Little research supports the use of PABA as supplements and there are no recommended or standardized dosages.
The sale of Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) supplements continues on e-commerce platforms and a few physical stores despite the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) prohibiting their use in 2018.
PABA is a precursor of folic acid and exists in dairy products such as eggs, milk, and meat. It is usually used in dietary supplements to improve skin health. In an order dated June 29, 2018, FSSAI banned the use of PABA (Para Amino Benzoic Acid) in the products covered under Nutraceutical Regulations due to safety concerns with immediate effect. In the same order, FSSAI directed that further manufacturing of products using PABA is prohibited. They also asked manufacturers/ importers to immediately withdraw any product containing such ingredients from the market.
Despite the ban in India, PABA supplements are easily available on various e-commerce platforms. FSSAI passed another order in July 2020 to regulate the market and remove all products containing PABA. Dr. Riddhima Batra, a clinical dietician and person behind health and fitness initiative, Nutrition Defined, said that supplements are still available in the market because of the marketing strategies applied by them. Since it is not a prescribed drug, anyone can buy it.
Supplement houses like Trim Life and Powerhouse said that they can be made available as per order. They even suggested checking online to buy in case of urgent requirements. The salesperson at Trimlife also mentioned that he was not aware of any such ban on the PABA supplements.
Effects of consuming PABA supplements
Dr. Batra spoke about the fact that the ingredients lacked enough data and hence many of them were prohibited like PABA. She added that it is usually used in sunscreens, for darkening grey hair and other skin-related problems. However, she does not prefer prescribing them to her clients, despite them being over-the-counter drugs. Another dietician, Dr. Pinky also said she does not prescribe them to her patients. She mentioned that if taken above a certain dosage it can cause toxicity in the body, tissue build-up, skin hardening, and can even affect liver and kidney.
A supplier at a Bangalore-based nutraceutical manufacturing said that he was aware of the ban and could still manufacture PABA supplements to order.Later he added that he would require an approval from the FSSAI. However, the order from FSSAI clearly mentions that it prohibits the manufacturing of nutraceutical products containing PABA.
FSSAI has been facing problems in regulating the market ever since the ban. “Online is an open system,” said Dr Anish Desai, founder and CEO at Intellimed Healthcare, and is difficult to regulate. He also said that FSSAI bans certain ingredients solely because there is no data on them. Sandeep Gupta, Director and CEO, Nutraworks, also known as the Nutraceutical man of India agreed with Desai. He mentioned the supplements were not available at Nutraworks and did not comment on them being sold on other platforms.