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Warning: Phthalates in Cosmetics, Toys & More Can Pose Health Dangers

You may not have heard of phthalates, but with over 1 billion pounds produced worldwide each year, you've surely used a product that contains them.

Phthalates are widely used industrial compounds used as plastic softeners and in hairsprays, perfumes, cosmetics, toys, shower curtains, wood finishers, lubricants, certain medical devices and more. Even the much-loved "new car smell" is partly due to phthalates used in car manufacturing.

Phthalates may pose a great danger to children, particularly while still in the womb

What's the Problem With Phthalates?

Animal studies on certain phthalates have shown the chemicals may cause a variety of problems, including reproductive and developmental harm, organ damage, immune suppression, endocrine disruption and cancer.

The major concern is that, as these chemicals are so ubiquitous in our environment, no one knows for sure what the long-term exposure, even in small doses, may be doing to humans, and particularly developing infants.

Studies, including one conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in Environmental Health Perspectives, found that people have higher levels of certain phthalates in their systems than was previously thought. Humans can be exposed not only through ingestion and inhalation, but also by direct injection and skin contact.

Perhaps most concerning are these chemicals' effects on reproductive health. In a study published in the May 2005 Environmental Health Perspectives, it was found that pregnant women exposed to common levels of phthalates might have baby boys with smaller genitals and incomplete testicular descent.

Baby boys born to moms with high levels of phthalates in their systems have a 10-times greater chance of suffering reproductive damage.

The higher the woman's exposure, the more likely the baby's reproductive health would be harmed. The study also reported that changes occurred at phthalate levels found in 25 percent of U.S. women.

In fact, among the women with the highest exposures (this 25 percent of the women), their sons were 10 times more likely to have a shorter-than-expected distance between the anus and the base of the penis, which is an indicator of impacts on their reproductive systems.

While the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association said the "use of phthalates in cosmetics and personal care products is supported by an extensive body of scientific research and data that confirms safety," the chief of endocrinology at Northwestern University, Andrea Dunaif, said the findings present "strong evidence in humans that this endocrine-disrupting chemical is associated with changes in boys."

Phthalates and Sperm Damage

A 2002 study conducted by Dr. Susan Duty, a post-doctoral scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, and others also found an association between sperm damage and phthalate exposure in adult men. Said Dr. Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network:

"The correlation found in this study is extremely troubling and deserves urgent follow up. The last thing you want is DNA damage to sperm, which can lead to infertility and may also be linked to miscarriages, and birth defects, infertility and cancer in offspring ... The link with [the phthalate] DEP is also a concern because, until now, DEP has been considered one of the least toxic phthalates when examined in other ways. Since everyone in the general population is exposed to phthalates from a variety of sources, the results of this report, if confirmed and verified, identify a significant risk to public health."

Clean and Moisturize Your Skin and Hair Naturally ... With No Phthalates or Other Harmful Chemicals! is committed to researching and providing you cosmetic products that are natural, effective and free of harmful toxins like phthalates. No matter what your skin or hair type, browse through these two sections below for products that come with our highest approval!

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Further, another study in Environmental Health Perspectives linked phthalates found in household dust to rhinitis, eczema and asthma in children.

Where are Phthalates Found?

Many soft plastics like plastic wrap, plastic storage containers and toys contain phthalates that can outgas into your food and air. With toys, small children may put them in their mouths and ingest phthalates that way. However, personal care products, including nail polish, mascara, fragrances, shampoos and conditioners, lotions, hair growth formulations, antiperspirants, and sunscreen, are a large exposure source. Gum, candy and oral pharmaceuticals may also contain them.

Phthalates are so widely used that it may be nearly impossible to eliminate your exposure entirely. However, your best bet at limiting your exposure (something that's important for everyone but particularly important for pregnant women or women of child-bearing age) is to avoid using plastic when storing your food and drinks, and diligently read the back of cosmetic labels. Phthalates may be listed as:

  • Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)
  • Diethyl phthalate (DEP)
  • Butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP)

Please also take advantage of our safe hair care and safe skin care pages. has done the research for you, and on these pages you'll find a wide variety of high-quality phthalate-free cosmetics for your hair and skin.

Recommended Reading

The Toxic Danger of Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets

PEG Compounds in Cosmetics: A Little-Known Danger to You


USA Today May 26, 2005

Our Stolen Future: About Phthalates

Environmental Working Group Report: Phthaltes

Sperm Damage Linked to Phthalate

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