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One of a handful of cosmetics ingredients currently under scrutiny for posing possible health risks, parabens are a family of related chemicals that are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetic products. Easy to identify on a product label, the chemicals all contain the suffix “paraben” — including methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. They can be found in makeup, moisturizers, hair care and shaving products, and other personal care items.

As to whether they are harmful to your health, it depends on who you ask. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics describes parabens as endocrine-disrupters and believes they are linked to breast and skin cancers, as well as developmental and reproductive toxicity. The U.S. FDA, however, has not found evidence of any health concerns, saying, “At this time, we do not have information showing that parabens as they are used in cosmetics have an effect on human health.”

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