Debunking Atopic Dermatitis Myths: Should Patients Avoid Products With Parabens?



Myth: Parabens are dangerous

Some atopic dermatitis (AD) patients may be misinformed by reports that parabens have estrogenic and antiandrogenic effects and may be involved in carcinogenesis via endocrine modulation. Although in Europe some parabens have been banned or restricted, in the United States there are no regulations against the use of parabens in cosmetics. Dermatologists must acknowledge that their AD patients may have concerns about cosmetic products and they must be prepared to dispel any myths.

Parabens such as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben are common in cosmetics such as moisturizers. Parabens have protective properties to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, “scientists continue to review published studies on the safety of parabens. At this time, we do not have information showing that parabens as they are used in cosmetics have an effect on human health. . . . If we determine that a health hazard exists, we will advise the industry and the public.”

Here are some important facts to note for patients, based on a research article published in Cosmetics & Toiletries in June 2017 :

  • Parabens are not toxic at the concentrations used in personal care products
  • Parabens are not genotoxic or carcinogenic
  • Parabens are readily excreted in urine and do not accumulate in tissues

In patients with chronic dermatitis, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel reported that parabens generally induce sensitization in less than 4% of patients. The panel concluded that they can support the safety of cosmetic products in which parabens are used as preservatives.

In fact, one study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that AD patients were not predisposed to allergies to parabens, formaldehyde, or diazolidinyl urea, but they were more likely to have allergic reactions to formaldehyde releasers. As a result, AD patients should choose moisturizers containing parabens and should have no fears about using them.

Expert Commentary

In general I recommend paraben-containing cleansers and emollients on a daily basis in practice. However, patient concerns exist due to negative online content easily accessed and fear can prevent usage of agents. Therefore, I am also open to offering options lacking in parabens, such as coconut oil.

—Nanette B. Silverberg, MD (New York, New York)

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