Unfortunately, some of the ingredients that typically appear in the some of the products we use daily — such as shampoo, sunscreen and commercial household cleaners — are best avoided, according to general scientific consensus.
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Parabens are a synthetic preservative and antimicrobial agent commonly found in personal-care products with high water content: shampoo, conditioner, lotion, cleansers and body wash. They also turn up in solid products like deodorant. They appear as methyl-, ethyl-, butyl- or propylparaben. Studies have found that parabens mimic estrogen in the body and disrupt normal hormone function, and they have been found in breast-tumor biopsies.
Growing awareness about parabens has inspired a number of manufacturers to banish them in favor of safer preservatives, while some have simply accepted a shorter shelf life as the price of doing healthy business. You can often find personal-care products labeled “paraben free,” which will save you a little squinting in the product aisle. Signers of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics have committed to avoiding their use; you can find the list of these companies at http://www.safecosmetics.org.