Parabens are a family of ingredients used as preservatives in personal care products. ‘Paraben’ refers to many slightly different paraben forms, some of which can be found in nature. They come from para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA) which, as well as occurring in fruit and vegetables, forms naturally in the human body.
We use preservatives to keep personal care products in good condition: without them, they could be spoiled by bacteria, yeasts and moulds. We choose our preservative ingredients carefully, focusing on safety and effectiveness.
Safety is our top priority. Authorities around the world support the use of some types of parabens as preservatives for personal care products. The most common parabens we use are methyl- and ethyl-parabens. In some products we use other types of parabens – buty and propyl parabens. We do not use iso-parabens. The parabens we use are safe, and help keep our products in good condition.
We know some people prefer to use products without parabens or without certain types of parabens, so we also offer alternatives.
Your questions answered
Are parabens safe?
Yes. We use a limited number of parabens that have been scientifically proven as safe for using in personal care products. They enhance the safety and shelf-life of products by preventing bacteria, yeasts and moulds. Without preservatives like parabens, products could start to smell unpleasant, change colour or grow mould.
Unilever’s own research, and our ongoing assessment of other scientists’ work, shows that the way we use parabens is safe. Major international bodies also support their inclusion in cosmetics and personal care products, including the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety.
It is sometimes reported in the media that parabens may cause cancer by acting like oestrogen to disrupt hormone balance. This is disputed by regulatory authorities and leading scientists because there is no credible evidence for it. This is because although parabens have oestrogenic activity, they are thousands of times less active than oestrogen itself.
What Unilever products contain parabens?
We use a limited number of parabens as preservatives in personal care products, as they are one of the very few antibacterial and antifungal ingredient groups that have been shown to be safe by regulators around the world. Whenever we include parabens, or any other preservatives, we list them on the product packaging. Because we recognise that some people prefer to avoid them, we also offer alternative products.