Phthalates and parabens are the most common Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDC) found in everyday cosmetics and other body products.  Below is a discussion of these dangerous chemicals and their links to serious disease and birth defects.  See our guide Getting EDCs Out of Your Body Products for recommendations on how to decrease your exposure to phthalates and parabens.

Phthalates (tha-ˌlāt)

Phthalates are a class of plasticizers that add fragrance to a product, or enhance pliability in plastics and other products.  Any product that has "fragrance" listed as an ingredient, most likely contain phthalates.  Phthalates act by interfering with androgen (testosterone) production. Because androgens are critical to male development, including genital development, boys are thought to be most vulnerable to exposure. However, androgens also play important roles in females, making phthalates relevant to both sexes. Use of some phthalates has been restricted from toys since 1999 in the EU and 2008 in the US.

Phthalates in everyday products such as baby products, cosmetics, fragrances, body products, and cosmetics.

Phthalate Exposure is Linked to:

--Genital abnormalities;

--Reduced sperm count;

--Decreased "male typical' play in boys;

--Endometriosis (tissue simliar to the endometrium--lining of the uterus--is found outside the uterus on other parts of the body

--Elements of metabolic disruption including obesity



Parabens are synthetic preservatives used in foods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and personal care products such as deodorants, moisturizers and shampoos. Common parabens include methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben. Parabens allow skin care products to survive for months or even years in your medicine cabinet; however, they also enter your body through your skin when you use these products. The body can absorb as much as five pounds of cosmetic chemicals every year.  Parabens are estrogen mimickers (agonists), and can bind to the cellular estrogen receptor.

Parabens are Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) that are linked to breast cancer, early puberty, and decreased sperm levels.  Cornell University reports that a high lifelong exposure to estrogen can increase breast cancer risk. Estrogen, and synthetic chemicals that act like estrogen, play a role in stimulating the division of breast cells and affect other hormones that stimulate breast cell division. Your body does not easily break down synthetic estrogen, and it can accumulate in fat cells, including breast tissue. Endocrinologists have observed the average age of puberty decreasing in the past several decades and have seen girls as young as eight exhibit breast development and pubic hair growth. Endocrine disrupters can also lead to testicular enlargement and breast development in young boys.

Parabens can also adversely affect the male reproductive system. In a study by the Tokyo Metropolitan Research Laboratory of Public Health, researchers administered parabens to three-week-old rats. After four weeks, researchers examined the rats and found their sperm production significantly decreased in relation to the amount of parabens they had received. The rats who received the highest dose of parabens, which was consistent with the daily acceptable intake of parabens in Europe and Japan, showed a significant decrease in sperm concentration.

Parabens are used in a wide variety of:

·      cosmetics,

·      foods and drugs. 

·      deodorants and antiperspirants,

·      shampoos, conditioners,

·      lotions, and

·      facial and shower cleansers and scrubs

Parabens are EDCs found in personal care products and cosmetics.

The FDA does not have special rules that apply only to preservatives in cosmetics. The law treats preservatives in cosmetics the same as other cosmetic ingredients.  Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, do not need FDA approval before they go on the market.

See our guide Getting EDCs Out of Your Body Products for recommendations on how to decrease your exposure to phthalates and parabens.


Introduction to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs): A Guide for Public Interest Organizations and Policy-Makers 

What are the Dangers of Parabens in Skincare? by Karen Eisenbraun

FDA: Parabens in Cosmetics

Breast Cancer Fund: Parabens