What are Phthalates?
Phthalates are a salt of phthalic acid used as a solvent in cosmetics. Phthalic acid is crystalline acid made from Benzene, a clear, colorless, highly flammable and volatile, liquid aromatic hydrocarbon with a gasoline-like odor.
In cosmetics phthalates are found in color cosmetics, fragrant lotions, body washes, and hair care products, nail polish and treatment.
The Four types of Phthalates used in Cosmetics
Diethyl phthalate (DEP) – the most commonly used phthalate in the cosmetic industry. DEP is used as a solvent and fixative in fragrances.
Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) – a solvent used to plasticize nail polish. The process of plasticizing nail polish makes it more flexible and less susceptible to cracking.
Dimethyl phthalate (DMP) – used in hair sprays to help avoid stiffness by allowing them to form a flexible film on the hair. Both DBP and DMP are not used as commonly in cosmetics.
Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) – While more commonly used in household plastic goods, DEHP has been used in eyelash glue. DEHP is the most unused form of phthalates due to potential health risks.
The Potential Risk of Using Phthalates
Phthalates have the potential to act as an endocrine disruptor, which interferes with the production of hormones. Animal studies suggest that phthalates can affect the reproductive system, but the effect on humans from exposure to low levels of phthalates is unknown.
Two specific forms of phthalates have the most potential to be harmful, DBP and DEHP. In December 2012 a guidance document was published by the FDA suggesting limited use of DBP and DEHP.
“This guidance provides the pharmaceutical industry with the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research’s (CDER’s) current thinking on the potential human health risks associated with exposure to dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP). In particular, the guidance recommends that you, as part of the pharmaceutical industry, avoid the use of these two specific phthalates as excipients in CDER-regulated drug and biologic products, including prescription and nonprescription products.”Limiting the Use of Certain Phthalates as Excipients in CDER-Regulated Products
The guidance document explains how the use of DBP and DEHP is banned in the EU. The EPA (environmental protection agency) and the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health also made proposals about reducing exposure to products made with these specific phthalates.
Epidemiological studies suggest that certain phthalates may affect reproductive and developmental outcomes. Other studies have confirmed the presence of DBP and DEHP in amniotic fluid, breast milk, urine, and serum.
If you are trying to avoid phthalates, per the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, the FDA requires ingredient labeling on cosmetic products. Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), Dimethyl phthalate (DMP), Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and Diethyl phthalate (DEP) are the phthlates found in cosmetics. DEP, because of it’s role as a solvent in fragrance, can sometimes be listed under the ingredient fragrance. While not all forms of phthalate have been shown to be harmful, the FDA and other health administrations continue to test and review the chemicals for potential harmful effects.
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