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with scientists discussing phthalate health risks

What are phthalates and how are they used?
What are the health concerns?
The debate about regulation and public health protection

Latest news about phthalates

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10 August Early puberty for girls is raising health concerns. American girls are hitting puberty earlier than ever — a change that puts them at higher risk for behavioral problems as adolescents and breast cancer as adults, a new study shows. USA Today.

10 August Girls as young as 7 hitting puberty, US study finds. Females appear to be hitting puberty earlier, perhaps due to rising obesity rates and common chemicals found in plastic, a new study suggests. Toronto CTV, Ontario.

9 August Girls hit puberty at younger ages. New research adds further evidence that girls are entering puberty at younger and younger ages, with implications for their physical and mental health. One of the main contributors to early puberty is thought to be increasing body weight and obesity rates. Environmental factors may also to play a role. Wall Street Journal.

9 August Some girls’ puberty age still falling, study suggests. A new study released Sunday suggests the average age at which puberty begins may still be falling for white and Latina girls.Los Angeles Times, California.

9 August Study: Signs of early puberty in more young girls. An analysis conducted by researchers collaborating in the multicenter Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Centers adds to the growing evidence that the onset of puberty in girls may be shifting earlier and earlier, possibly due to obesity or exposure to environmental chemicals. Time Magazine.

More news about


What are phthalates? How are they used?
Phthalates are a class of widely used industrial compounds known technically as dialkyl or alkyl aryl esters of 1,2-benzenedicarboxylic acid. There are many phthalates with many uses, and just as many toxicological properties.

Phthalates crept into widespread use over the last several decades because of their many beneficial chemical properties. Now they are ubiquitous, not just in the products in which they are intentionally used, but also as contaminants in just about anything. About a billion pounds per year are produced worldwide.

Intentional uses of phthalates include softeners of plastics, oily substances in perfumes, additives to hairsprays, lubricants and wood finishers. That new car smell, which becomes especially pungent after the car has been sitting in the sun for a few hours, is partly the pungent odor of phthalates volatilizing from a hot plastic dashboard. In the evening’s cool they then condense out of the inside air of the car to form an oily coating on the inside of the windshield.

What are the health concerns?
Much of the existing literature on phthalates’ toxicological properties focuses on the old approach to toxicology: high level exposure for cancer endpoints, and occupational exposure leading to adult infertility. In the past several years, however, particularly led by Earl Gray’s laboratory at the US Environmental Protection Agency, attention has turned to low-dose toxicity of phthalates during crucial windows of fetal development. As these studies have advanced, they have fundamentally changed our perception of potential health risks of phthalates.

According to Hauser et al. (2006): "Phthalates are a class of multifunctional chemicals used in a variety of consumer and personal care products. Highmolecular- weight phthalates (eg, di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate –DEHP– and butylbenzyl phthalate –BBzP–) are primarily used as plasticizers in the manufacture of flexible vinyl, which is used in consumer products, flooring and wall coverings, food contact applications, and medical devices. Manufacturers use low-molecular-weight phthalates (eg, diethyl phthalate –DEP– and dibutyl phthalate –DBP-) in personal care products (eg, perfumes, lotions, cosmetics), as solvents and plasticizers for cellulose acetate, and in making lacquers, varnishes, and coatings, including those used to provide timed release in some pharmaceuticals."

While high doses of phthalates do constitute risks in the sense of traditional toxicology, these low doses change the stakes dramatically. Gray’s work reveals that male reproductive development is acutely sensitive to some phthalates. For example, the phthalates dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) produced dramatic changes in male sexual characteristics when exposure took place in utero, at levels far beneath those of previous toxicological concern. These changes included increases in the rates of hypospadias and other indications of demasculinization.

Enough questions about phthalates have been raised during the last few years for the National Toxicology Program, under the auspices of its recently established "Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction" (CERHR), to convene a panel of independent experts in 1999 to review scientific evidence addressing developmental threats of phthalates. The panel issued a draft report in August 2000. Its conclusions are severely restricted by the fact that few of studies necessary to address fetal impacts of phthalates have been done. For a least one of the phthalates they addressed, DEHP, the panel had serious concern about health impacts. Not surprisingly, given the state of research the report’s conclusions are tentative, establishing plausible but uncertain risk. One of the key points is DEHP’s impact on developing Sertoli cells, cells in the male reproductive tract that are central to sperm formation. Damaged Sertoli cells during development lead to sperm maladies in adulthood, including low sperm count. DEHP does not cause Sertoli damage directly; damage instead is caused by a metabolite of DEHP, monoethylhexyl phthalate (MEHP).

In summer 2006, two papers upped the ante considerably on possible low-level effects of phthalates. The ranges at which Gray et al. have conducted their experiments are close to the range of common human exposure, but still somewhat above. These new papers reveal biological impacts in animals well within the range of common human exposure, and show show non-monotonic action of DEHP at environmentally-relevant levels. One examined impacts on the activity of the enzyme aromatase, which is essential for masculinizing male brains. The second experimented with DEHP’s ability to exacerbate allergic reactions to an allergen, providing a possible clue as to why allergy rates have gone up so much in the developed world. Non-monotonic dose response curves are important because they invalidate current approaches to developing health standards.

In May 2005: For the first time, researchers have identified an association between pregnant women’s exposure to phthalates and adverse effects on genital development in their male children. The pattern of genital changes seen in these baby boys is consistent with the "phthalate syndrome" previously observed in rodents prenatally exposed to phthalates. It is also suggestive of "testicular dysgenesis syndrome," a human health condition proposed to be linked to exposure to endocrine-disrupting compounds. The adverse effects are seen at phthalate levels below those found in one-quarter of women in the United States, based on a nation-wide survey by the Centers for Disease Control. More…

In August 2000, Puerto Rican scientists reported on an association between exposure to DEHP and premature breast development in young girls, possibly linking phthalates to trends in puberty.

In September 2000, the US Centers for Disease Control released the first substantial assessment of phthalate exposure in the American public. Their study analyzed urine metabolite residues of seven phthalates. Levels were high for several of the compounds studied, particularly the metabolite of DBP. Of greatest concern was the discovery that in their sample, an disproportionate number of women of child-bearing age bore high levels of this metabolite. Given Gray’s data on fetal vulnerability, this is precisely the population that should minimize exposure to this anti-androgen.

In winter/spring 2002-2003, three studies linked phthalate exposure to reductions in semen quality. All were of men exposed to background, environmental levels of phthalates, not higher occupational levels. One showed DNA damage in sperm. Two others (one from the US, the other from India) found reductions in sperm quality in men with slightly elevated phthalate levels. Phthalate levels associated with the damage were well within the range experienced by many Americans.

The debate about regulation and public health protection
Over the past several years, debate has grown in the regulatory world about what to do about phthalates. Industry argues that years of phthalate use without visible harm prove product safety. Critics counter that animal studies establish plausible risk but that the relevant human epidemiological studies focused specifically on the impacts of fetal exposure simply haven’t been done. They point, moreover, to the fact that human health endpoints consistent with phthalate damage are found in animal experiments. They also point out that certain exposures, particularly those associated with children chewing on soft polyvinyl chloride toys and patients receiving intravenous medication through polyvinyl chloride equipment may lead to very high exposures. [The CDC report, above, adds to that list of high exposure concern: the fetuses of pregnant women using cosmetics containing phthalates.]

European regulators kicked off this debate when they began to explore the possibility of bans on toys intended for infants that contained DEHP. This set in motion fierce industry lobbying from the United States to head off the ban, an effort that not only proved unsuccessful ultimately in Europe, but one that was matched in the US by a call by the Consumer Products Safety Commission for a voluntary phase-out by US manufacturers, not only from pacifiers and toys but also from certain medical devices. Several large US toy manufacturers, including Disney and Mattel, made public commitments supporting the phase-out.

The debate heated up further in the US when an industry PR firm that masquerades as a public health organization, the American Council on Science and Health, put together a panel to review the safety of phthalates. Headed by retired Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, the panel ultimately issued a flawed report that concluded phthalates were safe. Their report failed to consider several key recent publications and misrepresented another, citing the latter as stating that no kidney damage was caused when in fact the research did not assess kidney damage. They committed an even more basic error, moreover, by accepting the absence of data as proof of safety. Absence of data proves only ignorance. A devastating critique of this report was published by Health Care Without Harm (a PDF file; long download on slow modems).

The American Academy of Pediatrics entered the debate in June 2003, issuing a report in Pediatrics that recommends research on phthalates effects on the fetus and infants. Their review of the literature found that no studies had directly addressed this issue, yet animal research clearly documents harm and data from the US Centers for Disease Control shows widespread exposure.




From Toys to Body Lotion: the Everywhere Chemical

Found in urine samples from 10 of 10 Washingtonians in the Pollution in People study

About Phthalates Read the report chapter on Phthalates
How am I exposed?
Why should I be concerned?
What can government and industry do?
How can I reduce my exposure?
Additional Resources

Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are plasticizing and softening chemicals used in a wide array of consumer products, especially those containing PVC (polyvinyl chloride).

How am I exposed?

Phthalates are found in:

  • PVC products such as vinyl flooring, vinyl shower curtains, and children’s toys
  • many personal care products, such as perfumes, nail polish, and lotions
  • medical devices, such as IV bags and tubing that are made with PVC
  • automobile interiors
  • our air, water, and soil due to industrial pollution and leaching from consumer products

vinyl shower curtainIV bagnail polish



Why Should I Be Concerned?

We are exposed to phthalates every day from a wide range of sources.  Studies in animals and people have linked phthalates to serious health problems.

  • In animal studies, phthalates cause an array of reproductive problems in male offspring, including small or otherwise abnormal testes, hypospadias (abnormal urinary openings), and undescended testes. In studies on people, boys born to mothers with greater exposure had altered genital development.
  • Phthalates may also cause asthma as well as liver and kidney damage.

Phthalates do not build up in our bodies.  But because we are constantly re-exposed to sources of phthalates, levels in our bodies may remain fairly constant.

What can Government and Industry do?

The reality of the reproductive effects caused by phthalates at today’s exposure levels highlights the urgent need to eliminate the plasticizers from products. Addressing two types of products containing phthalates—PVC and cosmetics—would have a major impact in reducing exposure.

A number of companies, hospitals, and government agencies have taken steps to switch to alternative materials and phase out PVC use.

  • Microsoft has now completely ended the use of PVC in its packaging material.

  • Kaiser Permanente has pledged to reduce PVC wherever possible in new construction.

  • Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland has eliminated most PVC products from its neonatal intensive care unit, as has the Special Care Nursery at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle.

  • Seattle and Olympia have both passed resolutions committing them to seeking alternatives to PVC for city operations.

Based on existing evidence, the European Union passed legislation banning some phthalates in cosmetics in 2003, and has kept three phthalates out of toys since 1999.

Although many uses of phthalates are essentially ungoverned in the United States, cosmetic and medical uses are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has not taken steps to ban phthalates.

  • Cosmetics companies should sign the Safe Cosmetics Compact and phase out phthalates and other potentially harmful toxic chemicals.

  • Hospitals should phase out PVC medical devices. Healthcare Without Harm has worked with Kaiser and other healthcare institutions to identify safer alternatives.

  • State and federal governments should phase out phthalates—and other toxic chemicals that can result in reproductive harm—in consumer products such as toys, cosmetics and medical devices.

How can I reduce my exposure?

You can reduce your own and your family’s exposure to phthalates by avoiding PVC and purchasing products from companies that have eliminated phthalates.
Some of the products that should be avoided include:

  • Vinyl windows and doors. Opt for wood instead.
  • PVC Packaging. Product packages marked with the #3 recycling symbol contain PVC.
  • Vinyl shower curtains. Choose cotton shower curtains with polyester or nylon liners.
  • PVC Toys.  Toymakers that have pledged to stop using PVC include: Early Start, Little Tikes, Lego, Prime Time Playthings, Sassy, and Tiny Love.
  • Vinyl plastic wrap and other food storage. Buy plastic wrap and bags made from polyethylene. For food storage, use glass containers or plastic containers marked with recycling symbols other than 3.


