Terrible Toxins 3: Phthalates – Cosmetic Conundrum

August 04, 2009

Terrible Toxins 3:  Phthalates – Cosmetic Conundrum 

 Competency # 18  Environmental Toxins             ReferenceThe Body Toxic by Nena Baker, Published by Farrar, Strauss 2008 

 Here is where Europe and America really differ.  Our FDA has very little authority over what is in “personal toiletries” whereas the Europeans have a “safety” approach.  Our FDA’s budget is around $ 36 million a year with just 30 employees to review and audit the safety of every product we put, pour, shake or apply to ourselves for personal self-care.  That includes everything from toothpaste to deodorant, shampoo, and nail polish is included.  The average American applies these products about 22-25 times a day.  

In Europe 1,000 chemicals have been banned, in America, just 9. Because of that, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) was established in 2007 to review the 23,000 untested personal products used in America.  22,500 had at least one ingredient that had never been tested for safety that could be a concern.  They found 400 products that had been banned in other countries.  As one example, a product called DBP or dibutyl phthalate has been banned in Europe.  When the FDA was alerted to that by the EWG, it did nothing.  DBP is what makes nail polish soft and flexible.  

Did you also know that 61% of American lipsticks have some lead in them? Ron Wyden, Senator from Oregon, tried to get a bill through Congress that required ingredients to be listed on all cosmetics.  The bill was killed by chemical industry lobbying. What do phthalates do?  They make plastics soft and flexible.  They also stabilize fragrances.  Garden hoses, IV tubing, toys, room fresheners all contain phthalates.  A sample test of toys at Walmart in 2008 found that soft baby toys contained up to 47% phthalates.  They are everywhere. And why are they problematic?  Well, in rat models they mess up the reproductive organs.  Different phthalates work synergistically to make what is called the phthalate syndrome of reproductive tract disorders.  The “ano-genital distance“ in rats is shortened.  That’s the distance, in rats, between the rectum and the ureter.  

Is that a problem in humans?  We aren’t sure. But 25% of American mothers have blood levels of phthalates similar to that of the rat experimental model.  Have we had an increase in little boys with messed-up genitals?  Yes!  That’s the problem.  In Europe phthalates are banned.  In America, we still have them.  It’s not proven beyond a shadow of a doubt here.  That’s our standard.   Do you want an absolute standard or a safety-first model? 

 WWW:  What will work for me.  I found a database where I can look things up. www.cosmeticsdatabase.com lists thousands of ingredients on many chemicals.  I have started to look up some of my deodorants and toothpastes.  We have a few rooms with nice fragrances in them.   I need to look those up too, as many fragrances are stabilized with phthalates.   We’ve bought glass containers for leftovers for our fridge as scratched plastics in the microwave really leak out large amounts of phthalates.  Check out your soap, your containers, your nail polish, lipstick, perfume.  Buy from organic pledged companies.  The best defense is the informed consumer.

Column written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI, (262-784-5300)