What is methylparaben?
Methylparaben is a type of paraben. Parabens are chemicals that are often used as preservatives to give products a longer shelf life. They’re added to food or cosmetics to prevent the growth of mold and other harmful bacteria. Many products that contain methylparabens also contain one or two other types of parabens in their ingredients.
Researchers are beginning to study whether the use of methylparabens and other parabens is safe. At this time, there is no conclusive evidence either way. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to allow the use of methylparabens in various products.
What are the uses?
Methylparabens are used in a wide variety of cosmetic products. This includes:
- shaving products
- hair care products
- some deodorants
They’re also used in a number of processed foods and medications.
If you’re curious about whether a product contains methylparabens, all you need to do is check the ingredient list. The FDA requires that all manufacturers list methylparabens and other parabens as ingredients. If you do this, keep an eye out for its alternative names. These include:
- 4-hydroxy methyl ester benzoic acid
- methyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
Is it safe?
Methylparaben doesn’t accumulate in the body. In fact, the body flushes the chemical out pretty quickly. Despite this, many consumers are concerned about the safety of methylparaben. These concerns have increased in light of a claimed link to cancer risk.
The FDA and other researchers are conducting studies to investigate the safety of methylparaben. So far there hasn’t been any conclusive evidence, though there have been cases of individuals who have had negative reactions. While the FDA is reviewing these studies, they haven’t yet come across anything to show that parabens are unsafe for use in cosmetics, foods, or drugs.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists methylparaben as being a low to moderate health hazard. However, the hazard is only in regards to allergic reactions or product usage exceeding the recommended level. The EWG lists methylparaben’s risk of causing cancer and reproductive toxicity at 0 percent.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tested the urine of more than 2,548 participants in a 2005 to 2006 survey. CDC researchers found that most participants had some methylparaben in their urine. They also found that the presence of the chemical didn’t signal a problem on its own.
While studies are still being conducted, currently there is no official precaution against using products with methylparaben.
Cancer risks and other side effects
Much is still unknown about the causes of cancer. Researchers continue to study various chemicals to search for links.
A number of studies show that methylparaben may cause cancerous skin damage. Further studies are required to assess this risk.
A toxicology study tested whether skin treated with methylparaben had any adverse reaction when exposed to sunlight. The researchers used skin cells in their study. The cells showed little to no negative reaction when exposed to low levels of sunlight. However, there were some effects when the skin was exposed to increased levels of sun. This included faster cell death and nitric oxide production. This indicated that skin damage might occur from using products with methylparaben if exposed to the sun.
A similar study suggested that skin damage from exposure to sunlight while using a product containing methylparaben might lead to the formation of cancer. This may be due to the oxidative DNA damage that it could cause.
It’s important to note that neither of these studies provided enough evidence for the FDA to consider methylparaben harmful when used in products as directed. However, other side effects are possible.
Possible allergic reactions
Some people have reported allergies to methylparaben. Contact dermatitis, for example, occurs when the skin has an allergic reaction to something it comes in contact with. Dermatitis usually occurs in the form of a rash that clears up on its own.
Contact dermatitis rashes can include:
- bumps and blisters
- dry, scaly skin
- swelling, tenderness, or burning
If the dermatitis occurs near the eyes, you may experience redness or swelling of the eyelids.
Other sensitivities can occur when products with methylparaben come in contact with skin that is broken or damaged. There have been some reports of allergy when ingesting parabens, but this hasn’t been researched extensively yet. Life-threatening allergies, such as anaphylaxis, have not been reported.
The FDA is continuing to investigate whether methylparaben should be considered safe when used in cosmetics, and whether methylparaben can lead to breast cancer or other health problems. They’re currently seeking answers to questions like:
- Is it safe to use parabens as preservatives?
- Do studies that show parabens to be harmful translate into real-life effects?
- What are the health differences among the different types of parabens, including methylparaben?
To date, current research suggests that products containing methylparabens are safe to use, though you can always select products without them if you choose to.