Reading Labels to Avoid Phthalates

It can be challenging to identify consumer products that contain phthalates because complete labelling is not required on many products.

PVC (vinyl) Products
Phthalates are frequently used to soften PVC (vinyl) products. If a vinyl product is flexible, it probably contains phthalates unless the label specifically says it does not.

Cosmetics & Personal Care Products
Phthalates are often used in cosmetics and personal care products to carry fragrances. Under current law, they can then simply be labeled “fragrance,” even though they may make up 20% or more of the product.

On some products, ingredients are listed, but the chemical names or acryonyms can be confusing.  Use the list below to identify phthalates.

Phthalate names

commonly used in

or di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate
or Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate
used as a softener in PVC products, such as IV bags, tubing, and other medical devices

or benzylbutyl phthalate
used in vinyl flooring, car-care products, and personal care products

or di-n-butyl phthalate

used in nail polish and other personal care products

or diethyl phthalate

used in personal care products, such as deodorants, perfume, cologne, aftershave lotion, shampoo, hair gel, hand lotion

or dimethyl phthalate

used in insect repellent, plastics, and solid rocket propellant



Phthalate 4,5-dioxygenase

phthalate 4,5-dioxygenase


EC number

CAS number

IntEnz view

BRENDA entry

NiceZyme view

KEGG entry

metabolic pathway



Gene Ontology


In enzymology, a phthalate 4,5-dioxygenase (EC is an enzyme that catalyzes the chemical reaction

phthalate + NADH + H+ + O2 \rightleftharpoons cis-4,5-dihydroxycyclohexa-1(6),2-diene-1,2-dicarboxylate + NAD+

The 4 substrates of this enzyme are phthalate, NADH, H+, and O2, whereas its two products are cis-4,5-dihydroxycyclohexa-1(6),2-diene-1,2-dicarboxylate and NAD+.

This enzyme belongs to the family of oxidoreductases, specifically those acting on paired donors, with O2 as oxidant and incorporation or reduction of oxygen. The oxygen incorporated need not be derived from O2 with NADH or NADPH as one donor, and incorporation of two atoms o oxygen into the other donor. The systematic name of this enzyme class is phthalate,NADH:oxygen oxidoreductase (4,5-hydroxylating). Other names in common use include PDO, and phthalate dioxygenase. This enzyme participates in 2,4-dichlorobenzoate degradation. It has 3 cofactors: iron, FMN, and Iron-sulfur.

Polyvinyl acetate phthalate

Polyvinyl acetate phthalate (PVAP) is a commonly used polymer phthalate in the formulation of pharmaceuticals, such as the enteric coating of tablets or capsules. It is a vinyl acetate polymer that is partially hydrolyzed and then esterified with phthalic acid. Its main use in pharmaceutics is with enteric formulations and controlled release formulations.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dangers from Phthalates, Are They Real?

Phthalates are a family of chemicals which are basically in soft plastics, such as shower curtains, carpets and shampoos, intravenous bags and tubing in hospitals. They are not in hard plastics in bottles of soda or water. We deal with these chemicals everyday. And our bodies absorb these chemicals everyday, slowly but surely. They cling to our skin and nails. There are traces of these chemicals in our bodies. 
Reports from the EPA or Environmental Agency of the United States say that phthalates disrupt hormone activity and they probably cause the demasculinizing of men. By this is meant that men are becoming less and less manly both in general behavior and particularly in sexual activity.
Even the phthalates in pregnant women are said to affect the health of baby boys they give birth to. These chemicals are detected in the urine of these mothers. The baby boys were not so completely masculine. Some sex organs were deformed.
In adult males phthalates may be causing low sperm counts and low testosterone levels.
The problem is compounded by the fact that it is not easy to get rid of these chemicals in our bodies.
For more information click this site

Posted by hottrends2010s at 10:32 AM

Labels: chemicals, phthalates, plastics, sex hormones



Dibutyl Phthalate

Dibutyl phthalate is a common ingredient found in many over the counter hair sprays, cosmetics and personal care products. This in depth health report by the EWG looks at the considerable risks posed by this carcinogenic-gender-bending toxic chemical to our health and the health of our loved ones! Make sure you use safe non-toxic products to protect your health.


Beauty Secrets Printer Friendly

More proof – Phthalates are causing deformities

Phthalates poisoning our kids on hospitals

Does A Common Chemical (Dibutyl Phthalates) In Nail Polish AND Personal Care Products Pose Risks To Human Health?

Courtesy of E N V I R O N M E N T A L  W O R K I N G  G R O U P

Jane Houlihan, Richard Wiles


This report was written by Jane Houlihan and Richard Wiles of the Environmental Working Group and was made possible by grants from the W. Alton Jones Foundation, the Turner Foundation, Inc., the Mitchell Kapor Foundation and the Jenifer Altman Foundation.

Copyright © November 2000 by Environmental Working Group. All rights reserved

Environmental Working Group

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C. Through analysis of government and private sector databases, environmental monitoring programs, and scientifically grounded research, EWG develops high-profile publications, computer databases and Internet resources that consistently create public awareness and concern about high priority environmental problems and solutions.

Kenneth A. Cook, President

Richard Wiles, Vice President for Research

Mike Casey, Vice President for Public Affairs

This and many other EWG publications are available on the World Wide Web at

Executive Summary

1: Chemical industry systematically defeats health protections

2: Phthalates

3: Phthalates in cosmetics and beauty products

1.Beauty Secrets

In September 2000, researchers at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that every single one of the 289 persons tested for the plasticizer dibutyl phthalate (DBP) had the compound in their bodies. The finding passed with little public fanfare, but surprised government scientists, who just one month earlier had rated DBP of little health concern based on the scientific assumption, which later turned out to be wrong, that levels in humans were within safe limits. DBP causes a number of birth defects in lab animals, primarily to male offspring, including testicular atrophy, reduced sperm count, and defects in the structure of the penis (CERHR 2000). Back to Top

The most critical population, women of childbearing age whose foetuses are exposed in the womb, appear to receive the highest exposures. Estimates based on data published by the same CDC researchers in October 2000, indicate that DBP exposures for 3 million women of childbearing age may be up to 20 times greater than for the average person in the population.

The highest exposure estimates for these women were above the federal safety standard (Blount et al 2000, Kohn et al 2000, EPA 1990). EPA rates their overall confidence in the safety standard as “low”, largely because it is based on a study published in 1953 that did not examine the test animals for the birth defects that concern scientists today (EPA 1990).

Dibutyl Phthalate is just one ingredient in an alphabet soup of pollutants that contaminate every person in the industrialized world!

A patchwork of studies from the federal government indicates that everyone in the United States carries more than 100 chemical pollutants, pesticides, and toxic metals in their bodies.

No one knows exactly where these exposures come from, and no one has studied the effect of constant exposure to this low-level mixture of poisons. Nor is it possible to do so.

To test 100 chemicals in combinations of three for just one health effect (cancer, for example, as opposed to birth defects) would require 162,000 new tests. There are currently 75,000 chemicals licensed for use in the United States. Approximately 15,000 are sold in volumes greater than 10,000 pounds per year. Under the Toxic Substances Control Act the EPA has regulated just five chemicals (Roe et al 1997).

Government researchers speculate that the elevated levels of DBP among women of childbearing age come from cosmetics and beauty products, but no one has done the studies to test this hypothesis. As a first step in discovering some major sources, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) shopped at a local Rite-Aid, surfed the on-line store, and searched the U.S. patent office records for products that contain DBP in the patent application.

We found:


DBP in 37 popular nail polishes, top coats, and hardeners, including products by L’Oréal, Maybelline,  Oil of Olay, and CoverGirl (Table 1).


Patents proposing to use DBP in a broad range of beauty and personal care products, including shampoos and conditioners, lotions, hair growth formulations, antiperspirants, and sunscreen. Even patents relating to gum, candy, and pharmaceuticals taken orally propose DBP as an ingredient.


Many major manufacturers who propose to use DBP in cosmetics and related products.


Of more than 100 patents analyzed by EWG, Procter & Gamble holds the most (37) that propose to use DBP in personal care products.


Other major companies with multiple patents are L’Oréal (10), Lever Brothers (4), and Maybelline (3)

Table 1.

EWG shoppers turned up 37 DBP-containing products from 22 companies.

Name brand

Nail care product containing DBP

Black Radiance U.S.A.

Black Radiance Nail Colour

Bon Bons

Bon Bons (nail polish)


Nail Colour

Christian Dior Nail Enamel

Nail Enamel

Club Monaco

Nail Colour


Cosmar Press&Go Nails Kit

Cover Girl

Cover Girl Nail Slicks

Hard Candy

Nail Enamel

Loud Music Nail Enamel

Nail Enamel

M M Professional

Nail Polish

Max Factor

Diamond Hard Nail Enamel


Express Finish Fast-Dry Nail Enamel

Ultimate Wear

Nail Enamel

Salon Finish

Nail Enamel

Nailene Professional Solutions

Acrylic Tough Polish Shield

PROfessional Solutions

Acrylic Polish Shield

PROfessional Solutions

Calcium Growth Builder

Nail Paints

Art Kit


Nail Polish


90 Second Dry Super Fast Nail Color

Nutra Nail

Nutra Nail Maximum Strengthener

Nutra Nail

Calcium Nail thickener

Nutra Nail

Iron Shield Nail Hardener

Oil of Olay

Nail Lacquer


Orly Salon Nails Nail Color

Tony & Tina

Tony & Tina (nail enamel)

Sally Hansen Color Fast!

One Coat Fast-Dry Enamel

Maximum Support

Strengthen & Grow

No More Breaks

Restructurizing Strengthener

Hard as Nails

Hard as Nails with Nylon

Triple Strong

Advanced Gel Nail Fortifier

Thicken Up!

Strengthening Nail Thickener

Ultimate Shield

Fortifying Base & Top Coat

Hard as Nails Instant Strength

Calcium Gel Nail Fortifier

Urban Decay

Nail Enamel

Wet ‘n’ Wild

Wet ‘n’ Wild Nail Colour

Major corporations hold patents that propose to use the toxic plasticizer DBP in a broad range of consumer products, from nail polish to hair growth formulations.

Company holding patent and products for which DBP is proposed as essential or possible additive


The Procter & Gamble (Cincinnati, OH) lotion, hairspray, mousse, gel, lotion, cream, pomade, hair spray, conditioner, spritz, hair tonic, facial moisturizers, foundations, lipsticks, mascaras, nail polishes, oral pharmaceuticals, hair loss treatments


L’Oreal (Bureau D. A. Casalonga-Josse) hair and nail products


Lever Brothers Company (New York, NY) deodorant, skin and hair cleansers


Maybelline Cosmetics Corporation (Wilmington, DE) nail enamel


Anheuser-Busch, Incorporated (St. Louis, MO) gelled antiperspirant


Chesebrough-Pond’s USA Co., Division of Conopco, Inc. (Greenwich, CT)product to treat or prevent baldness


Colgate Palmolive Company (New York, NY) antiperspirant and deodorant gels


Eastman Chemical Company (Kingsport, TN) nail products


Elizabeth Arden Co., Division of Conopco, Inc. (NewYork, NY) skin products


Kraft General Foods, Inc. (Northfield, IL) sunscreen


Revlon Consumer Products (NY, NY) nail enamel


Rhodia Chimie (Courbevoie, FR) hair and skin care products (sprays, tonic lotions, gels, mousses)


Rhone-Poulenc Chimie (Courbevoie Cedex, FR) nail varnishes


Unilever Patent Holding B.V. (Vlaardingen, NL) skin and hair care products, antiperspirants

The Spoils of a Rotten System

Contrary to popular belief, industrial chemicals in consumer products are essentially unregulated in the United States. Except for chemicals added directly to food, there is no legal requirement for health and safety testing or human exposure monitoring for any chemical in commerce. The same chemicals, ironically, are often tightly regulated as pollutants.

