Phthalates have been increasingly added to cosmetic products such as perfumes, lotions, hairsprays, moisturisers, nail polish, deodorants, and ingredients in makeup, shampoos and soaps.
They are used primarily at concentrations of less than 10% as plasticisers in products such as nail polishes (to reduce cracking by making polished nails less brittle) and hairsprays (to help avoid stiffness by allowing them to form a flexible film on the hair) and as solvents and perfume fixatives in various other products. Phthalates produce oily textures in lotions and they contribute to making skin feel soft and helping lotions penetrate deeper into the skin.
Studies have shown that phthalates are present in four out of five cosmetic products available to consumers.
Tests by the Environmental Working Group (2010) found one particular phthalate in 12 of 17 fragrances tested; another report by the EWG (2002) found phthalates in 52 of 72 personal care products. As a result of growing public concern, phthalates are slowly being removed from more and more products. Although, as with other EDCs, they can often be found in products even if they are not on the label.
In 2015 The EU banned the use of 4 phthalates (butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP), di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP)) but companies could seek—and have obtained—continued-use authorizations if there are no safer alternatives. However, very recently on June 20 2017, the EU went further and voted to remove the chemicals from consumer products that contain the phthalates at levels greater than 0.1% by weight by getting rid of any exemptions.
Phthalates in personal care products
Some phthalates are included in personal care products because of their ability to hold colour, denature alcohol, and fix fragrance. Phthalates are also used as a fragrance base and as components of fragrances to make scents last longer. If a product’s label lists “fragrance” or “parfum,” it’s possible, even probable, that it contains phthalates (and parabens), as companies are not required to disclose fragrance components.
Fragrance has emerged as the strongest predictor among PCPs of urinary concentrations of certain phthalate metabolites.
In a 2012 study, the highest concentration of one particular phthalate was found in fragrance/perfume and car air freshener. Other products with high concentrations include car interior cleaner, tub/tile cleaner, bar soap, shaving cream, and lipstick. Interestingly, three different phthalates were found in so-called “alternative” products. These compounds may have been introduced as substitutes for the better-known anti-androgenic (testosterone) phthalates, even though they are also endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
An “alternative” shaving cream contained five different phthalates, illustrating the potential for simultaneous exposures to multiple phthalates, which act cumulatively and may act synergistically.
No mention on labels
What is worrying is that none of the products that were tested had “phthalate” on the label—including personal care products, which by law are required to list phthalates unless they are part of a secret fragrance ingredient.
However, the conventional nail polish sample with measurable phthalate contained a product labelled “phthalic anhydride copolymer” which is just another phthalate. Phthalates are seldom listed on product labels in most countries because current regulations do not require listing individual fragrance components. It is obvious now that products marketed as “natural” may also contain phthalates, even though the consumer believes them to be “chemical-free.”
Phthalates are readily absorbed into the body and distributed to organs such as the liver and kidney. Phthalates then undergo metabolism and excretion, before being eliminated through the urine. Studies have revealed phthalates have been found in breast milk and it is suggested that phthalates can cross the placental barrier in blood and amniotic fluid, exposing the developing foetus to these chemicals.
Effects from cosmetics exposure
While studies have found an almost ubiquitous exposure to phthalates, especially worrying is what can happen to the people who appear to be most exposed.
In general, studies have found levels of most phthalates were higher in women of childbearing age than in the general population.
The absorption of cosmetics through the skin could explain why young women in one study had 20 times the level of phthalates in their bodies compared to young men. This is of concern due to the increased use of cosmetic products by women, resulting in the accumulation of toxins in the body that can be passed on to the foetus during pregnancy.
A study of 337 postpartum women found nearly three times the amount of one particular phthalate in the women who used perfume. Hairspray, nail polish and deodorant use were also identified as contributors. Use of individual PCPs ranged from 7% of women for nail polish to 91% for deodorant. Women reporting use of perfume had 2.92 times higher concentrations of monoethylphthalate (MEP; the primary metabolite of DEP) than other women.
Other PCPs that were significantly associated with MEP concentrations included hairspray, nail polish, and deodorants. MEP concentrations increased with the number of PCPs used. Women’s use of PCPs, particularly of perfumes and fragranced products, was positively associated with urinary concentration of multiple phthalate metabolites.
High use of personal care products
Nearly all of the women in the study reported using multiple personal care products in the 24 hours prior to urine collection, with over a quarter of them using more than nine different products, which aligns with previous research on the usage patterns of PCPs.
