Do you use paraben free beauty products? Photo: Getty

The world of beauty is replete with tales of product and tip lore that promise everything from lustrous locks to clear skin to full lashes.

But there are also the controversies.

Media stories that question the safety of ingredients can send consumers scurrying on a clean-out rampage, tossing products that contain a loathed and feared ingredient of the moment.

Parabens -- the chemical concoctions that preserve countless cosmetic products -- are arguably the most debated additive today. They're beauty's bad word -- similar to what high fructose syrup (HFCS) is to the food industry.

Used to prevent bacteria and fungal growth, parabens can be found in personal care products like shampoo, deodorant, body wash and shave gel -- and are also used in many pharmaceutical and food products. Their use as a preservative combined with the cheap cost to produce the material makes parabens a popular ingredient.

In tests, parabens far outweigh natural preservative alternatives like grapeseed extract when it comes to maintaining the shelf life and freshness of products. However, not all parabens are man-produced. Some, like methylparaben, actually occur in nature, where they exist in fruits like blueberries as antibacterials.

But studies suggesting an indirect relationship of parabens to cancer have spark fear in the hearts of many consumers, causing several beauty brands to reformulate and promote products that are paraben-free.

In a 2004 study, traces of paraben were detected in some cancerous breast tumors. It also showed that parabens can mimic estrogen, which is a hormone believed to play a role in breast cancer.

Yet, many experts say that conclusions shouldn't be drawn.

"The study did not show that parabens caused or contributed to breast cancer development -- it only showed that they were there. What this means is not yet clear. What has been found is that there are many other compounds in the environment that also mimic naturally produced estrogen," said The American Cancer Society in a statement.

A recent study by Chicago immunologist Dr. Kris McGrath even suggests that it's aluminum salts in deodorant products -- not parabens -- that contribute to a higher rate of breast and prostrate cancer in patients.

And the Food And Drug Administration (FDA) -- who governs the use of parabens in products -- has conducted their own cases which they believe show no direct link between parabens and cancer.

"Although parabens can act similarly to estrogen, they have been shown to have much less estrogenic activity than the body's naturally occurring estrogen. The most potent paraben tested, butylparaben, showed from 10,000 to 100,00-fold less activity than naturally occurring estradiol - a form of estrogen. Based on maximum daily exposure estimates, [a toxicology study] concluded that it was implausible that parabens could increase the risk associated with exposure to estrogenic chemicals," said the FDA in a statement.

The FDA also added that, "the agency will continue to evaluate new data in this area. If FDA determines a health hazard exists, the agency will advise the industry and the public."

Aside from the cancer controversy, there's unrelated evidence that parabens can be the source of allergic reactions.

"The use of paraben-containing cosmetics in patients with allergies can result in a rash know as a 'contact dermatitis,' which can be red and scaly. If you develop a rash from your cosmetics, you should see your dermatologist for evaluation. He or she may perform a special skin testing called a 'patch test' to see if you have an allergy," advises Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research at Mt. Sinai Medical Center's Dermatology Department.

Even without a direct connection between parabens and cancer, several beauty brands are developing paraben-free formulas.

William George, Owner of Boston's James Joseph Salon, recently reformulated an entire line of haircare to exclude all ingredients that are currently considered possible health risks.

"Studies show that parabens may be linked to breast cancer and other health issues. There is not a smoking gun or conclusive evidence, but why take the risk? I believe that most manufacturers continue to use parabens because they are cheap and effective preservatives, and the expense of changing their formulas and packaging is more than they want to bear. As a small manufacturer, I decided to avoid these ingredients, and I can reformulate more easily because I am producing smaller amounts," says George.

Click through the gallery below for the latest beauty offerings that are 100% paraben free.