For example:

Phthalates are recognized as toxic substances under environmental law, but companies are free to use unlimited amounts in cosmetics.

An environmental release of just 10 pounds of DBP must be reported to environmental authorities under the Superfund law. The cosmetics industry, in contrast, puts hundreds of thousands of pounds of DBP into nail polish each year, with no requirements for safety testing or reporting to anyone. In the 25 years of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the EPA has regulated exactly one toxic substance in a consumer product, lead in paint. This is largely because the agency cannot demand the health and safety tests needed to evaluate a chemical’s safety and risk. Industry recently agreed to a voluntary testing program for high production volume compounds (chemicals produced annually in amounts of at least one million pounds), but this program has many shortcomings. Many basic tests are not required, such as those for cancer, nervous system damage, and virtually all tests for toxicity to the developing and immature animal including developmental neurotoxicity or effects on the immature immune system. About 80 percent of all high production volume chemicals are not covered by the initiative.

Pivotal court decisions implementing the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) have rendered EPA impotent to control toxic chemicals in commerce. The agency must prove an “unreasonable risk of injury” to human health before it can remove a chemical from the market. But EPA is powerless to make that finding because the law prohibits the agency from requiring safety studies until it proves that “substantial” or “significant” exposures are occurring. The agency can almost never prove that substantial or significant exposures are occurring because exposure data are also extremely difficult to obtain.

In other words, EPA cannot regulate a chemical until it makes a finding of risk based on data that the law virtually prohibits it from collecting.

The law also allows industry to manufacture and sell new chemicals without conducting any toxicity studies to determine if the chemicals are safe. After a chemical enters the marketplace, there is NO requirement for human monitoring, even for those compounds to which people are routinely exposed.

Except for direct food additives, the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDC&A) is no better (FDA 2000). DBP is allowed in food as an indirect additive via food packaging, but this use was grandfathered in and has not been subject to modern food safety standards. The FDC&A does not require pre-market safety testing, review, or approval for cosmetics or the compounds used to make them. While manufacturers might study the short-term effects in lab animals of the substances that they sell, they almost never study long term effects of their products.

Industry can and DOES put chemicals into widespread commercial use without meaningful testing for toxicity and without any monitoring of people or the environment

What You Can Do

Researchers are just beginning to discover the names of the hundreds of commercial chemicals that contaminate the human body.

What those chemicals’ actual health effects might be are just beginning to be understood.

In the meantime, scores of new chemicals are introduced into commerce each year, with no requirement that they be shown to be safe! This situation is the single biggest failure in U.S. (and UK Eds note) environmental law and is not likely to be fixed anytime soon.

Until it is, people can do a few simple things to reduce exposure to the contaminants that we do know about.


Women who are pregnant, nursing or thinking about getting pregnant should look for and avoid all personal care products with the word phthalate on the label. Some common forms of phthalates in personal care products are dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, and dimethyl phthalate.


Urge manufacturers to reformulate their products with safer alternative chemicals.


If you use nail products, choose those that contain fewer toxins.


Use products free of DBP and other common nail polish toxins like toluene and formaldehyde.


Types of nail polish that are DBP-, toluene-, and formaldehyde-free include NEWAYS L’Oréal Paris Jet-Set Quick Dry Nail Enamel, Revlon Nail Enamel, Garden Botanika Natural Colour Nail Colour, and Kiss Products Kiss Colours, to name a few.

Policy Recommendations

When it comes to the use of potentially toxic chemicals in manufactured consumer products, the official operating principle is use first, test later, or better yet, don’t test at all. This situation is disgraceful and completely unacceptable.

In the face of growing evidence that the human population is contaminated with hundreds of poorly tested hazardous industrial chemicals, we recommend the following:


The chemical industry must immediately and completely fund a comprehensive human bio-monitoring initiative in conjunction with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The initiative would monitor the human population for all chemicals reasonably likely to be found in human tissue. The study design must include highly exposed and potentially vulnerable sub-populations, and must include enough individuals to support statistically meaningful conclusions and regulatory decisions for all sectors of the population, and all chemical monitored.


All of the information gathered must be made available to the public after it is peer reviewed.


The chemical industry must expand its commitment to screening of high production volume chemicals to include tests for carcinogenicity, neurotoxicity, immunotoxicity, and endocrine system toxicity at all life stages including gestation, infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood.


The chemical industry and the personal care products industry must immediately label all products containing phthalates and any other toxic substance to which there is human exposure. Labels must be improved so that they are legible.


The current exemption for labelling requirements that applies to non-retail sales of these products to professionals, must be rescinded.

Chemical Industry systematically defeats health protections

No pre-market safety testing or approval is required under any federal law for chemicals in cosmetics, toys, clothing, carpets, or construction materials, to name just a few obvious sources of chemical exposure in everyday life. This little known fact is the premeditated result of an orchestrated campaign by the chemical industry to avoid testing and regulation of their products. It largely explains why products like hair spray, hair dye, pacifiers, stain repellents, glues and children’s toys get on the market, only to be found to contain highly toxic compounds at unsafe levels after decades of widespread use. Once these products are on the market, there is no practical legal mechanism by which health authorities can remove them from commerce, short of a public health disaster or consumer uproar.


Since the 1950’s, the chemical industry has systematically blocked efforts to require safety studies for the compounds it produces. This strategy first played out with workplace standards adopted under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and was repeated with the passage and implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

The first chemical health standards in the United States were adopted by OSHA in 1972. Set in theory to protect workers, these standards were initially created in the 1940’s by representatives from the chemical industry operating under the auspices of the American Council of Governmental and Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). At the time the standards were first introduced in 1942, ACGIH issued major caveats regarding their application to human health, stating that: “[they are] not to be construed as recommended safe concentrations” (NCGIH 1942).

Toxicity tests on animals had barely been invented at that time, and the standards themselves were based on rough estimates of acutely hazardous and lethal levels of exposure. In the words of the scientist who devised many of them, the so-called threshold limit values (TLVs) were designed, “to provide a handy yardstick to be used as guidance for the routine control of these health hazards — not that compliance with the figures listed would guarantee protection against ill health” (Cook, 1945).

This did not stop the chemical industry from promoting TLVs as legitimate health standards, and in 1972, OSHA adopted TLVs wholesale as the nation’s first set of enforceable health standards for chemicals in the workplace. In the process these “handy yardsticks” took on an aura of respectability that belied the fact that there was essentially no science to support their relevance to human health and safety. The best estimates are that basic toxicological data were available for only five percent of some 600 industrial chemicals for which OSHA had adopted standards by 1988 (Castleman and Ziem 1994, Roach and Rappaport 1990).

TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act)

This process of faux regulation was repeated again when the same chemical industry giants teamed up to write the nation’s major toxic chemical law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Passed with virtually no regulatory teeth, TSCA has been an unparalleled failure. Of the 62,000 chemicals on the market when TSCA was passed in 1976, EPA has successfully requested data for 263 compounds. Of the 15,000 chemicals marketed in quantities exceeding 10,000 pounds per year, EPA has completed regulatory actions to limit use or exposures on just 5, or 0.03 percent (3 one hundredths of one percent). Four of the five were already regulated under other statutes, and only one, lead in paint, affected a consumer product (Roe et al 1997). TSCA is best thought of as a self-defeating feedback loop.

Under the law, all chemicals are presumed safe, and the burden of proof is on the EPA to demonstrate that a chemical is causing harm before it can take any regulatory action. However, the agency cannot require that industry conduct the tests needed to show that a chemical is causing harm, until the agency has shown that the compound may present an "unreasonable risk," or that human exposure is "substantial" or "significant". Substantial exposures can almost never be proven without additional data from industry, and significant exposures cannot be proven without information on the chemical’s toxicity. Of course, compelling toxicity data are almost never available for the compound in question or EPA would not be trying to publish a test rule in the first place.

Even if all these hurdles are cleared, which is extremely unlikely, in order to request basic toxicity data on any single chemical the EPA must issue a test rule through the process of a rulemaking under administrative law. This roadblock is unique to TSCA. Under pesticide law, or food safety law, EPA or FDA can request virtually any test that they need to assess the safety of a compound.

A defining moment in the collapse of TSCA occurred in 1990 when EPA attempted to issue test rules for the paint thinner cumene. The proposed test rules were immediately challenged by the Chemical Manufacturers Association on the grounds that EPA had not shown that human exposure was “substantial,” the basic requirement under Section 4 of the Act. The courts upheld the CMA argument that the burden of proving “substantial” exposure and risk was on the EPA and not the manufacturers (Chemical Manufacturers Ass’n v. EPA, 5th Cir. 1990).

To date EPA has issued rules requiring toxicity testing for only 0.4 percent, or 263, of the 62,000 chemicals on the market when the law was passed.

Even when issued, test rules generally do not require comprehensive testing. With barely any data generated via test rules the agency cannot support a finding of substantial risk for any chemical, and indeed the agency has taken only five final actions since passage of the law (Roe et al 1997).

The final nail in the coffin came in 1991. EPA was trying to use TSCA to regulate asbestos, arguing that it presented an “unreasonable risk of injury” to human health. Again the TSCA feedback loop prevailed, and the court ruled that EPA had not met the burden of providing substantial evidence that asbestos presented an unreasonable risk of injury to human health (Corrosion Proof Fittings v. EPA, 5th Cir. 1991).

Since this decision, EPA has undertaken no additional major regulatory actions under the Act. Under pressure from environmentalists and the Clinton administration, in 1999 the chemical industry agreed to conduct basic health screening tests for about 3,000 high production volume compounds out of a universe of more than 75,000 chemicals registered for commercial use today, 15,000 of which are marketed in quantities exceeding 10,000 pounds per year.

This tiny step forward is entirely voluntary and, even if it is completed, it will not provide regulators and public health authorities with sufficient information to fully assess the long-term adverse effects of toxic chemical exposure. Tests now recognized as critical to a full understanding of a chemical’s toxicity will not be conducted at all under this initiative. These include cancer bioassays, studies on the developing nervous system, the immune system, the endocrine system, and perhaps most important, human monitoring to determine the extent of human exposure.

This latter element is critical. As discussed below, a string of recent discoveries reveal that human exposure to commercial chemicals used in common cosmetics personal care and general consumer products is almost certainly much more pervasive than previously thought. This new strata of contamination is in addition to the considerable well known toxic load of pollutants (such as PCBs, dioxin, and DDT) found in the blood and body fat of virtually all people in the industrialized world.

Text Box: Tests now recognised as critical to a full understanding of a chemical’s toxicity will not be conducted under this initiative!

Beauty Secrets

Phthalates Back to Top

Invented in the 1930’s, the versatile group of common industrial chemicals called phthalates (pronounced tha-lates) are used as ingredients in a diverse range of consumer products from cosmetics and personal care items to food wraps, toys and building materials.

Currently the chemical industry produces BILLIONS of pounds of phthalates each year. They are used as plasticizers to soften plastic, as skin moisturizers and skin penetration enhancers in cosmetics, and as solvents in a wide range of applications. People are exposed to phthalates daily through their contact with consumer products and via food and indoor air.

In spite of their widespread presence in cosmetics and other common consumer products, industry has only partially studied the health effects of phthalates and has never tested for the presence of phthalates in human bodies. Finally, in April 1999, over six decades after phthalates were first marketed, the federal government’s National

Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) initiated a study of the effects of phthalates on the human reproductive system through their new Center for the Evaluation of Risk to Human Reproduction (CERHR).

