Are parabens safe?


Dr. Myrtle,

Are the paraben preservatives in Liquid Silk safe?


A Paraben Riddle

Riddle: What is small and true, yet big and deceptive?

Answer: The risks of paraben preservatives in sexual lubricants.

The Bottom Line

For those who just want the long AWT answer: yes, many of the sexual lubricants we offer contain parabens. Unless you are allergic to parabens, we believe they are safe for intermittent use. This is  because:

  1. Some people have such difficult issues with genital dryness that their health care providers have few options other than prescribing topical estrogen ointments. We believe that using a hybrid sexual moisturizer/sealant with a low level of paraben preservatives (such as Liquid Silk) leads to a much lower exposure to estrogenic effects than using estrogen/estrodiol/estriol products directly.
  2. Parabens are far less biologically active than estrogen or xeno-estrogens and pose less risk than other more prevalent estrogen exposures.
    • If you are concerned about environmental estrogens, it makes more sense to reduce your exposure to phthalates/plastics in your house, clothing, cosmetics, sex toys, cars and shampoo. Also eat fewer estrogenic foods such as soy. Phthalates and phytoestrogens are stronger xeno-estrogens than parabens.
    • Your body has active estrogen produced by your fat cells (adipose). Losing weight substantially reduces your natural estrogen production and effect.
    • We agree that you should avoid high levels of parabens such as commonly found in things like shower gels or cosmetics. The genitals are one of the few places where a 1/1000th estrogen-effect is acceptable.
  3. Don’t assume that "paraben-free" products are safer than those that contain parabens:
    • Quaternium preservatives release formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Naming something "paraben-free" or unrecognizably ("polyquat 007", or polyquaternium-15) doesn’t make it safer.
    • Other preservatives have their own pros and cons. For example, sodium benzoate releases a small amount of carcinogenic benzene when dissolved, while others only work within certain acid-base ranges unsuitable for use in sexual lubricants.
    • Preservative-free options exist: Pre~seed is completely preservative-free. Unfortunately, the individual use packaging is more environmentally wasteful.
    • Other options exist, but consider them individually:
      • Aloe vera is a natural lubricant and preservative . Allergic reactions to aloe vera is more common if allergic to Liliacae family plants (garlic, onion, tulips, lilies), and sun sensitization can occur.
      • Grapefruit seed extract has not been shown to consistently preserve products against bacteria, molds or fungi.
      • Natural oils are often processed with chemicals in order to extract them from the plant or seed. Chemical contaminants are often dissolved in the oils after processing. Natural oils cannot be used with latex products.
      • Silicone lubricants are a preservative-free alternative for those without silicone allergies who do not use silicone sex toys.
  4. Yes, Liquid Silk contains a small portion of parabens.
    • Liquid Silk is solely manufactured in the UK, and meets stringent SCCP 2006 standards, and is permitted to use the European Union’s CE mark.
    • The total allowable paraben EU limit allowed is less than 0.04%, far lower than the 25% allowed by the US FDA.
    • US manufacturers of lubricant face far less scrutiny and regulation than European-produced lubricants.

We understand that there is a lot of conflicting information, and that you need to make a decision for yourself. For a more detailed investigation, see the appendix below.

Take Care.

Dr. Myrtle

Detailed Appendix on Parabens

What Parabens Are

  1. Parabens (aka alkyl esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid) are the most widely used cosmetic/toiletry preservative in the US, and over 90% of adults have measurable levels in their bodies .
  2. Although naturally found in blueberries, most parabens are synthetic and used in low concentrations to prevent yeast and fungal contamination of packaged products.
  3. Parabens are considered safe by the US FDA and Cosmetics Industry due to their long history of use, and their demonstrated lack of direct carcinogenic effects.

Do Parabens Contribute to Breast Cancer

  1. In earlier analytical studies, certain types of parabens were found to weakly bind to estrogen receptors, suggesting that they may affect estrogen-driven genomic changes, and suggesting toxicities varying in proportion to longer side chains (butyl effect > propyl > ethyl > methyl) .
  2. The lack of carcinogenic effects has been called into question by studies showing that parabens can be detected in breast cancer tissue. Darbre’s 2004 study did not include a control group to determine whether similar presence or concentration could be detected in non-cancerous breast tissue which could be expected by the results of Ye et al. No follow up study has been subsequently published to date to answer this question.
  3. An estrogenic effect was subsequently confirmed in an in vitro study using a breast cancer cell model , when cells were exposed to 100,000 to 1,000,000 excess of metabolized parabens.

Soybeans are Worse than Lip Gloss.

  1. Other evaluations compared a worse-case daily exposure to parabens with actual estrogen compounds and phytoestrogens (dietary soy). Golden et al’s conclusion was that because the concentration of parabens is so low and the binding capacity so weak, that it was "biologically implausible that parabens could increase the risk of any estrogen-mediated endpoint, including breast cancer". They concluded that eating soy posed a higher risk than parabens. In functional use, parabens are 2.5 trillion times less active than estrogen in terms of genomic estrogen effect.
  2. Parabens are not the only estrogenic compound in our environment. A short scan of potential contamination includes:
    • Environmental: organochlorine pesticides, common herbicides (triclosan), PCBs, Phthalates (flexible plasticizers found in vinyl flooring, vinyl clothing, shampoo, sunscreen, mothballs, toothpaste, plastic wrap)
    • Dietary: phytoestrogens (containing isoflavones, which bind securely to estrogen receptors) found in soy, meat substitute and hi-protein food bars.
    • Indirect dietary: consuming animals previously treated with estrogenic hormones doses the consumer as well.
    • Medication therapy: it is currently acceptable therapy to dose women with directly active estrogenic compounds orally, topically, and intravaginally, after explaining medical risks.
  3. Phthalates, for example, have an exposure rate similar to parabens. A study of 1,200 girls aged 6-8 years showed that 94% had detectible urinary levels of phthalates , and even babies cared for in neonatal units
  4. In spite of consistent exposure levels to parabens and phthalates, a decrease in estrogen-based hormone replacement therapy prescriptions after 2002 has correlated with a dramatic sustained decrease in breast cancer diagnoses. This suggests that the prescription exposure, not the rate of exposure to parabens or phthalates, was the underlying driving force behind increasing breast cancer rates.


Reducing your personal exposure to compounds known to cause cancers is a great idea. Stop smoking, using lawn chemicals, wearing PVC, lathering yourself with cosmetic products, and inhaling "new car smell", and you’ll be on your way towards reducing your cancer risk. For some, this would include reducing your exposure to parabens, and we encourage you to make that individualized decision for yourself. Make sure you include healthy preventive behaviors (daily walking 30 min to a sweat, routine weekly orgasm, Mediterranean diet, and active stress reduction) with your risk-avoidant behaviors, and you’ll be doing what you can to maintain your overall health.

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