Parabens

Backgrounder

March 2020

Health Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada have completed a draft screening assessment covering seven parabens under the Chemicals Management Plan, a class of preservatives used in many products available to consumers. This draft screening assessment is based on the latest scientific evidence, and proposes that four of the assessed parabens—namely methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and iso-butylparaben—may be harmful to human health in certain products, but not to the environment at current levels of exposure.

The areas of concern affect a limited number of cosmetics, natural health products, and non-prescription drugs in Canada. Most types of exposure to parabens are not considered to be a concern to human health at current levels. The draft screening assessment describes the potential exposure sources of concern as:

  1. Methylparaben – certain natural health products, including anti-diarrheal medication, heartburn medication and radiological contrast media.
  2. Propylparaben – a single natural health product characterized as a heartburn medication.
  3. Butylparaben – certain cosmetics, natural health products and non-prescription drugs, including hair dye, herbal cough medicine, children’s analgesic suspension, antacids and sunscreen.
  4. Iso-butylparaben – certain cosmetics, natural health products and non-prescription drugs, including body lotion, body oil, body scrub, face makeup, face lotion, eye lotion, sunless tanners, shampoo, hair conditioner, body cleanser, sunscreen and analgesic cream.

At current levels of exposure, certain parabens may cause effects on the spleen and thyroid, damage to the lining of the stomach, and developmental and/or reproductive impacts.

Parabens used as food additives and those that occur naturally in food do not pose a health risk, while the other parabens assessed (ethylparaben, benzylparaben and iso-propylparaben) are not harmful to health at current levels of exposure.

If the draft conclusions are confirmed in the final screening assessment, Health Canada will take appropriate risk management actions. These measures may include revising the Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist and the Natural Health Products Ingredients Database and monographs to identify certain parabens as prohibited or restricted in a limited number of cosmetic, natural health products and non-prescription drugs.

About the Chemicals Management Plan

The Government of Canada created the Chemicals Management Plan (CMP) in 2006 to reduce the risks posed by chemicals to the health of Canadians and the environment. Delivered jointly by Health Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada, the program was established with the goal of assessing 4,300 chemicals. To date, approximately 3,871 chemicals have been assessed.

The CMP builds on previous initiatives to protect human health and the environment by assessing chemicals used in Canada, and by taking action on those found to be harmful to human health or the environment.


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