This article is a discussion of the recent study by Barr, Metaxas, Harbach, Savoy and Darbre (2012; J. Appl. Toxicol. 32; doi: 10.1002/jat.1786) reporting residues of five paraben esters in the human breast, at concentrations up to the microgram per gram tissue range and with highest concentrations in the axilla area (closest to the underarm). The conclusion is that the detection of intact esters that have escaped the action of esterases is consistent with a local (dermal) exposure source since the metabolic capacity of the gut and liver would produce p-hydroxybenzoic acid as the common metabolite. Whereas the zone concentration differences (propylparaben was found at highest concentrations in the axilla) support an underarm exposure model, seven subjects reportedly never used underarm cosmetics, and other exposure sources, including other cosmetic product types, are discussed. The findings are placed into context with the limited regulatory toxicology database on parabens, oestrogenic action of the parabens, and status of the parabens, cosmetics and human health debate. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.