In a study of 108 Mexican women, concentrations of phthalate metabolites varied from 75% for one type of phthalate to 100% for various mixtures of phthalates. Urinary concentrations of some phthalate metabolites were significantly higher among users of body lotion, deodorant, perfume, anti-ageing facial cream and bottled water. Urinary concentrations of another phthalate showed a positive relationship with the number of personal care products used.
A study of men and personal care products found the same association with men’s cologne and someone exposed to perfume or cologne, on average, had twice the urinary concentration of one phthalate compared to someone not exposed. They also found a dose-response effect, so the increasing use of personal care products was associated with increased levels of this phthalate.
Impact on children
Studies have also found associations between recent personal care product use and urinary concentrations of phthalate metabolites in infants. Urinary BPA and multiple phthalate metabolites have been measured in children across a variety of ages and in pregnant women where BPA and phthalates can cross the maternal-foetal placental barrier. A study of 163 infants found most (81%) infants had seven or more of the nine phthalates measured. The levels of phthalates increased with the number of products used and this association was strongest in young infants, who may be more vulnerable to developmental and reproductive toxicity of phthalates given their immature metabolic system capability and increased dosage per unit of body surface area.
In a study of 108 Mexican children aged eight to 13 years, there were statistically significant positive associations in boys for cologne/perfume use and a mix of different phthalates in girls for coloured cosmetics use and a different mix of phthalates, conditioner and deodorant use and other hair products use and particular phthalates.
Due to rapid development, children are more susceptible to impacts from exposure to EDCs.
The animal evidence is extensive and suggests that phthalate exposures may influence development through the disruption of hormones.
These findings are supported by human epidemiology studies reporting associations between phthalates and endocrine-related outcomes, including shorter gestation, low birth weight, changes in breast and pubic hair development, and changes in brain development, body mass index, and reproductive and thyroid hormone levels during various stages in childhood and adolescence.
It is not only phthalates that can cause negative health effects but also their metabolites are suspected of causing birth defects and endocrine-disrupting effects.
Consistent toxicological evidence shows a strong link between phthalates and reproductive effects in males.
Animal studies have shown the connection between some phthalates, even at very low doses, and damage to the reproductive health of males. In humans, phthalates have been associated with adverse reproductive system outcomes, including reduced semen quality and altered male genital development. Phthalates result in a reduction in testosterone levels during a critical period of development of the male reproductive tract and have been found to be linked to declines in fertility rates and semen quality, particularly when exposure occurs while still in the womb.
Male infants who have been exposed to phthalates are also more likely to have genital abnormalities. A study found that the development of the genitals in young boys whose mothers had high levels of phthalates in their bodies were less complete compared to those who were exposed to lower levels. The research also reveals a possible link between phthalate exposure and increasing rates of male infertility and testicular cancer.
Other possible chronic health effects include estrogenic activity, thought to increase the risk of breast cancer, and also stimulate the growth of breast cells in culture as well as premature sexual development in girls.
Chronic exposure to phthalates is thought to have serious neurological health effects, and negative effects on the liver, kidney and thyroid gland in humans.
Attention and behaviour problems
There is growing evidence that phthalate exposure may be related to attention and behavioural problems.
In rats, exposure before and directly after birth to certain phthalates results in impaired neuronal growth and activity. In a study, creams containing phthalates were absorbed and were found to impact the short-term levels of reproductive and thyroid hormones in young men after topical application.
In a study of 319 women, higher concentrations of prenatal urinary metabolites of some of the phthalates were linked to lower motor and mental development and increased odds of internalising behaviour problems in three year olds.
In a study of 188 children, prenatal urinary levels of some phthalates were associated with increased risk of aggression, conduct problems, and attention problems in four to nine year old children. This is thought to occur through their effects on thyroid function. Thyroid hormones play a key role in brain development and hippocampus function, which plays a major role in memory and attention.
Delayed or impaired brain differentiation and hippocampus dysfunction often result in deficits in learning and memory in rats, such as impaired spatial maze memory.
See also Toxic Beauty - http://novaholisticjournal.com/stories/toxic-beaut...
Dr Peter Dingle (PhD) has spent the past 30 years as a researcher, educator, author and advocate for a common sense approach to health and wellbeing. He has a PhD in the field of environmental toxicology and is not a medical doctor. He is Australia’s leading motivational health speaker and has 14 books in publication.