Parabens are antifungal agents that are used as preservatives in foods, pharmaceuticals and skin care products. In fact, parabens are the most widely used preservatives in the cosmetics industry. They're used in makeup, hair care products, moisturizers and shaving products, and despite what you may have heard, parabens are rarely used in deodorants and antiperspirants. There are several types of parabens, the most common being methylparaben, probylparaben and butylparaben [source U.S. Food and Drug Administration].
Preservatives are used in cosmetics and other skin and hair care products to maintain the integrity of the product. Preservatives like parabens protect cosmetics from the growth of fungus and bacteria. If fungus and bacteria were to grow in these products, they'd no longer be effective for their intended use and you'd be at risk for infection [source American Academy of Dermatology]. But while preservatives like parabens prevent potential skin infections, they can still be irritating to some people's skin. Not all people respond to parabens in the same way, so a lotion that causes skin irritation in one person may not affect another person at all.
While allergic reactions to parabens may be one of your worries, the possible link between parabens and cancer probably has you more concerned. Read on to learn more.