What Are Parabens—and Do I Need to Worry About Them?

Looking For The Light

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Real Simple

By Eleni N. Gage Updated: October 12, 2017

These preservatives are common, but health concerns have cropped up. 

Parabens have been widely used in products to prevent bacteria growth since the 1950s. “About 85 percent of cosmetics have them,” says Arthur Rich, Ph.D., a cosmetic chemist in Chestnut Ridge, New York. “They’re inexpensive and effective.” New York City dermatologist Fran E. Cook-Bolden explains, “Parabens have a long history of safe use, and that’s why they’re commonplace. New preservatives have less of a proven track record.” In fact, typically, more than one form of the ingredient is used in a product. The most common are butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben. Over the last few years, however, in response to customer concerns, many brands have started to manufacture (and label) paraben-free products, including lotions, lipsticks, shampoos, scrubs, and more.

So What’s the Problem?

In the 1990s…

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