Parabens are used in a number of personal care products, like deodorant, shampoo, lotion or makeup. If you look at the ingredient list, you'll see them listed as methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben or isobutylparaben - anything that ends in paraben. Parabens are added to stop the growth of bacteria, fungus or other microbes, but parabens are not essential in these products.
Parabens are linked to disrupting hormone function, and increase risk of breast or other hormone related cancers. Parabens mimic estrogen, and as it accumulates in the body, the high levels can trigger increasing breast cell division and tumor growth.
While the amount of parabens found in any product may be small, and considered 'safe', constant exposure will build up. A 2004 study in Britian found traces of 5 parabens in the breast tumors of 19 out of 20 women. The European Union banned the use of parabens in 2012, but they are not banned in the United States, so you will need to read labels to make sure you buy products without this cancer-causing chemical.
Natural, Paraben-free Products
Luckily, there are a number of readily available products that are labeled 'paraben-free', if you don't see the paraben-free icon featured on the front of the product, just check the ingredient list.
Make sure you find a product you like, and support manufactures that use quality natural ingredients. Paraben-free products may have a shorter shelf-life, 6 months to a year, but most of us don't keep our lotions and shampoo that long anyway.
If you are shopping online, you still need to read labels. A product may show up in a search result for 'paraben free', but if it doesn't explicitly say paraben-free in the description, you have to assume it's not free of parabens.
There are many brands, and more added every day, that are paraben-free, so keep your eyes open. Many of the standard Suave products, Burt Bees, Aveeno, Kiss My Face are easy to find, but looking for organic labels is a good start. There are also entire stores that focus on pure and natural ingredients like the Body Shop.