Fertility of woman and man

Parabens – should I avoid them when planning for pregnancy?

woman with face mask as example of cosmetics containing parabens

They are in shower gels, shampoo, skin care products or toothpaste:  Parabens are often found in cosmetic products of all kinds. The problem is, they are absorbed into the body via the skin, acting like female hormones and thus interfering with our hormonal balance.
Nevertheless, they are used frequently, as they are a cheap preservative. In different variants, with different names parabens reliably protect against germ infestation. It is quite clear that modern cosmetics cannot do without preservatives – otherwise they would be quickly populated by germs, which would entail immense health risks for the consumer.

Critics fear harmful effects

But parabens are increasingly being criticized, with consumer advocates fearing that they could be harmful in the quantities and combinations that are being recorded today.
Especially patients with certain hormone-related cancers such as breast, prostate and testicular cancers are often advised to avoid paraben-containing cosmetics. But also foetuses in the womb, toddlers and pubescents should not be exposed to hormonally active chemicals too much. Only recently, an American research group led by Dr Kim Harley has shown that exposure to parabens can be associated with an earlier onset of puberty in girls. But what about the desire to have children? Is there any information here?

Parabens and fertility

What is certain is that many men and women in fertility clinics can be shown to have accumulations of parabens. Critics blame this observation for a decline in sperm quality. Clearly, when it comes to a man’s procreative power, common sense says, high amounts of a substance that resembles female hormones cannot really be beneficial. Although a causal link has not been clearly proven in studies, it has not been clearly refuted either.
In women, too, studies indicate influences on fertility by parabens. In 2019, a review paper in the renowned journal Human Fertility summarized the effects that have already be observed: Various studies showed that parabens could influence the number of antral follicles as well as the clinical pregnancy and life birth rates in women.

Avoid parabens

Experts therefore advise to give preference to cosmetics without parabens. This is not difficult and quickly has an effect.

The detectable load in the body decreases by almost a third after 3 days without paraben-containing products.

Dr Kim Harley, ESHRE Keynote Lecture 2020


Consumers can quickly and easily find out whether a product contains parabens when shopping using specialised apps. A simple scan of the product code is sufficient and the app shows if parabens are included, because they are often difficult to detect in the fine print on the package. The most commonly used hormonally active substance methylparaben is contained in almost one in four products.


By the way, classic natural cosmetics generally do not contain parabens and therefore represent a suitable alternative.


Braun JM, Just AC, Williams PL, Smith KW, Calafat AM, Hauser R. Personal care product use and urinary phthalate metabolite and paraben concentrations during pregnancy among women from a fertility clinic. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2014 Sep-Oct;24(5):459-66. doi: 10.1038/jes.2013.69. Epub 2013 Oct 23.

 Harley KG,  Berger KP, Kogut K , Parra K , Robert H Lustig ,  Greenspan LC,  Calafat AM, Ye X, Eskenazi B . Association of Phthalates, Parabens and Phenols Found in Personal Care Products With Pubertal Timing in Girls and Boys. Hum Reprod. 2019 Jan 1;34(1):109-117. doi: 10.1093/humrep/dey337.

Karwacka A , Zamkowska D, Radwan M , Jurewicz J . Exposure to Modern, Widespread Environmental Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and Their Effect on the Reproductive Potential of Women: An Overview of Current Epidemiological Evidence. Hum Fertil (Camb). 2019 Apr;22(1):2-25. doi: 10.1080/14647273.2017.1358828. Epub 2017 Jul 31.

Mínguez-Alarcón L, Chiu YH, Messerlian C, Williams PL, Sabatini ME, Toth TL, Ford JB, Calafat AM, Hauser R; EARTH Study Team. Urinary paraben concentrations and in vitro fertilization outcomes among women from a fertility clinic. Fertil Steril. 2016 Mar;105(3):714-21. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2015.11.021. Epub 2015 Dec 2.

Nohynek GJ, Borgert CJ, Dietrich D, Rozman KK. Endocrine disruption: fact or urban legend? Toxicol Lett. 2013 Dec 16;223(3):295-305. doi: 10.1016/j.toxlet.2013.10.022. Epub 2013 Oct 28.

Tavares RS, Martins FC, Oliveira PJ, Ramalho-Santos J, Peixoto FP.Parabens in male infertility-is there a mitochondrial connection? Reprod Toxicol. 2009 Jan;27(1):1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2008.10.002. Epub 2008 Oct 21.

Dodge LE, Williams PL, Williams MA, Missmer SA, Toth TL, Calafat AM, Hauser R. Paternal Urinary Concentrations of Parabens and Other Phenols in Relation to Reproductive Outcomes among Couples from a Fertility Clinic. Environ Health Perspect. 2015 Jul;123(7):665-71. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1408605. Epub 2015 Mar 13.


About the author

Dr. rer. nat. Birgit Wogatzky

For many years now, biologist and nutritionist Dr Birgit Wogatzky, has been focusing on the special needs of fertility patients. For the readers of this blog, she sums up interesting novel information and developments from current research projects regarding lifestyle and nutrition of fertility patients.


Leave a Comment