Propylparaben - The Dermatology Review




What Is Propylparaben?

Propylparaben is a preservative used in skincare and cosmetic formulations. Propylparaben is classed as a paraben, a group of preservatives with slightly different functions and anti-microbial activity based on their size. Propylparaben is used to extend the shelf-life of a product life by preventing microbial contamination. Microbial contamination can occur from exposure to bacteria and molds in the air and general use of the product from your hands. Preservatives like Parabens are designed to reduce the likelihood that bacteria and molds can grow in your product. This is important for ensuring the safety of a product. 

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Propylparaben naturally occurs in some fruit and vegetable products, such as barley, flaxseed, and grapes. It is a member of the class of compounds known as parabens. Other common parabens include methylparaben, ethylparaben, and butylparaben. Parabens are found in plants in the form of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA), a chemical that breaks down to become parabens to protect the plant. The parabens used in cosmetics are identical to those found in nature. If parabens are absorbed through the skin, the human body can quickly metabolize them to PHBA and eliminate them.

Parabens have up until recently been the most widely used group of preservatives in skincare and cosmetic products. Parabens were so popular because of their gentle, non-sensitizing, and highly effective in comparison to other preservatives. However, the use of parabens is now controversial due to their alleged relation to health concerns.


the good: Protect products against the growth of bacteria and mold and improve the shelf life of a formulation.

the not so good:May be linked to several health concerns, including hormone disruption, cancer, and allergy.

Who is it for?All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.

Synergetic ingredients: Works well with most ingredients

Keep an eye on:Propylparaben has many different names when used in formulations such as potassium salt propylparaben, 4-hydroxy-propyl ester benzoic acid, and propyl ester.

Why Is Propylparaben Used?

Propylparaben functions as a preservative in cosmetics and personal care products. In most formulations, parabens are used at very low levels ranging from 0.01 to 0.3%. The use of preservatives is necessary to prevent microbial contamination, as well as to prevent degradation by environmental factors such as heat, light, and air. 

Cosmetics have a high potential for microbial contamination and growth. The most susceptible products are creams and lotions that are packaged in jars, opened frequently, and applied to the skin with the fingers. Inadvertent contamination may also occur after the use of makeup brushes around the eyes or other parts of the face that touch the skin and the cosmetic repeatedly. Each use increases the chance of contamination. Furthermore, contamination may occur if the consumer leaves a product container open for an extended period. 

Storage conditions
Another major cause of product contamination is storage conditions. Since the majority of products are stored at room temperature, the warm temperature can stimulate the growth of microorganisms. Plus, the ingredients used in cosmetic formulations, such as water, oils, peptides, and carbohydrates, create the perfect environment for microorganism growth. 

Microbial contamination can lead to significant health problems, from skin irritation to infections. To avoid these problems, a strong yet non-irritating preservative must be added to the formulation of a product, propylparaben fits both of these criteria. 

Are Parabens Safe?

The question of whether parabens are safe is a question that has become topical over the last ten years. Paraben-free products have taken over a large portion of the market, particularly as green and natural beauty brands begin to grow in popularity. Over the past ten years, parabens have become criticized for use in cosmetics due to research that has revealed their potential relation to health concerns. 


However, the research on parabens is conflicting and has polarised the beauty industry. The US Food and Drug Administration doesn’t currently regulate the use of parabens. However, they continually monitor the research as it becomes available, but at this stage, there isn’t significant data that parabens produce the health concerns that have been expressed. Below are the suggested potential side effects of parabens. It is crucial to keep in mind that the size and weight of different parabens affect their anti-microbial ability as well as the side effects. Smaller parabens such as methylparaben are much less likely to produce these effects as larger parabens. 

Hormone disruption
Parabens may have the ability to mimic the hormone estrogen, interfering with the hormone balance in the body. Despite estrogen usually classified as a female hormone, both sexes produce estrogens and could potentially be affected by hormone disruption. Hormone disruption can affect reproductive activities in the body, such as pregnancy and menstruation. 

