Are Parabens Bad For Hair? Tips From Our Experts

Are Parabens Bad For Hair? Tips From Our Experts

Are parabens bad for hair? Learn about the potential risks of parabens and why you need a non-toxic shampoo and conditioner for your beauty routine.

Have you ever taken the time to read the ingredients list of your hair products? (We bet you have. We’ve all been bored in the bathroom before.)

If you’ve had a look, you’ve probably seen a lengthy list of unfamiliar words. One of them may have even caught your eye: Parabens.

Why would parabens jump out at you? Well, maybe it’s because you’ve seen so many brands recently advertise their products as “paraben-free.”

But why should it matter if a conditioner is paraben-free? Are parabens bad for hair?

Evidence suggests that they are. And that’s not all. Our experts are here to tell you everything you should know about parabens and hair health.

What Are Parabens?

Parabens are a group of human-made chemicals used as preservatives. These artificial chemicals have been used since the 1920s to reduce the possibility of mold and harmful bacteria in household products.

Products with parabens will include one or more harmful chemicals, including:

  • Methylparaben
  • Ethylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Isobutylparaben
  • Isopropylparaben

By adding these chemicals to their products, manufacturers can increase the shelf-life of goods they sell. Parabens can be found in many cosmetics, as well as some pharmaceutical products, foods, and drinks.

Because they keep products fresh for longer, cosmetics companies often cram in the parabens. For the longest time, parabens were a staple ingredient in shampoos, conditioners, hair dyes, hair masks, and other hair products. You’ll still see them listed on the bottles at your supermarket.

However, these days, you can also find paraben-free alternatives. And, as it turns out, that might be a really good thing.

Why Are Parabens Bad for Hair?

Whenever you’ve shopped for hair products, you’ve probably seen “paraben-free” listed on the front of shampoo and conditioner bottles. But is that a good thing? Why are parabens bad, exactly? Is it worth avoiding them—and occasionally paying a little more in the process?

The answer, as we’ve said, is yes.

There’s a reason that so many haircare and skincare brands, including CLEARSTEM, prioritize formulas without parabens.

When your shampoo or conditioner contains parabens, you apply those chemicals directly to your hair and scalp. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with chemicals as a blanket term. The world around us is made up of chemicals—both natural and artificial.

But these specific chemicals have been shown to impact your hair, as well as other parts of your body. Here’s how.

Effects of Parabens on Scalp and Hair Health

Each time you use paraben-containing hair care products, your hair and scalp absorb them. Over time, this absorption can lead to hair and scalp damage. There’s also evidence that parabens can cause your hair color to fade and contribute to hair loss.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, parabens are also wasting your money. If these artificial chemicals are damaging your hair, they’re essentially reversing the positive effects of shampoo and conditioner.

In other words, that “restorative” hair mask you bought with parabens isn’t restoring anything. It may make your hair feel softer and smoother, but zoom in with a microscope, and there could be damage or scalp irritation happening beneath the surface.

Parabens and Allergic Reactions

Remember, parabens are used to preserve cosmetic products by stopping the growth of bacteria. That’s all well and good inside a bottle of shampoo.

But here’s the problem: Your skin has a bacterial microbiome of its own. When parabens come in contact with your body, they can lower the levels of healthy bacteria, weakening your immune system.

These changes can lead to symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as:

  • Dry or flaky skin
  • Scalp irritation
  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Skin rashes
  • Hives

Parabens can also cause reactions when they come into contact with broken skin, so you may want to avoid using them around cuts and scrapes.

Other Problems Related to Parabens

According to some research, parabens aren’t just bad for your hair.

Parabens are bioaccumulative, meaning that they collect in your body. And because these harmful chemicals can be in everything from cosmetics to foods, many people likely have a whole bunch of parabens inside them.

That accumulation has some scientists concerned because parabens are known to mimic the hormone estrogen. That means that if you’re regularly absorbing parabens through your hair or scalp, you could be interfering with your hormone regulation. Hormones affect reproductive activities, such as menstruation and pregnancy, so you can understand the potential for problems.

A 2004 study also found a link between parabens and breast cancer. Research done since then has been unable to confirm a connection between cancer and parabens, but it’s not off the table. For example, the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners website encourages readers not to use products with parabens.

Why Are Parabens Allowed in Haircare Products?

If parabens have negative effects on the people who encounter them, why are companies still allowed to put these endocrine-disrupting chemicals in their products?

It’s a great question. And, unfortunately, it’s a question without a satisfying answer.

