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Are phthalates dangerous in cosmetics?

Hayley asks..What’s your take on phthalates? I just tried searching your Forum for a post on the topic but couldn’t find anything.

The Beauty Brains respond:

Given the lousy search function on our Forum we’d be surprised if you could find an article on phthalates even if we had written one. But it turns out that we haven’t so let’s rectify that oversight right now.

What are phthalates?

Phthalates belong to a class of chemicals which are used to plasticize or soften other ingredients, to stabilize fragrances and color, and to add gloss to films. While there are at least nine different kinds of pthalate esters, two of the most common are di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) which are widely used in plastics, paints and coatings. In cosmetics they historically have been used in hairsprays (as a plasticizing agent) and in many more products as a fragrance additive.

What’s the problem with phthalates?

Phthalates do not bind to other chemicals in the formulas in which they are used and are able to leach out into the environment where they have been detected as pollutants. Phthalates have shown up as contaminants in blood samples and are believed to produce teratogenic or endocrine-disrupting effects. For this reason, the European Union has categorized dibutyl phthalate and diethylhexyl phthalate as Category 2 reproductive toxins. In the US, the FDA has moved to restrict the use of DEHP and DBP in pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Are phthalates in cosmetics a problem?

The evidence seems clear that certain (but not all) phthalates pose a health hazard. But does that hazard mean there’s a risk involved in using phthalates in cosmetics? (Remember that the risk is a function of the hazard AND the degree of exposure.) Both the FDA in the US and the SCCP in EU agree that there’s no clear data that the use of these ingredients in cosmetics pose a measurable hazard to consumers. The FDA is continuing to monitor the situation while the EU has taken a more conservative approach and decided to limit the use of some phthalates to only trace levels. From a regulatory perspective, the EU now has three categories for phthalates:

  • Accepted phthalates: This one is considered safe for use in cosmetics: DEP
  • Banned phthalates: These are banned from being added to cosmetics but are allowable as “trace contaminants” up to 100 ppm: DEHP, DBP and BBP.
  • Unregulated phthalates: These have not been regulated in EU but given their low usage (at least in perfumes) there is no quantifiable risk to consumers: DMP, DIBP, DCHP, DINP and DIDP.

How can you tell if your cosmetics have phthalates?

Phthalates must be listed on the label if they are added to a cosmetic formulation. However, if they are just part of the fragrance they do NOT have to be listed. Not to worry though, even though they are not listed, ALL fragrance are still carefully assessed for safety. No ingredients that are banned from use in cosmetic are allowed to be used in fragrances for cosmetic products.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Data shows some phthalates pose a reproductive hazard but both US and EU regulatory agencies agree that there’s no clear data that the use of these ingredients in cosmetics pose a measurable hazard to consumers. The FDA is keeping on eye on the situation while the EU has taken a more conservative approach and decided to limit the use of some phthalates to only trace levels.

References

OPINION ON PHTHALATES IN COSMETIC PRODUCT

FDA statement on ingredient safety

J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2004 Dec;67(23-24):1901-14.

Safe Cosmetics report

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