As Healthline discussed in their article, parabens are easily absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. It is suggested that the accumulative exposure to parabens may be what is responsible for health concerns. This link to absorption into the body was also seen in a study conducted on parabens in pregnancy published by Environment International. 

Propylparaben and cancer
A 2004 study found a potential link with parabens in deodorant to breast cancer. While one study may produce a reason for further research, it doesn’t provide a causational relationship. However, this link seemed plausible, given parabens’ ability to mimic human estrogen, and it is known that high estrogen levels stimulate the growth of cancer cells.

The 2004 study has since been discredited, and the American Cancer Society has concluded that there is insufficient scientific evidence of parabens increasing breast cancer risk. Furthermore, a 2005 study published in the journal Critical Reviews of Toxicology found that ‘it is biologically implausible that parabens could increase the risk of any estrogen-mediated endpoint, including effects on the male reproductive tract or breast cancer.’ Despite the lack of evidence to provide a causational link to cancer, many brands have avoided its use.  

Propylparaben allergy
Another concern with propylparaben and other parabens is the possibility of an allergic reaction. However, the actual incidence of propylparaben allergy and true allergic contact dermatitis to parabens is very low, less than 2 percent. 

Like many skincare ingredients, parabens can cause irritation and sensitization when used on inflamed or damaged skin such as skin types experiencing dermatitis and eczema. This is why parabens are never used to preserve topical hydrocortisone creams or antibiotic ointments. Generally, parabens don’t irritate the skin or cause allergy. 

Other research indicates that parabens are safe as used in cosmetics and preferred since they are gentle, non-sensitizing, and highly effective. Furthermore, these studies have demonstrated that parabens did not have any effect when compared to natural hormones in the body. Parabens were found to be beneficial due to their ability to deter the growth of mold, fungi, and other harmful pathogens.

Overall, the cosmetics industry has determined that the low levels of parabens used in cosmetic products are safe. The US Food and Drug Administration has found that while parabens can mimic estrogen, the actual effects of this low level of activity on the body do not cause cancer in a higher incidence than naturally occurring estrogen. 

How Do You Use Propylparaben Safely?

The typical concentration of parabens used in cosmetics in 0.01 up to 0.3 percent. If you’re wondering if these levels are large enough to harm your body, there’s little reason to be concerned. However, if you are using a large number of paraben containing products, then you may be exposing your skin to higher-than-normal levels of the ingredient.

To reduce the likelihood of this, start reading label ingredients when you shop for skincare and cosmetics. Choose only one or two products that contain propylparaben or make an effort to avoid combining items that contain them. When looking for parabens on ingredients lists, look for the three most common parabens, which are methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. You may also want to look up alternative names for these ingredients or look for products that are labeled ‘paraben-free’. 

Does Propylparaben Impact The Environment?

Parabens have the potential to be harmful to the environment, with parabens being released into the environment through the sewage system. The impact of that parabens has once in the environment is still being researched. 

Other uses:

In addition to its natural occurrence in some fruits and vegetables, propylparaben may also be added to food for preservation. Typical food products that contain parabens for preservation include beer, sauces, desserts, soft drinks, jams, pickles, frozen dairy products, processed vegetables, and flavoring syrups.

Cosmetic Ingredient Review, 2018. ‘Amended Safety Assessment of Parabens as Used in Cosmetics, Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel.
Engeli, R, et al., 2007. ‘Interference of Paraben Compounds with Estrogen Metabolism by Inhibition of 17 β– Hydroxysteriod Dehydrogenases’, International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 18, is. 9.
Matwiejcuk, N, Galicka, A & Brzóska, M, 2020. ‘Review of the safety application of cosmetic products containing parabens’, Journal of Applied Toxicology, vol. 40, is. 1.
Liu, W, et al., 2019. ‘Paraben exposure in early pregnancy and gestational diabetes mellitus’, Environment International, vol. 126, pp. 468-475.


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