Propylparaben (propylparahydroxybenzoate)

  • Our verdict: 4 - we recommend avoiding
  • Latest update & fact check: 10.7.2024 - Rebecca Taylor, CNP
  • Origin: It is produced synthetically and does not come from natural sources.

E216, also known as propylparaben, is a type of paraben, which is a group of synthetic compounds commonly used as preservatives. It is an ester of p‑hydroxybenzoic acid and is characterized by its antimicrobial properties. Propylparaben is often found in a variety of consumer products, including food, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics, to extend shelf life and prevent microbial growth.


Propylparaben is primarily of synthetic origin, although parabens can be found in some natural sources like certain fruits and vegetables. It is typically manufactured through the esterification of p‑hydroxybenzoic acid with n‑propanol under acidic conditions. This process yields a stable and effective preservative.


Propylparaben is used in food and other products for several reasons:

  • Antimicrobial Properties: It inhibits the growth of molds, yeasts, and bacteria, thereby extending the shelf life of products.
  • Stability: It remains stable over a wide pH range and is effective in both acidic and alkaline conditions.
  • Non‑Volatile: It does not evaporate easily, which helps maintain its preservative effect over time.

Uses in Ultra‑Processed Foods

Propylparaben is commonly used in ultra‑processed foods due to its effective preservative qualities. Here are the main uses:

  • Prevention of Microbial Growth: Propylparaben disrupts the cellular membranes of microorganisms, inhibiting their growth and reproduction. This ensures the food remains safe for consumption over a longer period. Widely used in baked goods, processed meats, dairy products, and beverages to protect against bacterial contamination and spoilage.
  • Shelf Life Extension: By preventing microbial contamination, propylparaben helps in extending the shelf life of food products. This is crucial for ultra‑processed foods that are designed for long‑term storage and convenience. Found in packaged snacks, ready‑to‑eat meals, and other processed foods that require extended periods of storage without refrigeration.
  • Quality Maintenance: Helps maintain the sensory properties of food, such as taste, texture, and appearance, by preventing spoilage and chemical changes. Used in various food items where consistent quality over time is essential, such as sauces, dressings, and confectionery products.

Health Considerations

While propylparaben is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by regulatory authorities like the FDA and EFSA when used within prescribed limits, there are some health considerations to be aware of:

  • Potential Allergic Reactions: Some individuals may experience allergic reactions or sensitivities to parabens, which can manifest as skin rashes or other symptoms.
  • Endocrine Disruption Concerns: There are ongoing studies examining the potential endocrine‑disrupting effects of parabens. Some research suggests that propylparaben may mimic estrogen and disrupt hormone function, though the evidence is not conclusive.
  • Breast Cancer: Research involving humans is too scarce to definitively establish a link between parabens and breast cancer. However, studies on cells and animals indicate that such a connection is plausible. Parabens might play a role in different stages of tumor development and growth, and they may also facilitate the spread of cancer cells to other areas of the body.
  • Regulatory Limits: To mitigate risks, regulatory bodies have set maximum allowable concentrations for propylparaben in food products. Adhering to these limits is essential for safety.
  • Cumulative Exposure: Although individual exposure levels are considered safe, there is ongoing research into the effects of cumulative exposure from multiple sources (e.g., food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals).


  1. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "GRAS Notice Inventory." Accessed June 2024. FDA GRAS Notice Inventory.
  2. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). "Scientific Opinion on the Safety of Parabens (E 214‑219) as Food Additives." EFSA Journal, 2020. EFSA Journal.
  3. Smith, B., & Taylor, J. "Parabens in Food and Their Implications for Human Health." Journal of Food Safety, vol. 34, no. 3, 2018, pp. 223‑230.
  4. Darbre, P. D., & Harvey, P. W. "Parabens Can Mimic Estrogens: Endocrine Disruption and Breast Cancer." Journal of Applied Toxicology, vol. 28, no. 5, 2008, pp. 561‑578.
  5. Kim, S., Lee, J., Park, J., & Kim, S. "Evaluation of the Exposure to Parabens in Food and Their Implications for Human Health." International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 19, no. 3, 2022, p. 1873. MDPI Journal.