What are Parabens?Parabens are the most widely used preservatives in cosmetic products, including personal lubricants. The most common parabens used are methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. Typically, more than one paraben is used in a product.
What Are Parabens Doing in My Lubricant?Parabens are used in lubricants as preservatives and to deter microbial growth. Given the way we use personal lubricant, there is potential for bacteria contamination, so it makes good sense to have some sort of anti-bacterial ingredients. Parabens also give lubricant a longer shelf life. More and more lubricant manufacturers are using non-paraben alternatives, but they are still present in many of the most popular brands of lube.
What are the Health Concerns About Parabens?This is still a topic under debate. Not surprisingly organizations representing chemical industries and cosmetic industries point out that most industrialized countries that test the safety of parabens consider them safe for use at the levels they are found in lubricant and cosmetics and don't regulate paraben use.
But there have been studies that raise concerns about parabens. The problems are two fold. First, parabens mimic estrogen, and parabens have been found in the tissue of cancerous breast tumors, raising questions about whether parabens may be linked to cancer. There is also concern that the estrogenic effects of parabens may be making problems with our endocrine system, leading to things like reduced sperm counts and increased rates of testicular, breast, and ovarian cancers. Another study often cited proposed that parabens accelerate skin aging.
Parabens can sensitize the skin and induce an allergic response, which may not have long term consequences but in the short term can be painful and annoying.
Should I Avoid Lubricants with Parabens?Currently the United States and Canada consider parabens safe (the levels they are found in these products are very low, much lower than the highest allowable levels). The European Union does have some restrictions but parabens are still considered safe at low concentrations.
There may not be a documented link between parabens and serious long term negative health effects. But we do know that parabens (like many other ingredients) can cause allergic reactions. And why not avoid anything that you might react to?
There are many brands of paraben free lubricant both water based and silicone based. And these products are not always more expensive. So if you can avoid them easily, it seems advisable. But using a lubricant that offers protection from bacterial infection, and that doesn't go rancid a week after you open it, is important as well. So if you have a lube you like and it works for you, and paraben free alternatives are out of reach, then at this point the authorities seem to be saying you should be fine.
David Suzuki Foundation - About Parabens
Parabens: Selected Toxicity Information from Hazardous Substance Database, National Library of Medicine. Accessed November 3, 2011.
Harvey, P.W. "Discussion of Concentrations of Parabens in Human Breast Tumors" Journal of Applied Toxicology Volume 24, (2004), 307-310.
European Commission Directorate-General for Health & Consumers, Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety Opinion on Parabens. Revision March 22, 2011.