The European Union’s (EU’s) Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) has updated its opinion on propyl- and butylparaben—chemical substances that are widely used in sunscreen and other products and purportedly disrupt the human endocrine system—and ruled that the parabens do not pose any health risk in the amounts currently used.

Parabens are approved as preservatives in the EU’s Cosmetics Directive at a maximum concentration of 0.4 percent when used individually or 0.8 percent when used as a mixture of esters. Despite numerous reviews of the chemical, concerns about the parabens still evidently exist. Environmental health research and advocacy organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) rates propyl-paraben as highly hazardous and states that parabens “mimic estrogen and can act as potential hormone (endocrine) system disruptors.”

Sylvia Maurer, safety and environment senior policy officer at the European Consumers’ Organisation, has said that calling parabens safe underestimates the overall quantity to which consumers are exposed. “We use on average 10 to 20 cosmetics a day. Such potentially harmful substances, in lipsticks, creams and shampoos, can add up in our bodies. We are concerned that this ‘mixture effect’ has been ignored by the EU legislation.”

The human risk associated with other parabens, including isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben, phenylparaben, benzylparaben, and pentylparaben, has not evidently been evaluated due to lack of data. See EurActiv.com, June 5, 2013; Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Database.