The Administration's website has a dedicated section that illustrates that they are used to prevent the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.
Amid frequently asked questions, the section also raises concerns about their oestrogenic effects, parabens have "not been shown to be harmful as used in cosmetics, where they are present only in very small amounts".
Parabens are the most widely used preservatives, present in thousands of personal care products that include moisturizers, shampoos, toothpastes, lubricants, and gels.
Their function is to prevent the growth of potentially harmful bacteria in products, but various studies have called into question their potential to act like estrogen, a hormone that can be associated with the development of breast cancer.
However, there is currently no evidence indicating that parabens are harmful when used in cosmetics, where they are present only in very small amounts.
The FDA reiterates this point on its website.
Demand for paraben free products on the rise
A recent rise in consumer demand for natural and organic cosmetics and the growing trend of formulators to avoid parabens has led to the increase in popularity of alternative preservative systems.
Although research continues to conclude that the paraben preserving agents used widely in cosmetics pose no threat to human health, consumer enthusiasm for ‘paraben-free’ products claims remains robust, and brands are making the most of the demand.
Following the 2004 study which first ignited concern by suggesting that parabens can mimic oestrogen and thus cause hormone disruptions, no evidence for any link between the preservation ingredients and health concerns has been found.
Dr. Edmund Fowles of EF Chemical Consulting, a company which specialises in cosmetic safety assessments reiterates this; “I feel absolutely sure that parabens are safe. As a result of all the fuss about the potential risks there has been exhaustive research, which has covered all angles.”
Nevertheless, the 'paraben-free' bug has well and truly bitten, and with consumers increasingly keen for these claims, from formulation to packaging, manufacturers are now fully exploiting the trend.