At the same time, scientists at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were achieving the first accurate measurements of phthalates in people. Researchers there were surprised to find that people have much higher levels of some phthalates in their bodies than predicted by previous estimates Blount et al 2000).

In October 2000, CDC scientists announced that levels of some phthalates in women of childbearing age, including dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), exceed the government’s safe levels set to protect against birth defects. Estimates based on data from this study indicate that for more than 3 million heavily exposed women of childbearing age, exposures to DBP may be 20 times greater than the average exposures in the rest of the population (Kohn et al 2000).

This report focuses primarily on DBP, a widely used phthalate that produces serious reproductive and developmental effects in laboratory animals. But DBP is not the only toxic phthalate to which people are routinely exposed. Many other phthalates widely detected in human urine by the CDC cause the same birth and developmental defects to the male reproductive system as DBP. Absent evidence to the contrary, it is reasonable to assume that the health effects from exposures to multiple phthalates are additive

Health effects of dibutyl phthalate

At least two decades ago, scientists began building a body of work indicating that DBP can be a powerful reproductive and developmental toxicant in laboratory animals, particularly for males. Early studies focused on DBP’s ability to cause testicular atrophy (e.g., Gray et al 1980), but DBP is now known to cause a broad range of birth defects and lifelong reproductive impairment in male laboratory animals exposed in-utero and shortly after birth (Ema et al 1998, Marsman et al 1995, Mylchreest et al 1998, 1999, and 2000, Gray et al 1999, Wine et al 1997.

Scientists believe that the active toxicant of DBP exposure is its first breakdown product, monobutyl phthalate (MBuP), which has been shown to harm the male reproductive system. The precise mechanism of action is not known but the pattern of reproductive harm is consistent with other so-called anti-androgens or chemicals that interfere with the male hormones called androgens.

Effects in immature male animals:

DBP exposure damages the testes, prostate gland, epididymus, penis, and seminal vesicles in laboratory animals see, for example, Mylchreest et al, 1998). These effects persist throughout the animal’s life, and include, specifically:


Testicular atrophy (the testes produce sperm and male sex hormones)


Hypospadias (a defect of the penis in which the opening occurs on the bottom of the penis instead of the tip)


Undescended testicles – a condition in which the testes fail to descend into the scrotal sac during pregnancy.


Ectopic testes – a condition in which testes are grown outside the scrotal sac


Absent testes – testes are not formed at all


Absent prostate gland (the prostate gland contributes liquid secretions to semen)


Absent or small seminal vesicles (seminal vesicles, like the prostate gland, contribute liquid secretions to semen)


Reduced sperm count reduced fertility of offspring)


Malformed or absent epididymus (the epididymus is the structure where sperm mature and are stored)

Potential health effects of DBP continue to be significant for newborn animals who can be exposed to DBP by breathing phthalate-contaminated air, by touching things that contain phthalates, or by drinking their mother’s milk, which can contain phthalates as a result of her exposures. In young lab animals, DBP has been shown to cause permanent testicular atrophy and reduced sperm counts (Foster et al 1981, Marsman 1995).

In animal tests DBP is also “embryolethal” — causing loss of pregnancy — and prevents implantation of the fertilized egg. In lab animals it also causes “resorption” of some or all of the foetuses in a litter,

where the mother’s body essentially dissolves the fetus without miscarriage. DBP also causes a range of skeletal and external birth defects for male and female offspring of animals exposed during pregnancy – including deformity of vertebra and ribs, cleft palate, and fused breastbone (Ema et al 1994 and 1995).

Relevance to people

Broad and disturbing trends in human male reproductive health include many of the same effects seen in lab animals dosed with phthalates. Although a cause and effect relationship has not been established, the ubiquity of phthalates in the human population creates a biologically plausible presumption that phthalates may be contributing to these problems. Until proven safe, phthalates should be considered as potential contributors to the following human health effects:


Declining sperm count: Recent analysis of 101 studies 1934-1996) by Shanna Swan of the University of Missouri confirms results of previous studies: average sperm counts in industrialized countries are declining at a rate of about 1 percent each year (Swan et al 2000).


Hypospadias: Data from the Centres for Disease Control show that rates of hypospadias in the U.S. began climbing in about 1970, and continued this increase through the 1980s. This condition is a physical deformity of the penis in which the opening of the urethra occurs on the bottom of the penis instead of the tip. (Currently the occurrence of hypospadias appears to be stable, at about 30 to 40 cases per 10,000 births.) (Paulozzi 1999


Undescended testicles: This birth defect, where testicles fail to completely descend into the scrotum during pregnancy, occurs in 2-5 percent of full-term boys in Western countries. Rates ofthe defect increased greatly in the U.S. in the 1970s and1980s. Men born with this defect are at higher risk for testicular cancer and breast cancer (Paulozzi 1999).


Testicular cancer: This is the most common cancer of young men in many countries, including the U.S. Its incidence continues to increase at a rate of about 2 to 4 percent each year inindustrialized countries, although rates appear to have stabilized in the U.S. after a 20-year increase. Men with hypospadias, infertility, and undescended testicles – the same constellation of conditions seen in lab animals exposed to DBP – are at a far greater risk for developing testicular cancer (Toppari et al 1996 and Moline 2000).

History of recent government studies of phthalates

In April 1999, CERHR initiated a review of the reproductive and developmental effects of phthalates in humans. The Centre chose seven phthalates for examination, based on consideration of production volume, extent of human exposures, use in children’s products, or published evidence of reproductive or developmental toxicity. They addressed the following three questions for each phthalate based on their current understanding of levels of human exposure to phthalates

  1. Are young children at risk for harm to the reproductive system.

  2. Is the foetus at risk for developmental effects when the mother is exposed.

  3. Are adults at risk for effects to the reproductive system?

In their June 2000 report draft CERHR assigned low, minimal, or negligible concern to five phthalates, and higher concern for only one, DEHP. “Concern” refers to whether CERHR believes the chemical is a reproductive or developmental toxicant in people at current levels of exposure.)

In September 2000, Dr. Brock and his team of CDC scientists published the results of the first human testing program for phthalates (Blount et al 2000). The results turned the CERHR conclusions of minimal concern on end. They found phthalates in every person tested, and at surprisingly high levels in some individuals for some phthalates. The scientists concluded that “from a public health perspective, these data provide evidence that phthalate exposure is both higher and more common than previously suspected,” adding that, “Exposure data for phthalates is (sic) critically important for human risk assessment, especially among potentially susceptible populations.”

Brock and his team measured levels of seven phthalate metabolites in the urine of 289 adults. They found metabolites from two of these in 100 percent of those tested – dibutyl phthalate, or DBP, and benzylbutyl phthalate, or BzBP.

A metabolite of DBP called monobutyl phthalate (MBuP), a potent reproductive toxin in lab animals, was found at significantly higher levels in women of childbearing age. Six of the eight highest measured levels were in this group. CDC postulates in their paper that high exposures to phthalates in women of childbearing age arise from the use of cosmetics and beauty products.

These results caught both government and industry off guard. Now, government scientists are beginning a search for answers:


Are normal body levels of phthalates safe for infants and pregnant women?


How are people exposed to phthalates – through which consumer products and via what pathway?

Government scientists published a letter in the October issue of Environmental Health Perspectives outlining the significance of the CDC urine study. Their analyses showed that the highest exposures measured, in women of childbearing age, were above federal safety levels set to protect against birth defects.


Historically, phthalate exposure has been difficult to measure precisely because the compounds are so widely used. Pervasive background contamination during laboratory analyses commonly produced test results where true contamination in body fluids could not be distinguished from phthalates found in laboratory equipment or in cosmetics worn by technicians. Until the CDC published its research in September 2000, it was generally assumed that phthalates detected in biological samples in large part reflected this background contamination.

As the CERHR study of phthalate risk neared completion, independent work led by Dr. John Brock at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) resulted in a new analytical method that would, for the first time, allow for the accurate analysis of phthalates in biological samples free from concerns of background contamination.

Brock’s method involves testing urine for human breakdown products, or metabolites, of phthalates. The specific metabolites for which he tests, called the glucaronidated monoesters, are not manufactured by industry. With Brock’s innovative method, issues of background contamination disappear.

Estimates based on these data indicate that DBP exposures for up to 3 million women of childbearing age in the US alone may be 20 times higher than for the rest of the population. In an effort to determine key routes of exposure, CDC is beginning work on an extensive survey to find which products are causing the high DBP levels in women of childbearing age.


Regulated as toxic pollutants – but OK in consumer products???!

Phthalates are considered a hazardous waste and are regulated as pollutants in air and water. In contrast, phthalates are essentially unregulated in food and cosmetics. (One phthalate, DEHP, which was removed from children’s toys more than a decade ago, is regulated in drinking water.)

Under various environmental laws, individual companies are limited with regards to how much DBP they can release to the environment as pollution each year. For example, industries must report any spill or release of DBP over 10 pounds, and industries using phthalates must keep records of their location and transportation.

But the FDA does not limit the amount of DBP that can be used in cosmetics and other beauty products. And the FD&C Act does not require that cosmetic manufacturers or marketers test their products for safety.

So, by design from the chemical industry, the federal government treats phthalates with a bipolar approach. Phthalates are recognized as toxic substances under environmental law, but companies are free to use unlimited amounts in cosmetics. Moreover, the labelling requirements for cosmetics are riddled with loopholes. If a woman reads the fine print on the back of every cosmetic bottle she purchases, she might discover whether the product contains phthalates. However, she won’t know the quantity of phthalates in the product, or what health effects her use of the product could possibly have on her health or the health of her foetus.

Specifically, FDA’s labelling requirements state that all cosmetics produced or distributed for retail sale to consumers for their personal care bear a list of ingredients, ordered by prevalence (21 CFR 701.3). Cosmetic labelling requirements apply to all cosmetics marketed in the

U.S., whether manufactured here or abroad. But it’s simple for industry to hide phthalates in consumer products, as components of fragrances, flavourings — or chemical mixtures that are considered “trade secrets” — all of which are exempt from labelling requirements.

Remarkably, women who work in nail and hair salons and presumably get the highest exposures, are not protected even by labelling regulations.

Ingredient labelling requirements do not apply to products used only by beauty professionals in the workplace. The 1997 U.S. Economic Census shows that over 407,000 people are employed in the more than 81,000 beauty salons across the country. These employees, primarily women including what is likely a large percentage of women of child bearing age, are exposed to DBP in beauty products daily, with no knowledge of it and no option for choosing alternate products.

The federal government has “low” confidence in their safe daily dose value for DBP

Ten years ago, using a study published in 1953, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a “safe” daily dose of

DBP, called the Reference Dose, or RfD. Even then, the EPA characterized this pivotal study as weak, and their confidence in the RfD as “low.” Ten years later the agency has not revised the safe dose, nor required new studies to strengthen its knowledge of DBP toxicity.

The CDC found that high-end DBP exposures in women of child bearing age are above the federal safe daily dose (Kohn et al 2000). If the safe daily dose value were brought up to modern standards, even more women in the CDC study group would fall into the zone of concern.

The study supporting the RfD is archaic in design and does not provide any information on the health effects that concern scientists today – birth defects in male offspring. The study included only adult male rats, and death was the only health effect studied. Irrespective of the fact that the study examined only the most crude endpoint, the results are of marginal relevance to real world human exposures, and do not provide a sufficient scientific basis to establish a safe exposure level under contemporary standards applied to pesticides or food additives regulated under federal law.

EPA admits that the study has many deficiencies. In their documentation of the RfD the agency states “The Oral RfD for dibutyl phthalate may change in the near future pending the outcome of a further review now being conducted by the Oral RfD Work Group” (EPA 1990).

