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Food Additive Spotlight - Parabens, Dermatitis and Estrogen

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PARABEN (hydroxybenzoate)


Paraben, also called butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben, is a synthetic ethyl ester of benzoic acid. Benzoate, benzoic acid and benzoic acid esters may be found in many fruits, but they occur most commonly in berries. Cranberries are a major source of benzoic acid. Benzoic acid is prepared chemically from toluene and then esterified. Additionally, Benzoates occur naturally in cinnamon, cloves, dairy products and mushrooms.

Parabens are used as preservatives against molds and yeasts. They are most commonly used in  personal care products to extend shelf life, but because of their relatively low toxicity, parabens have also been used in foods for more than 50 years.  


Parabens may be found in baked goods, candies, frozen dairy products, fruit juices, jellies and jams, marinated fish products, mayonnaise, mustard, processed vegetables, spicy sauces, beverages such as soft drinks, and syrups.


It has been established that parabens can have a wide range of health negative effects. Parabens have a small degree of estrogenic activity, meaning, they may slightly increase estrogen production when either consumed or in cosmetics. Research shows parabens to have the highest incidence of contact dermatitis. In individuals with allergies, there may be side effects, some minor, others serious. People who suffer from asthma and those with allergic conditions such as hay fever, hives and rashes may experience allergic reactions following consumption of foods or drinks containing benzoates, benzoic acid or benzoic acid esters or following the use of other products containing the additive.

Individuals with aspirin sensitivity or the skin disease urticaria may also have allergic reactions or their symptoms may become worse following consumption of benzoates.


Parabens are frequently used in cosmetics and personal care products, such as shampoos, conditioners, hair styling gels, nail creams, foundations, facial masks, skin creams, and deodorants. Parabens may also be an ingredient in baby lotions, shampoos, and other personal care products for children.  

In addition to cosmetics and personal care products for adults, and personal care products for children, Parabens are also used in medications. In the industrial world parabens are used in oils, fats and glues, and textiles. They may be used in shoe polish as well.