Toxins, toxins, everywhere…or so it seems, right? Especially when I read a story like the one I read the other day about how parabens were found in 92% of people who participated in a recent study. And in case you didn’t know, parabens are in just about everything. So just what are they?

Parabens are antimicrobial preservatives used widely in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and even food and beverages. Referred to as “weak xenoestrogens” (which means they have mild estrogenic properties) parabens may be able to interfere with natural hormone activity in the body. They’ve even been associated with breast cancer development, and scientists have found high concentrations of parabens in breast tumors.

Parabens don’t stick around once they enter the body though, and they’re typically excreted in urine within hours after exposure. So that means that a high concentration of parabens in the urine indicates very recent—and usually ongoing—exposure. Not surprising, since parabens are found in so many everyday products.

Paraben exposure can occur through inhalation, skin contact, and ingestion, and research shows that women have higher concentrations of parabens in their bodies than men. (Think about all those beauty, hair and skin care products we use, girls!)  

So how do we lessen our exposure to harmful parabens? Reading the ingredient labels on the products you buy is the best way to avoid them. Some health-conscious companies will even include a “Does not contain parabens” statement on the label because they are aware of the concerns about these chemicals. So when in doubt, check your labels!