Nonetheless, the current RfD is derived from a “safe” dose in this study of 125 mg of chemical ingested per kilogram of body weight (mg/kg) – the dose that was shown to induce no additional deaths relative to the control group. A study published this year (2000) found that exposures at this level, thought previously to produce no effects, in fact cause birth defects in male pups, including extra nipples in a third of the pups(Mylchresst et al 2000). This study found a “safe” dose, called a no observed adverse effect level, or NOAEL, of 50 mg/kg – 60 percent lower than the dose that is currently the basis for the RfD.

It is remarkable that such a heavily used chemical, with known toxicity, can be so poorly regulated.

For example, Procter & Gamble holds a patent which proposes to add 5 milligrams of DBP to each dose of an oral pharmaceutical. A woman of average weight (140 pounds) ingesting this tablet would get a daily dose of DBP that is 80 percent of her current allowable daily dose defined by the RfD. She would get double the dose that would be allowed if the RfD were updated to protect the male foetus from birth defects, assuming no other exposure to DBP in other products.

The Environmental Working Group conducted a web-based analysis to locate consumer products, particularly cosmetics and beauty aids, containing phthalates. We found both dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and diethyl phthalate (DEP) in numerous products, and butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP) in a smaller number of products.

Ultimately we limited our search to DBP, because it is a more potent reproductive and developmental toxin than DEP, and is found in a greater number of products than BBP.

Phthalates in cosmetics and beauty products

Several points became clear during our product search.

  1. First, alternatives to phthalates are readily available to industry, as only a fraction of any given type of cosmetic or beauty product contains phthalates

  2. Second, women have no practical way to choose products that are phthalate-free. Some cosmetics contain ingredient labels on the outside of the product, but the print is so small as to be nearly unreadable, and a typical shopper will not know that “dibutyl phthalate” is the same thing as “butyl ester” or even possibly “plasticizer.” Other products, such as more expensive perfumes, contain ingredient labels inside the packaging where they cannot be read until after the product is purchased. We found still other products on store shelves, particularly imported products, that lacked ingredient labels altogether, in direct violation of federal regulations.

  3. Third, with information currently in the public arena, it is nearly impossible to develop anything approaching a comprehensive list of cosmetic and beauty products that contain phthalates. This would require a product-by-product, label-by-label search of every single cosmetic and personal care box and bottle sold in the United States.

  4. The results of our analysis only scratch the surface of what will be a daunting task for CDC as they try to define exactly where women of childbearing age are being exposed to phthalates.

As a first step in discovering some of the beauty and personal care products that contain DBP, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) shopped at a local Rite-Aid, surfed the on-line store, and searched the U.S. patent office records for products that contain DBP in the patent application. We found that DBP may be used in a broad range of beauty and personal care products, including shampoos and conditioners, lotions, hair growth formulations, antiperspirants, and sunscreen. It can even be used in gum, candy and pharmaceuticals taken orally.

Our product label searches in electronic and real-world drugstores showed that, for the consumer, the products most easily found that contain DBP are nail enamels and hardeners. In a limited label search of nail products on online drugstore web sites, EWG found DBP in a wide variety of name brand items, including Cover Girl and Maybelline nail enamels.

The difficulty of compiling comprehensive lists of phthalate containing cosmetics, from label searches alone, led us to conduct a web-based patent search to discover which companies claimed cosmetic-related inventions that included phthalates as ingredients. As of October 5, 2000, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had records of 309 patents related to cosmetics that included DBP as an essential or optional ingredient, or as an ingredient in an example product formulation.

Thirty-eight individual companies or inventors hold 105 recent cosmetic related patents that propose DBP as an additive (Table 4). In some patents, companies gave information on the percent by weight of DBP proposed to be added to the product. DBP in nail polishes tends to be added at about five percent by weight (for example, Maybelline nail enamel patent 5972095), but DBP in other products, such as personal care products ranged up to 20 percent, in a night cream invented by the Japanese

Proctor and Gamble holds more phthalate-related cosmetic patents than any other company (37 of 105 patents analyzed).

Source: Environmental Working Group.

Products for which DBP is proposed as essential or possible additive


The Procter & Gamble (Cincinnati, OH) 37 lotion, hairspray, mousse, gel, lotion, cream, pomade, hair spray, conditioner, spritz, hair tonic, facial moisturizers, foundations, lipsticks, mascaras, nail polishes, oral pharmaceuticals, hair loss treatments


L’Oréal (Bureau D. A. Casalonga-Josse) 10 hair and nail products


Lever Brothers Company (New York, NY) 4 deodorant, skin and hair cleansers


LVMH Recherche (FR) 4 nail varnish


Shiseido Co., Ltd. (Tokyo, JP) 4 skin cream for pharmaceuticals or night cream


Kirker Enterprises, Inc. (Paterson, NJ) 3 nail enamel


Mansouri; Zari (828 Port Walk Pl., Redwood Shores, CA 94065) 3 skin lotions


Maybelline Cosmetics Corporation (Wilmington,DE) 3 nail enamel


Woodward Laboratories, Inc. (Los Alamitos, CA) 3 nail products.


Almell, Ltd. (Dallas, TX) 2 nail products


Astra Aktiebolag (Sodertalje, SE) 2 lotions and skin creams


Bar-Shalom; Daniel (Rypevaenget 213, DK-2980


Kokkedal, DK);


Bukh; Niels (Strandvejen 122, DK- 2900 Hellerup, DK) 2 product to treat or prevent baldness


Focal, Inc. (Lexington, MA) 2 in creams, gels, powders, etc applied to skin


Perio Products, Ltd. (Jerusalem, IL);


Yissum Research Development Company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Jerusalem, IL) 2 product to treat tooth and gum disease


Akzo Nobel NV (Arnhem, NL) 1 fabric softeners and personal care compositions


Anheuser-Busch, Incorporated (St. Louis, MO) 1 gelled antiperspirant


Chesebrough-Pond’s USA Co., Division of Conopco, Inc. (Greenwich, CT) 1 product to treat or prevent baldness


Colgate Palmolive Company (New York, NY) 1 antiperspirant and deodorant gels


Digestive Care Inc. (Lebanon, NJ) 1 coating ingredient for oral pharmaceutical


Eastman Chemical Company (Kingsport, TN) 1 nail products


E-L Management Corp. (New York, NY) 1 foundation, blushes, eye shadow, lipstick


Elizabeth Arden Co., Division of Conopco, Inc.(New York, NY)1 skin products


Goldiner; Arthur (1565 Strand Way, Oceano, CA 93445);


Camplese; Linda (1565 Strand Way, Oceano, CA 93445) 1 custom fit teeth


Henkel Kommanditgesellschaft auf Aktien (Duesseldorf, DE) 1 skin care and hair care formulations


Kao Corporation (Tokyo, JP) 1 emulsion for general cosmetics


Kao Corporation (Tokyo, JP); Taiyo Kagaku Co.,Ltd. (Yokkaichi, JP) 1 hair care products


Kraft General Foods, Inc. (Northfield, IL) 1 sunscreen


Laboratoires Virbac (Carros, FR) 1 added to stabilize drugs


Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company(St. Paul, MN) 1 general cosmetics and personal care products


Mitsui Toatsu Chemicals, Inc. (Tokyo, JP) 1 hair care products


Resler; Renee (3046 E. Marlette, Phoenix, AZ 85016)1 nail products


Revlon Consumer Products (NY, NY) 1 nail enamel


Rhodia Chimie (Courbevoie, FR) 1 hair and skin care products (sprays, tonic lotions, gels, mousses)


Rhone-Poulenc Chimie (Courbevoie Cedex, FR) 1 nail varnishes


Unilever Patent Holding B.V. (Vlaardingen, NL) 1 skin and hair care products, antiperspirants


Wacker-Chemie GmbH (DE) 1 nail varnish


Warner-Lambert Company (Morris Plains, NJ) 1 chewing gum and candy


Witco Corporation (Greenwich, CT) 1 conditioning products for skin and hair

Why the cosmetic industry adds phthalates to their products

Multiple chemical properties of DBP make it a useful additive in many types of cosmetics. These properties include its ability to impart flexibility to thin films for mascara and nail polish, its oily texture that makes skin feel soft, and its ability to make lotions penetrate deeper into the skin

DBP in product: Company and Product by weight


Procter & Gamble (Cincinnati, OH) long wear nail polish 7%


Shiseido Company, Ltd. (Tokyo, JP) oil essence 10%


Woodward Laboratories, Inc (Los Alamitos, CA) nail coating 3.4%


L’Oreal (France) treatment base for nails 3.8%


Procter & Gamble (Cincinnati, OH) pump hair spray 0.2%


Kirker Enterprises, Inc (Paterson, NJ) nail enamel 7%


Maybelline Cosmetics Corporation (Wilmington, DE) nail enamel 5%


Shiseido Company, Ltd. (Tokyo, JP) night cream 5%


LVMH Recherche (France) nail enamel 6-8%


Shiseido Company, Ltd. (Tokyo, JP) skin cream 20%


Wacker-Chemie GmbH (Denmark) nail varnish 2%


L’Oreal (France) nail varnish 5%


Digestive Care Inc. (Lebanon, NJ) coating for oral drugs 2%


Kao Corporation (Tokyo, JP) cosmetic emulsion 7%


Procter & Gamble (Cincinnati, OH) oral drugs 5 mg per dosage unit


Anheuser-Busch, Incorporated (St. Louis, MO) antiperspirant gel 10%

DBP as a plasticizer in nail enamel

The plasticizing and film formation properties of DBP make the chemical particularly useful for nail polish. After nail polish is applied, some of the ingredients volatilize and leave behind a film that is the coating over the nail. DBP is one of the ingredients left behind, reducing brittleness and cracking in the polish.

If the DBP stayed intact in the polish, women might absorb negligible amounts of the chemical into their bodies. But a group of scientists in Hamburg, Germany showed that water soluble components of the polish, like DBP, are dissolved out of the polish each time they contact water, a conclusion they reached after measuring the leaching of DBP from nail polish that had dried for three days. In fact, one of the reasons nail polish eventually chips is that it becomes brittle as DBP is leached out of the film. This means that every time a woman washes her hands, DBP is washed out of her nail polish and contacts her skin. The scientists conclude that “water-soluble components… attain the skin during extensive but transient contact.” Therefore, a woman wearing nail polish not only can absorb DBP through her nail, but also has multiple opportunities to absorb DBP directly through her skin.

Since the 1940’s scientists have known that nail polish contains allergenic ingredients (Sainio et al 1997). Some companies are beginning to study formulations of nail polish that have reduced quantities of DBP, because of concerns over allergic reactions. The well-known French cosmetics company L’Oréal, in patent number 5,676,935, claims “Nowadays, it is preferable to use plasticizers other than phthalates in varnishes for reasons of allergy…”

In fact, allergic responses to DBP can be severe. In a 1999 case study published in the journal Dermatology, the authors describe a case of anaphylactic shock, a severe allergic reaction, in a patient exposed to DBP in the coating of an oral pharmaceutical (Gall et al 1999).

The ability of DBP to cause allergic reactions means that the chemical can induce a state of hypersensitivity in the immune system. Environmental antigens such as DBP can cause the immune system to respond to chemical exposures with immunological reactions that are harmful, varying from hives to life threatening responses such as anaphylactic shock, where low blood pressure and breathing difficulties can result in death.

L’Oréal USA is still using DBP in their nail products – for example, in their Maybelline Express Finish Fast-Dry, Ultimate Wear, and Salon Finish nail enamels that EWG found on the shelves of a Rite-Aid drugstore in Washington DC, in September 2000. Even DBP’s well-recognized effects on the immune system have not been enough to change manufacturers’ practices.

