any doubts about the product in question, you should not buy it. However, there are enough safe products available and good storage and care at the manufacturing process will guarantee a sufficiently long shelf life for your product.

I myself try to make non-preservative products mainly.

Do you have any experience using preservatives in cosmetics? Do you prefer an anhydrous product or you want to make a safe preservative cream?