When it comes to popular skincare ingredients, chances are retinol, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C are the first things to pop into mind. As such, methylparaben (just one of many seemingly-scary parabens on the market) might not even be a blip on your radar. A little intel: Parabens (methylparaben included) are preservatives found in hundreds of beauty products all over the world. While they help formulas last longer, some may contribute to skin sensitivities and breakouts. And yet, they often fly under the radar when considering what could be causing a breakout in the first place.
So, if when reading the back of a new product, you're thinking "methyl-what?" you're not alone. To help uncover how the little-known, commonly-used ingredient enhances every formula it comes into contact with (along with the potential hazards of incorporating it into your routine), we chatted with board-certified dermatologists Morgan Rabach and Noelani González. Keep reading for everything they have to say about methylparaben.
Meet the Expert
- Morgan Rabach is a board-certified dermatologist at LM Medical in New York City.
- Noelani González is a New York-based, board-certified dermatologist and the Director of Cosmetic Dermatology at Mount Sinai.
Type of ingredient: Preservative
Main benefits: Prevents fungus growth, preserves ingredients, creates antibacterial formulas.
How often can you use it: Methylparaben is found in many daytime and nighttime products. As such, it can be used multiple times per day.
Works well with: Since methylparaben lengthens the 'shelf-life' of ingredients, dermatologists say that it works well with all ingredients.
Don’t use with: Methylparaben is generally safe to use with all ingredients thanks to its preserving nature.
What is Methylparaben?
Methylparaben is one of the most popular preservatives in beauty products and food items. The ingredient occurs naturally in a handful of fruits—like blueberries—though it can also be created synthetically. It's found in everything from cream cleansers and moisturizers to primers and foundations and helps these products maintain their effectiveness. Rabach says that it's chock-full of anti-fungal and antibacterial properties, which work wonders to extend the shelf life of skincare, haircare, and cosmetic products.
Benefits of Methylparaben
Methylparaben is used to preserve the formula of a skincare product and is therefore not directly beneficial to the state of your skin's health.
- Prevents fungus growth: Thanks to its antibacterial properties, Rabach says that methylparaben is a preservative that is added to many creams and cosmetic products to prevent fungus from growing.
- Preserves ingredients: Given the way methylparaben prevents fungus from growing within creamy formulas, it's able to preserve ingredients and help consumers get the most out of their cosmetic purchases.
- Is antibacterial: Since it's a preservative, González says methylparaben is effective at preventing microbial growth and germs such as bacteria and mold in skincare and cosmetic formulations.
Who Is It Suitable For?
Methylparaben is generally suitable for use on all skin types. The exception: Those with sensitive, allergic, and/or eczematous skin.
Side Effects of Methylparaben
While methylparaben is found in many skincare products, González says that it can be the cause of allergic reactions like contact dermatitis, so patients who have sensitive, reactive skin should steer clear of the ingredient. "It is always best to proceed with caution and test a product on a small portion of your skin before applying it all over," she says.
Additionally, González points out that methylparaben can mimic the hormone estrogen, and potentially disrupt hormone function—though, there aren't enough studies that speak specifically to this correlation. So, while a 2004 Journal of Applied Toxicology study found parabens in human malignant breast tissue, this is not conclusive evidence that they are a direct root cause of cancer, and the authors did not look for parabens in any other tissues in the body, meaning the study was inconclusive as to whether the chemicals occur only in tumor samples. Also of note: While long-chain parabens are linked to stronger estrogenic activity—the potency of which increases with the length of the paraben—methylparaben is a short-chain paraben, meaning it's less potent. Furthermore, FDA scientists state that after reviewing studies on the link between parabens and cancer, they "do not have information showing that parabens as they are used in cosmetics have an effect on human health."
How to Use It
Using methylparaben is as simple as performing your regular AM and PM skincare routine. Since the preservative is in most creamy formulations, there's a pretty good chance that you've been using methylparaben without realizing it. What's more, considering it's in both daytime and nighttime formulas, it's safe to use daily, not to mention multiple times per day. Again, the only cause for concern is if you have reactive skin, in which case, you should check your labels for methylparaben to see if frequent use of the ingredient could be leading to any disruptions in the skin.
Does methylparaben cause acne?
While methylparaben may not directly lead to acne, they've been studied to mimic the hormone estrogen in the body, which may have an effect on the body and thus, contribute to breakouts.
Is methylparaben FDA-approved?
Methylparaben is FDA-approved and allowed to be used in "makeup, moisturizers, hair care products, and shaving products, among others."
Are parabens banned in Europe?
Though parabens are considered safe to use by the FDA, they've been banned for use in the EU since 2015.
National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem compound summary for CID 7456, methylparaben. Updated November 6, 2021.
Harvey PW, Everett DJ. Significance of the detection of esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens) in human breast tumours. J Appl Toxicol. 2004;24(1):1-4. doi:10.1002/jat.957
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Parabens in cosmetics. Updated August 24, 2020.