Scientists in Hamburg, Germany showed that water-soluble components of the polish, like DBP, are dissolved out of the polish each time they contact water.

DBP is used in cosmetics most often as a plasticizer, to reduce brittleness and cracking, but is also used to soften and moisturize skin, and as a penetration enhancer.

Function of DBP in cosmetic product

Percent of patents in which DBP serves that function


Plasticizer 49%


Humectant 24%


Solvent 16%


Coalescent 4%


Penetration enhancer 2%


Emollient 2%


Gastric-acid resistant polymer coating 1%


"oily material" 1%

DBP as a “penetration enhancer”

Both Elizabeth Arden Company (New York, New York) and Chesebrough Ponds (Greenwich), hold patents for cosmetics in which DBP is proposed as a penetration enhancer. Elizabeth Arden proposes DBP as an additive to skin care products, where DBP is used to get more of the product deeper into the skin: “improving [the product’s] delivery through the stratum corneum to its site of action in the epidermis.” Similarly, Chesebrough Ponds proposes that DBP can be added to a hair growth formulation for men to help the formulation penetrate deeper into the scalp to the site of action at the hair follicles.

Research from the chemical giant Zeneca gives more evidence that DBP acts as a penetration enhancer. Their work shows that when DBP is added to products for the skin, allergic reactions are more severe (in this case, to ingredients other than DBP). The scientists postulate that the enhanced allergic reactions stem from DBP’s ability to deliver the chemicals deeper into the skin (Dearman et al 1996).

The use of DBP as a penetration enhancer stands in direct contrast to CERHR’s assertion that “Dermal contact with products containing DBP is possible, but absorption through the skin is most likely minimal.” The Center cites a study of DBP migration through rat skin. CDC, on the other hand, upon discovering high levels of DBP in women of child bearing age, postulates that dermal absorption is playing a role: “Dermal absorption also occurs at a significant rate for phthalates with short side chains such as …DBP…,” citing the same rat study as evidence (Blount et al 2000). Regardless of how various government agencies are interpreting the dermal absorption study in rats, industry continues to use DBP specifically for its ability to absorb deep into the skin.

DBP as a humectant and emollient

DBP is listed as a humectant or emollient in patents from Procter & Gamble Company (Cincinnati, OH), Lever Brothers Company Inc (New York, NY), Colgate Palmolive Company (New York, NY), Kraft General Foods (Northfield, IL), Anheuser-Busch, Incorporated (St Louis, MO) and four other companies.

Humectants are skin moisturizers; emollients soften the skin. Information in patents from these major companies indicate that DBP is added to skin care products because its oily texture gives the impression that the skin itself is soft and moisturized, when in fact it is the DBP residue that makes the skin feel this way.

Industry continues to use DBP specifically for its ability to absorb deep into the skin.


Blount BC, MJ Silva, SP Caudill, LL Needham, JL Pirkle, EJ

Sampson, GW Lucier, RJ Jackson, JW Brock. October 2000. Levels of seven urinary phthalate metabolites in a human reference population.

Environmental Health Perspectives. 108(10):979-982.

Castleman, BI, and GE Ziem. 1994. American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists: Low Threshold of Credibility. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 26:133-143.

Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR), National Toxicology Program, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. October 2000.

NTP-CERHR Expert Panel Report on Di n Butyl Phthalate. NTP-CERHR-DBP-00.

Dearman RJ, Cumberbatch M, J Hilton, HM Clowes, I Fielding, JR

Heylings, I Kimber. 1996. Influence of dibutyl phthalate on dermal sensitization to fluorescien isothiocyanate. Fundam Appl Toxicol 1996 Sep;33(1):24-30.

Ema M, Amano H, Ogawa Y. 1994. Characterization of the developmental toxicity of di-n-butyl phthalate in rats. Toxicology 86:163-174.

Ema M, Kurosaka R, Amano H, Ogawa Y. 1995. Comparative developmental toxicity of n-butyl benzyl phthalate and di-n-butyl phthalate in rats. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 28:223-228(1995).

Ema M, Miyawaki E, Kawashima K. 1998. Further evaluation of developmental toxicity of di-n-butyl phthalate following administration during late pregnancy in rats. Toxicol Lett:87-93(1998).

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 1990. Integrated Risk Information System. Dibutyl phthalate, CASRN 84-74-2. October 1990. Available online at

Foster PM, BG Lake, LV Thomas, MW Cook, SD Gangolli. 1981. Studies on the testicular effects and zinc excretion produced by various isomers of monobutyl-o-phthalate in the rat. Chem Biol Interact 1981 Mar 1;34(2):233-8.

Gall H, Kohler A, and Peter RU. 1999. Anaphylactic shock reaction to dibutyl-phthalate-containing capsules. Dermatology. 199(2):169-70.

Gray LE, Jr, Wolf C, Lambright C, Mann P, Price M, Cooper RL,

Ostby J. 1999. Administration of potentially antiandrogenic pesticides (procymidone, linuron, iprodione, chlozolinate, p,p’-DDE, and ketoconazole and toxic substance (dibutyl- and diethylhexyl phthalate, PCB 169, and ethane dimethane sulphonate) during sexual differentiation produces diverse profiles of reproductive malformations in the male rat. Toxicol Ind Health 15:94-118(1999).

Kohn MC, Parham F, Masten SA, Portier CJ, Shelby MD, Brock JW,

Needham LL. October 2000. Human Exposure Estimates for Phthalates. Environmental Health Perspectives 108(10).

Marsman DS. 1995. NTP technical report on toxicity studies of dibutyl phthalate (CAS No. 84-74-2) administered in feed to F344 rats and B6C3F1 mice. NIH Publication 95-3353.

Research Triangle Park: National Toxicology Program. Moline JM, Golden A, Bar-Chama N, Smith E, Rauch M, Chapin R, Perreault S, Schrader S, Suk W, Landrigan P. September 2000. Exposure to hazardous substances ad male reproductive health: a research framework. Environmental Health Perspectives. 108(9).

Mylchreest E, Cattley RC, Foster PM. 1998. Male reproductive tract malformations in rats following gestational and lactational exposure to di(n-butyl) phthalate: An antiandrogenic mechanism? Toxicol Sci 43:47-60(1998).

Mylchreest E, Sar M, Cattley RC, Foster PMD. 1999. Disruption of androgen-regulated male reproductive development by di(n-butyl) phthalate during late gestation in rats is different from flutamide. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 156:81-95(1999).

Mylchreest E, Wallace DG, Cattley RC, Foster P. 2000. Dose dependent alternations in androgen-regulated male reproductive development in rats exposed to di_n-butyl) phthalate during late gestation. Toxicol Sci(2000).

Paulozzi LJ. 1999. International trends in rates of hypospadias and cryptorchidism. Environmental Health Perspectives. 107(4). April 1999.

Roach, SA and SM Rappaport. 1990. But they are not thresholds: A critical analysis of the documentation of threshold limit values. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 17:727-753.

Roe D, Pease W, Florini K, and. Silbergeld E. 1997. Toxic Ignorance. Environmental Defense. Washington DC. Summer 1997.

Sainio EL, Engstrom K, Henriks-Eckerman ML, Kanerva L. 1997. Allergenic ingredients in nail polishes. Contact Dermatitis Oct;37(4):155-62.

Swan SH, Elkin EP, Fenster L. 2000. The question of declining sperm density revisited: An analysis of 101 studies published 1934- 1996. Environmental Health Perspectives. 108(10). October 2000.

Toppari, J, Larsen JC, Christiansen P, Giwercman A, Grandjean P, Guillette Lj Jr, Jegou B, Jensen, TK, Jouannet P, Keiding N, Leffers H, McLachlan JA, Meyer O, Muller J, Meyts, E R-D, Scheike T, Sharpe R, Sumpter J, Skakkebaek NE. August 1996. Male reproductive health and environmental xenoestrogens. Environmental Health Perspectives. 104. Supplement 4.

Wine R, Li L_H, Barnes LH, Gulati DK, Chapin RE. 1997. Reproductive toxicity of di-n-butyl phthalate in a continuous breeding protocol in Sprague-Dawley rats. Environ Health Perspect 105:102-107 91997).

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E N V I R O N M E N T A L  W O R K I N G  G R O U P  T M



Contributing Author: Emily Monosson (other articles)

Lead Author: Paliza Shrestha (other articles)

Article Topics: Uses of chemicals, Environmental health, Toxicology, Consumer issues,Environmental monitoring, Human health and Risk assessment

This article has been reviewed and approved by the following Topic Editor: Sidney Draggan (other articles)

Last Updated: August 22, 2008

Table of Contents

This article was researched and written by a student at Mount Holyoke College participating in the Encyclopedia of Earth’s (EoE) Student Science Communication Project. The project encourages students in undergraduate and graduate programs to write about timely scientific issues under close faculty guidance. All articles have been reviewed by internal EoE editors, and by independent experts on each topic.


Figure 1. Structural formula of DEHP. (Source: Wikipedia)

Figure 1. Structural formula of DEHP. (Source: Wikipedia)

Phthalates are synthetic man-made chemical compounds used in industrial (polyvinyl chloride [PVC], carpet flooring, vinyl), household, personal care and medical products. People are exposed to phthalates in their daily lives without realizing it since there is no requirement for the chemicals to be listed in the ingredients list of such products as medical tubing or rubber duckies. Ten diverse classes of phthalates have been identified, and each class has varying usage and different toxicity profiles affecting the human body in both similar and in different ways.

Phthalate molecules are ring-shaped and composed of esters (dialkyl) of 1,2-benzenedicarboxylic acid (Figure 1). Their physical properties are determined by the length and branching of the dialkyl side chains. Di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) is one of the most widely used phthalates. Increasing numbers of studies are now becoming available on DEHP used in building products, food packaging, children’s products and medical devices. Trade names used for DEHP are Platinol DOP, Octoil, Silicol 150, Bisoplex 81 and Eviplast 80. It has been identified at 248 of the nation’s 1,397 National Priorities List (NPL) hazardous waste site (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Frequency of NPL sites with DEHP contamination. (Source: CDC/ATSDR)

Figure 2. Frequency of NPL sites with DEHP contamination. (Source: CDC/ATSDR)

Phthalates are used widely as plasticizers for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics. PVC products, for which environmental and health dangers are well documented, include household articles (for example, shower curtains, dishwashers, rain wear, car seats, and food wraps), medical devices (for example, medical tubing used for kidney dialysis, gloves and blood bags) and children’s toys (for example, rubber duckies [Figure 3]) and infant care products (for example, teethers and pacifiers). Also, PVC is used in the packaging material of such personal care items as baby oil, shampoo and lotion.

Figure 3. Soft rubber ducks like these may contain pthalates. (Source: Wikipedia)

Figure 3. Soft rubber ducks like these may contain pthalates. (Source:Wikipedia)

Phthalates function to impart softness and flexibility to PVC polymers. Also, some respiratory care supplies are made either from or packaged in DEHP-softened vinyl bags and tubing. In fact, PVC plastics may contain up to 40% DEHP by weight. DEHP’s suitable properties contribute to the equipments’ flexibility, strength, ability to tolerate broad temperate change and resistance to bending. Phthalates are added to perfumes, deodorant, hair gels, mousses, hair sprays, and lotions to fix and make the fragrance last longer. Nail polish contains high concentrations of unlabeled Di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) for preventing nail chipping and breaking. DBP, DnOP (Di-n-octyl-phthalate) and DEP are contained in insect repellents—at times triggering dermal and inhalation exposures.

