Parabens – Preservatives with Risks?

Preservatives are used in a number of cosmetic products to help extend the shelf life. This is because water is one of the ingredients. As soon as a water-based cosmetic product comes into contact with the air or a finger is dipped in the cream, the product will begin to expire. The culprits here are bacteria, yeast and mould. Preservatives inhibit their growth and help extend the shelf life. If preservatives are not used, the product must be refrigerated and the shelf life is greatly reduced. Parabens are the most commonly used preservatives. But are they actually dangerous?

Parabens are synthetic preservatives that have been used in cosmetic products for over 80 years. The problem is that in addition to having preservative effects, long-chain parabens are also similar to the sex hormone oestrogen. The hormone is absorbed into the upper layer of skin when a certain amount of cream, deodorant or other such product is applied. This fact has often led to criticism of long-chain parabens in the past.

More specifically, a study conducted by the BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany) in 2013 assessed parabens as being harmful. They were said to have a hormone-like effect, potentially leading to cancer, congenital malformations and premature puberty.1 In 2004, a British study drew a link between parabens and breast cancer.2 Other institutes, including the German consumer organisation Stiftung Warentest, have since put these results into perspective by explaining that the oestrogenic effects of parabens are weaker than those in naturally occurring sex hormones by a factor of at least 1000.3 In addition, other experts on this topic have pointed out that the studies conducted do not provide any actual scientific evidence. So far, no conclusive result has been established in this regard. The only point that is certain is that the amount applied to the skin is crucial. 

Therefore, an EU regulation limits the use of parabens. Methylparaben and ethylparaben may be used as preservatives up to a concentration of 0.4 percent. These parabens are considered safe to use at this level. For the use of butylparaben and propylparaben, the recommendation is as follows: the concentration of these parabens should be limited to 0.19 percent. As more accurate findings are not currently available, the concentrations mentioned are considered to be appropriate. Isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben, pentylparaben and phenylparaben should no longer be used. The health risks could not be adequately assessed in these cases. Benzylparaben is no longer permitted in the EU.4

Our pjur med Sensitive glide completely abstains from the use of parabens, glycerin and preservatives. The formula has been kept as neutral as possible and the ingredients have been put together in the way that microbial growth can’t occur. This makes pjur med Sensitive glide an ideal water-based personal lubricant for the very sensitive genital mucous membrane area. This allows you to experience carefree intimacy with a dermatologically approved lubricant.


[1] BUND – Friends of the Earth Germany, 07.10.2013: “Hormonelle Schadstoffe – Attacke auf das Hormonsystem"
[2] Dabre et al. 2004, "Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours"; University of Reading, UK
[3] Stiftung Warentest, 19.08.2013: „Parabene als Konservierungsmittel in Kosmetika: Unnötige Verunsicherung
[4] The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), 28. Januar 2011: „Verwendung von Parabenen in kosmetischen Mitteln

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Maggie Walsh

Consultant pjur Sexual Health & Wellbeing Division

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