As of right now, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has no laws or rules about using parabens (or preservatives in general) in cosmetic products. Brands are currently free to sell shampoos and conditioners with parabens in them as long as the products otherwise meet FDA requirements.

It’s worth noting that the use of parabens hasn’t gone unchallenged. In 2006, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) partnered with the FDA and determined there was no need to update the guidelines around paraben usage. Another review, released in 2019, came to a similar conclusion: At current levels, parabens are safe for use in cosmetic products.

So, Should You Avoid Parabens? We Think So.

Of course, there’s a difference between something that is “safe” and something that is “good for you.”

Ultimately, the FDA believes that parabens in cosmetic products pose no long-term risks to your overall health. However, at the very least, we can point to the fact that parabens can cause problems for your hair and skin, and may lead to other health issues down the road.

With that in mind, you may find it worthwhile to look for haircare products that don’t contain parabens to prevent issues such as skin irritation, hair loss, or any other allergic reaction symptoms.

3 Benefits of Paraben-Free Haircare

Aside from the potential health benefits, there are all sorts of other reasons to ditch paraben-containing shampoos and conditioners. We prefer paraben-free products because:

  • They’re gentler – Most paraben-free hair products are made with milder ingredients that won’t cause skin irritation. These options are especially helpful if your scalp is prone to dryness or itchiness or if you color your hair. Harsh, paraben-containing products can also strip your hair of its natural oils.
  • They’re better for the environment – If parabens aren’t great for people, imagine what they can do to nature and unsuspecting wildlife. When you use a paraben shampoo in the shower, the chemicals go down the drain, where they may enter the ecosystem. Studies have found that parabens are already widespread in nature because wastewater treatment doesn’t effectively remove them. There’s more research to be done, but if you care about the planet, avoiding parabens may be a wise choice.
  • They give you peace of mind – Once you know about parabens, it’s hard to see them as anything but a problem. Opting for a paraben-free shampoo or conditioner can make you feel better about your choices. You’ll know your hair—and the environment—are better off.

Finding the Right Haircare Products

If you want to keep your hair, your health, and the planet in tip-top shape, you’ll have to research your hair products when shopping.

First, look out for bottles that say “paraben-free.” Most brands are good about saying they avoid these chemicals, but when in doubt, check the ingredient list for anything ending in -paraben.

However, paraben-free isn’t the only label you’re looking for. As you shop for shampoos, keep an eye out for these indicators:

  • Sulfate-freeWhy use sulfate-free shampoo? Sulfates can strip the natural oils from your hair and cause dryness, especially in people with sensitive skin, so they’re best avoided.
  • Plant-based – Products with natural ingredients are less harsh than those with synthetic chemicals. If you have sensitive skin or dry hair, you’ll definitely appreciate the gentleness of a plant-based option.

Follow these guidelines, and you can keep your hair healthy and smooth while putting your best foot forward for your health and the planet, too. 

Go Paraben-Free Today With CLEARSTEM

Hopefully, we’ve cleared up some of the questions you may have had about parabens and their effect on hair. However, if you’re still feeling confused about whether or not to ditch personal care products with parabens, we don’t blame you.

Some say they’re totally fine; others say to avoid them. Overall, more research on the effects of parabens on the hair and body is needed.

Until then, if you want to stay on the safe side and avoid parabens in your hair products, that’s easy. All you have to do is look for non-comedogenic shampoo and conditioner labeled as “paraben-free.”

At CLEARSTEM, all our non-comedogenic hair products are paraben-free, so you can shop—and wash your hair—with complete confidence. Try our natural, paraben-free products today and feel the difference for yourself.


Environmental Working Group. What Are Parabens, and Why Don’t They Belong in Cosmetics?

GreenMatters. Here's How the Parabens In Your Beauty Products Can Affect Your Skin and Hair.

Verywell Health. What’s the Deal With Parabens?

Healthline. What Does Paraben-Free Mean in Beauty Products?

National Center for Biotechnology Information. Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours.

National Center for Biotechnology Information. Interference of Paraben Compounds with Estrogen Metabolism by Inhibition of 17β-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases.

National Center for Biotechnology Research. Minireview: Parabens Exposure and Breast Cancer.

Breast Cancer Prevention Partners. Parabens.

U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Parabens in Cosmetics.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parabens Factsheet.

Cosmetic Ingredient Review. Amended Safety Assessment of Parabens as Used in Cosmetics.

ScienceDirect. Parabens as emerging contaminants: Environmental persistence, current practices and treatment processes.