Table 1. Use of phthalates. (Modified from: "Phthalates: toxicology and exposure", International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health[1])

Class of phthalates


Di-ethyl-phthalate (DEP)

Personal care products, cosmetics

Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP)

Vinyl tiles, food conveyor belts, artificial leather

Di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP)

PVC plastics, latex adhesives, cosmetics, personal care products, cellulose plastics, solvent for dyes

Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP)

Building products (wallpaper, wire and cable insulation), car products (vinyl upholstery, car seats), clothing (footwear, raincoats), food packaging, children’s products (soft toys, rubber duckies), medical devices

Di-n-hexyl-phthalate (DnHP)

Tool handles, dish-washer baskets, flooring, vinyl gloves, flea collars, conveyor belts used in food processing

Di-n-octyl-phthalate (DnOP)

Garden hoses, pool liners, flooring tiles, tarps

Di-isononyl phthalate (DINP)

Garden hoses, pool liners, flooring tiles, toys

Di-isodecyl phthalate (DIDP)

PVC plastics, PVC wires and cables, artificial leather, toys, pool liner

DEHP in the environment

Usually DEHP adheres to dust particles in air or settles down on the ground due to gravity and rain. DEHP is broken down by microorganisms in water and soil to carbon dioxide and to other chemical products under the presence of oxygen. DEHP does not break down easily in deep soil or in rivers and lakes where there is little or no oxygen.

Human exposure to DEHP

Phthalate compounds are not bound to its main constituents in PVC polymers. They can be released, therefore, into air and water in the environment and into food materials through leaching from the plastic into the solid or water contents of plastic products. Heating or abrasion of the plastic contributes to increase leaching.

Phthalates enter the human body system through four exposure routes:

  • oral (ingestion of DEHP-containing food including sucking children’s toys, or DEHP can leach into food material from plastics during processing and storing);
  • dermal (absorption from contact with such DEHP-containing materials such as clothing, PVC gloves and personal care products);
  • inhalation (DEHP-bound dust particles from building products and household furnishings); and
  • intravenous (phthalates can leach from medical bags and tubes made from PVC (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Medical tubes used for intravenous therapy may contain phthalates. (Source: Wikipedia)

Figure 4. Medical tubes used for intravenous therapy may contain phthalates. (Source: Wikipedia)

Studies have shown that DEHP concentrations may be higher in indoor air in newly furnished rooms—for example, rooms that have been freshly painted—than in outdoor air. High DEHP levels were found in German house dust samples, and the issue gained popular attention in light of the assumption that a child ingests 100mg dust per day.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) began studying phthalates following a discovery that blood stored in PVC plastic bags for transfusion contained significant concentrations of phthalates. For an adult weighing 70kg and undergoing blood transfusion, exposure can be in doses of 3.5-4.3 mg/kg (parts per million). Special risk groups may include patients undergoing kidney dialysis who may have higher concentrations of DEHP in their blood, and ill children and pregnant women undergoing therapies or medical treatments using DEHP-containing medical devices. Also, workers may breathe higher than average levels of these compounds during manufacturing process in factories.

DEHP has been found in groundwater near landfills and industrial waste disposal sites where large amounts of plastics containing DEHP are buried. Higher than average levels of DEHP may be acquired from drinking water from wells located near such sites.

Table 2. An overview of the phthalates analyzed for their status and the highest measured concentration in perfumes is given. (Modified from: Scientific Committee on Consumer Products, 2007, Opinion on phthalates in cosmetic products).


Highest concentration in mg/kg (in perfumes)

di-methyl phthalate (DMP)


di-ethyl phthalate (DEP)


di-isobutyl phthalate (DIBP)


di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP)


benzylbutyl phthalate (BBP)


di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP)


di-n-octyl phthalate (DOP)

Not found in study

di-iso-nonyl phthalate (DINP)


di-iso-decyl phthalate (DIDP)


Some studies show that humans do not absorb phthalates as readily as rodents do. Two different metabolic processes occur in our body for lower and heavier molecule weight phthalates and the metabolic byproducts are eventually excreted through urine and feces. Low weight phthalates such as DEP undergo hydrolysis of one of their ester bonds and are converted to monoesters. The heavier phthalate molecules such as DEHP go through the same hydrolysis process of ester bonds, but this is followed by enzymatic oxidation resulting in a more hydrophilic molecule. In both cases resulting metabolites can then be excreted in urine and feces. Additionally, some secondary metabolites of DEHP undergo glucuronidation. This additional metabolism results in a more water soluble metabolite, and increased urinary excretion. Measurement of certain metabolites in body fluids such as urine or breast milk can and has been used as a biomarker of human exposure to pthalates.

Health effects of DEHP and metabolites in laboratory animals

Research in laboratory animals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and others indicates that some phthalates behave as endocrine disruptors interfering with reproduction and development in both male and female rodents.

Rodents, primarily rats, exposed to DEHP have shown abnormalities in the nurse cell of the testes (sertoli cells) that facilitate sperm maturation. Also seen were a variety of male genital abnormalities including hypospadias (birth defect of the urethra in the male genitilia) and cryptorchidism (absence of one or both testes). Although these findings suggest that DEHP may function as an antiandrogen, there is no evidence that DEHP or any of its metabolites binds with the androgen receptor. It is possible however, that these effects may be the result of altered testosterone metabolism in the developing animal.

Other studies have demonstrated an association between DEHP exposure and skeletal, cardiovascular and eye abnormalities, neural tube defects and decreased anogenital distance in rodent pups. In female rats, DEHP and its metabolite disrupt normal biological processes by prolonging oestrous cycles, suppressing or delaying ovulation and reducing estrogen and progesterone concentrations. Also, di-iso-nonyl phthalate (DINP) demonstrated related patterns of reproductive toxicity although only at higher doses. The exact implication in humans is currently unclear.

DEHP in children

Studies have detected DEHP metabolites in breast milk—that upon ingestion can get directly into infants’ bodies. Exposure from indoor air is anticipated to be higher in infants and young children. Oral exposure in infants and children can occur through mouthing behaviors upon placing teethers into their mouths. Additionally, a recent study of infant urine (collected from diapers) demonstrated the correlation between the use of infant lotion, powder and shampoos with higher phthalate metabolite concentrations in urine samples of babies.

The transmission of DEHP and its metabolites via placenta to the fetus is known. Although it is uncertain, there is some chance that babies born to pregnant mothers may contain high levels of DEHP in their bodies. Phthalate exposure in pregnancy has been associated with changes in anogenital distance in newborn babies.

Reducing the use of phthalates to protect human health

Conscious efforts have been made by the European Union since 1999 in banning DINP from children’s soft plastic toys that are likely to be put in their mouths. The EU has banned the use of DEHP, DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate) and BBP (butylbenzyl phthalate) from any children’s toy products permanently. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has proposed a stop to use of PVC materials containing DEHP where they can come in direct contact with food substances. In 1999, the Minneapolis-based Health Care Without Harm appealed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for labeling of blood-storage bags and any DEHP-containing products.

In response to findings of DEHP’s toxicity and the threat it may pose to reproductive systems, U.S toy makers agreed to reduce DEHP use in soft vinyl toys to 3% in 1986. Instead of DEHP, many toy makers however began substituting DINP in those products. There has been removal of phthalate-containing teethers, rattles, and bottle nipples from some store shelves—but not completely. Only last October 2007, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governor of California, approved a ban on the use of three different phthalate congeners in products that children under three are likely to mouth. One of the top toys selling store—Toys “R” Us™—claimed it will comply with this ban by Jan 1, 2009.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies DEHP as one of the most hazardous toxicants. The existence of such public interest organizations as Green Peace—and with such agencies as the EPA, NIEHS, NTP, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) battling for eliminating the use of various chemicals from consumer products as well as publishing reports on health hazards and disseminating information—promotes consumers to seek entitlement to safer products.


  1. ^Heudorfa, Ursel, Volker Mersch-Sundermannb and Jürgen Angererc. 2007. Phthalates: Toxicology and exposure. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 210(5):623-634.



Paliza Shrestha (Lead Author); Emily Monosson (Contributing Author); Sidney Draggan (Topic Editor);. 2008. "Phthalates." In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [First published in the Encyclopedia of Earth April 9, 2008; Last revised August 22, 2008; Retrieved August 10, 2010]<>


Beware with phthalates products!! Avoid hypospadiasis from your child.

Posted by Dianah at 9:15 PM

Labels: Hypospadiasis, Phthalates

This picture is taken from .

Phthalates, or phthalate esters, are esters of phthalic acid and are mainly used as plasticizers (substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity). They are primarily used to soften polyvinyl chloride. Or in the layman terms, phthalates are also called as “plasticizers,”. They are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) become more flexible or resilient and also as solvents.

In the scientific explaination, phthalates are used in a large variety of products, from enteric coatings of pharmaceutical pills and nutritional supplements to viscosity control agents, gelling agents, film formers, stabilizers,dispersants, lubricants, binders, emulsifying agents, and suspending agents. End applications include adhesives and glues, agricultural adjuvants, building materials, personal care products, medical devices, detergents and surfactants, packaging, children’s toys, modelling clay, waxes, paints, printing inks and coatings, pharmaceuticals, food products, and textiles.

Phthalates are also frequently used in soft plastic fishing lures, caulk, paint pigments, and sex toys made of so-called "jelly rubber." Phthalates are used in a variety of household applications such as shower curtains, vinyl upholstery, adhesives, floor tiles, food containers and wrappers, and cleaning materials. Personal care items containing phthalates include perfume, eye shadow, moisturizer, nail polish, liquid soap, and hair spray.[1] They are also found in modern electronics and medical applications such as catheters and blood transfusion devices.

That means, phthalates are nearly found everywhere in modern society!!!

But the facts that makes it becomes a hotly discussed topic nowadays is because the ill or bad effects it had caused, especially to the man. Phthalates have been found to interrupt the endocrine system. Several phthalate compounds have been identified to cause less sperm counts, testicular atrophy and structural abnormalities in the reproductive systems of male test animals, and some studies also link phthalates to liver cancer, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s 2005 National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals.

That means, a pregnant mother who highly exposed to the phthlates items, are more prone to have a ‘less healthy baby boy’ (comparing only baby boys in their pregnancies). It is based on evidence in the reseacrhes conducted by Dr. Shanna Swan, an epidemiologist at the University of Rochester Medical School. Also, according to other health professionals, they said that the baby boys who had been ‘contaminated’ with the phthlates is more likely becoming less tough, less manly oriented, and increase in deformed sex organs.

Talking about the deformed sex organs, Dr. Snyder operated on one-year-old Griffin to correct something called "hypospadias," a birth defect that causes problems in urination. Hypospadias is a birth defect particularly on males in which the opening of theurethra (or the tube through which urine passes) is not located at the tip of the penis as it should be. Hypospadiasis one of the most common birth defects nowadays. We can hear more and more cases of hypopasdias everyday, and it calls us to react wisely.

According to EWG (Environmental Working Group) website , in July 2008, as a result of pressure from EWG and other health groups, the U.S. Congress passed legislation banning six phthalates from children’s toys and cosmetics. Legislators in Washington, Vermont and California have restricted phthalate use in children’s goods, and several major retailers, including Wal-Mart, Toys-R-Us, Lego, Evenflo and Gerber say they will phase out phthalate-laden toys. Let’s pray for better future for our childs…

Some of the facts in this article is taken from the Wikipedia sources, .

New Study Links Phthalates to ADHD – One More Reason to Use Organic Crib Mattresses


It is troubling to see how many children are suffering from ‘learning disorders.’ Parents are tearing their hair out trying to find solutions, and often resort to putting their kids on drugs when they see no other solution. However, a new study linking ADHD to the chemical plasticizers ‘phthalates’ may offer some hope.

The study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, found that the higher the concentration of phthalates in the urine, the more apt the children were to have ADHD symptoms. The researchers also found “significant relationships” between urine concentrations and errors in continuous performance tests (CPTs), which measure the child’s sustained and selective attention – the ability to focus on the right things at the right times – and impulsivity. CPT is used to support an ADHD diagnosis.

