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This content is from an educational collaboration between WebMD Editorial and Healthy Child Healthy World.

Healthier Hygiene



Parabens are chemicals widely used as preservatives in cosmetics. They prevent microbes from growing, which ensures products don’t get contaminated with bacteria or fungi. Most makeup, moisturizers, hair care products, shaving products, as well as many foods and drugs, contain parabens.

Parabens act like the hormone estrogen in the body, although the effect is weak. Isolated studies have found parabens in tissue samples of breast cancer tumors, but haven’t shown that parabens cause breast tumors. FDA scientists say parabens seem safe, but more study is needed.

What you can do: Read the labels on your personal care products. Look for the words methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, or other words with “paraben” included. Paraben-free products are available, if you choose to avoid this common preservative.


It seems we’ll put just about anything on our bodies that might make us more attractive -- even the scent of a male musk deer. For centuries, natural musk aroma was prized as a supposed aphrodisiac.

Today, musk scents come from chemicals synthesized in laboratories. So-called nitro musks and polycyclic musks are widely used in perfumes and as scents in laundry products. Some synthetic musks were shown in the 1990s to have the potential to build up to toxic levels in the body, causing tissue damage.

After these studies were published, many manufacturers reduced their use of musks. However, citing ongoing research showing the safety of musks, large U.S. companies continue to commonly include these chemicals in household products like fabric softeners, laundry detergent, and perfume.

What you can do: Tonalid and Galaxolide are two trade names for polycyclic musks, but musks usually hide inside the term “fragrance” on product labels. To avoid musks, write the manufacturer for a complete ingredient listing, or opt for fragrance-free products.

To find products nearly or completely free of any potential toxin, Greene recommends the Skin Deep web site maintained by the Environmental Working Group. Its searchable database lists products it suggests are safer, in each cosmetic category. Or check the Cosmetics Database for a list of ingredients.

Reviewed on December 19, 2008
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Do you check ingredients in personal care products like shampoo and toothpaste?