So, where are these phthalates coming from?

According to other studies, it starts in the womb: phthalates in mom’s body transfer to the child. Mom may have gotten them into her body via her hand lotion, nail polish, or a variety of other personal care products, or from food containers and packaging, laundry detergents or even the enteric coating on pharmaceuticals.

So, the kids get off to a bad start. Then, right from infancy, they sleep on crib mattresses with PVC/vinyl waterproof coverings made pliable by the use of phthalates. We’ve never used phthalates in our Naturepedic crib mattresses, and we never will.

From the crib mattress, the very long list of products containing phthalates continues: Plastic toys, building materials, textiles, the same liquid soap and detergent used by mom – it goes on and on.

According to a study published in Atmospheric Environment in 2008, manufacturers produce about 800 million pounds of phthalates each year (those figures are from 2004, the latest available at the time), and they contribute 10-60% of plastic products by weight.

Fortunately, the U.S. government is getting wise to phthalates. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned phthalates in crib mattresses and some children’s products last year – although only three phthalates were banned and several others are still used. Both the CPSC and the EPA are doing further investigation, and the EPA now has a Phthalates Action Plan by which they hope to determine the degree to which these chemicals should be restricted – or perhaps banned altogether.

But, unlike Europe – where phthalates were banned a decade ago – we’re a long way from full protection.

What is the answer? The obvious solution is to avoid them. Fortunately, there are more and more products out there that do not contain phthalates. Look for them. If you have questions about specific products, contact the manufacturer. If they can’t guarantee ‘no phthalates,’ switch to a brand that can.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 10% of U.S. children have been diagnosed with ADHD. Wouldn’t it be great if an environment free of phthalates and other dangerous chemicals could change that?

Read more:

Phthalates Are They Safe

(CBS) More than ever, people are worried about how all the chemicals we’re exposed to are affecting our health: among them a family of chemicals known as phthalates, which are used in everyday plastics.
Not plastic bottles of water or soda, but soft and flexible things like shower curtains. They’re also in shampoos and carpeting.
Phthalates are so ubiquitous, we all have traces in our bodies.
Recently the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, put phthalates on a list of chemicals that "may present a risk" to the environment or human health. That’s because they disrupt hormone activity and some preliminary studies show that they may be causing a slow and steady demasculinizing of men.
But if phthalates were on trial, a jury might find the evidence against them conflicting and inconclusive. And yet last year Congress took action, doing what Europe had already done: it banned certain phthalates in children’s toys.
Full Segment: Phthalates – Are They Safe?
Web Extra: Benefits of Phthalates
Web Extra: How Much is Too Much?
Web Extra: Other Phthalates
Web Extra: Danger Ahead?
Congress came under pressure to act because of a study by Dr. Shanna Swan, an epidemiologist at the University of Rochester Medical School. Dr. Swan compared the levels of phthalates in a group of pregnant women with the health of the baby boys they gave birth to.
Swan told "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl she found that the higher the level of phthalates in the mother’s urine during pregnancy, the greater the problems occurred in young boys.
Asked what she found in babies, Swan said, "We found that the baby boys were in several subtle ways less completely masculine."
Dr. Howard Snyder, a pediatric urologist at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, says Swan’s findings line up with what he’s seeing in newborn baby boys: an alarming increase in deformed sex organs.
Dr. Snyder operated on one-year-old Griffin to correct something called "hypospadias," a birth defect that causes problems in urination.
"He’s a healthy little guy who’s, I think, going to get through the rest of life aiming without any difficulty at all," Snyder told Stahl.
"We hear that there are more and more and more cases of hypospadias. Are you seeing a lot?" Stahl asked.
"Thirty, 40 years ago, the best data we had then was that hypospadias occurred in about one in every 300 live male births. It’s up to now about one in 100. So there’s been a threefold increase," Snyder explained.
There’s also been a two-fold increase in another abnormality: un-descended testicles. Snyder says something seems to be interfering in the womb with the production of testosterone, causing the male organs to form improperly. And he suspects it may be phthalates.
"You’re moving in on these chemicals," Stahl remarked. "You don’t think whatever we’re seeing is smoking or diet or something else?"
"I think it’s the chemical exposure that are most telling," Snyder replied.
He points to studies beyond Shanna Swan’s that seem to link phthalates to low sperm counts and low testosterone levels in adult males.
"There’s just too much incremental data that has built up to be ignored. I think it’s a real phenomenon. I really, honestly do," Snyder said.
Look around Dr. Snyder’s hospital and you see how phthalates can make their way into our bodies. They’re in the IV bags and the tubing for instance. When premature babies – hooked up like this – were studied, researchers found that their phthalate levels soared.
Who would’ve thought chemicals embedded in plastic leach out. Well they do, in small amounts. But studies are beginning to suggest that even small amounts can have an effect. If it is shown definitively that phthalates are dangerous, it won’t be easy to get rid of them.

To show us just how pervasive phthalates are in our lives, Dr. Swan took us through a suburban house, sniffing, squirting and squeezing our way around, looking for flexible plastic: things that typically contain phthalates, like vinyl raincoats, the bathroom shower curtain and the rubber duckies.
It turns out they’re also in things like car dashboards, steering wheels, gearshifts and even that "new car" smell.
Phthalates make fragrances linger longer – whether in cars, or in air fresheners.
Phthalates get inside us in a variety of ways, for instance, from products we put on our skin: they help lotions spread and women’s make-up retain its color.
Swan says cosmetics alone could explain why women have higher levels of phthalates than men.
Swan told Stahl phthalates can also be found in lipstick, hairspray, nail polish and nail polish remover.
If you want to know if something you’re using has phthalates, it’s hard to find out: there’s no requirement they be listed on labels. There are so many products with phthalates in the average home, Dr. Swan says they leak out in measurable amounts.
"We’ve measured indoor air and it does contain phthalates, as does the dust in your vacuum cleaner bag." And, Swan says, we’re breathing it.
We also eat phthalates which have been found in meat. In fact, food could be our biggest source of them: milk, possibly from the plastic tubing at dairy farms. And according to government regulators, they’re in tap water, tainted by industrial waste.
But before you start throwing out everything in your house, listen to Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council, an industry lobbying group.
Asked if phthalates are safe, Dooley told Stahl, "We believe they are absolutely safe. And if you look at every regulatory agency that evaluated the safety of phthalates, they have all determined that they are, in fact, safe for their intended use, the way they’re being used in consumer products today."
But then came the headlines that read like a parent’s worst nightmare: "Chemicals Feminizing Males" and "More Birth Defects Seen in Boys." Congress reacted, passing that law on phthalates in toys.
Rick Woldenberg is feeling the impact. He runs a toy manufacturing company called Learning Resources outside Chicago.
"We threw away perfectly good merchandise," he told Stahl.
He’s had to throw away 3,000 toys and he has remade the rubber duckies and plastic ice cream without the offending phthalates. But what about a child’s telescope in his inventory?
"It doesn’t have phthalates in it," Woldenberg said. "Or, if it does, it would be on a small part on the inside. No one’s gonna eat the telescope."
And yet under the law he’s obliged to spend tens of thousands of dollars to test every single product in his inventory for the phthalates. Testing the telescope alone will cost him $8,600.
"So, even if it’s not pliable, even if you just know intuitively that phthalates are not in this thing, you still have to have it tested?" Stahl asked.
"Not only that, we have to test even the components that are inside the toy. Even the stuff that no human will ever see," he replied.

Woldenberg says the law is good intentions run amok, and he points out that Congress overruled the findings of the CPSC, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration, which say the levels we’re exposed to every day are safe.
The CPSC, which studied phthalates in toys twice, even had volunteers chew on them to see if phthalates oozed out. So why all the alarm bells? It all started with experiments on rats.
Dr. Richard Sharpe in Edinburgh Scotland, one of the leading phthalate researchers in the world, exposed pregnant rats to phthalates and produced a string of abnormalities in their male offspring.
"We see un-descended testes. We see this penis abnormality, hypospadias. We see smaller testes in adulthood, which means lower sperm counts," he told Stahl.
"So by giving pregnant rats phthalates you’re inducing some of the same problems that human males are having and that you’re seeing?" she asked.
"Yes," Dr. Sharpe replied.
There have been hundreds of studies on rats with similar findings.
But when Sharpe tried the same experiment on animals much closer to humans than rats – monkeys – he got an entirely different response. He tested phthalates on pregnant marmoset monkeys. And their offspring? Completely normal.
According to Sharpe, the monkeys had none of the effects found in humans or rats.
"If someone were to tell me there was a rat study that showed one thing, and monkey study that showed another thing, as a human, I would think that I’m closer to the monkey. I would lean toward that study, right?" Stahl remarked.
"Yeah. I would say take the species that’s closest to man, and place more emphasis on that," Sharpe said.
So here’s where we stand: a rat study on one hand, contradicted by a monkey study on the other. Then there’s a string of new human studies that link phthalates to problems with masculinity, but each one of them is described as "small and preliminary." Even Dr. Swan, whose study led to Congress banning the phthalates in toys, speaks with uncertainty.
Asked if she’s convinced phthalates are harmful to humans," Swan told Stahl, "I’m convinced that they pose a substantial possibility of harm. I cannot conclude they are harmful without confirmation of my study and additional data."
She says she needs more data to be sure, and yet she supports the congressional action on toys.
"The Consumer Product Safety Commission said that these toys have minimal to non-existent risk for these children," Stahl remarked.
"I don’t think we have the data to conclude that," Swan replied.
"But they’re saying you don’t have the data to say the other thing, either: that they’re harmful," Stahl pointed out.
"We have data of harm for the fetus; we have data of harm to a nursing infant – one study," Swan said.

Asked if the CPSC knows everything she does regarding the research, Swan replied, "I assume so."
"So, how can you look at the same data and come out with such different conclusions?" Stahl asked.
"I think that the interpretation of data is difficult and changing. And at each point in time we have to decide ‘What is the action we as a society want to take. Do we want to be more cautious? Do we want to be less cautious?’" Swan said.
Some manufacturers have chosen "more cautious." Cosmetics maker Avon, Johnson & Johnson and S.C. Johnson – on their own initiative – are taking all phthalates out of their products.
Asked if he thinks there’s a panic over phthalates, Cal Dooley of the American Chemistry Council, said, "No, I don’t think there’s a panic."
What would he call it?
"Well, there are some consumers out there that have some concerns about our products. And we respect that," Dooley replied.
"I guess what I’m asking is, is the word ‘phthalate,’ does it have such a stigma that companies are going to demand you find alternatives ’cause they’re too afraid the people won’t buy their products?" Stahl asked.
"No, we’re not concerned about that," Dooley replied. "We understand that consumers really value the products that contain phthalates; the market is still strong there. We’re going to continue to produce ’em."
So while scientists and the EPA search for a definitive answer on whether phthalates are harmful or not, the question for the rest of us is: should we take precautions now?
"If I said to you, ‘Are phthalates harmful to humans?’ what would you say?" Stahl asked Dr. Sharpe.
"I don’t know. It’s as simple as that," he replied.
But he has advised women to take precautions.
Sharpe said, "Well, I think that the public understandably get a bit fed up with people, like myself or other people saying, ‘Well, look, you know, these chemicals might cause effects. But, on the other hand, they might not.’ And they say, ‘Well, look, what can I do for my baby in case they do?’"
"So don’t use body creams. Don’t go out and spray insecticide in your garden. Don’t even do painting in the house. Get your husband to do it," he added.
"Phthalates are in all those things?" Stahl asked.
"I’m not saying it’s phthalates," he replied. "I’m saying that what you want to do is avoid environmental chemicals in total as much as you can."