More research has been published which links chemicals used in popular cosmetics and household products to health problems. The latest report again highlights phthalates, and has found that exposure to this chemical can cause early menopause in women. It was published in the American online journal, Plos One.

phthalate-duck-montage Phthalates are a group of chemicals used in industry to make plastic and vinyl products more flexible. Bath-time ducks are often used as an example, although they’ve been banned from children’s toys in the UK for some years. So how come they’re still found in cosmetics? We copied this information from the US Food & Drug Administration’s website:

Historically, the primary phthalates used in cosmetic products have been dibutylphthalate (DBP), used as a plasticizer in products such as nail polishes (to reduce cracking by making them less brittle); dimethylphthalate (DMP), used in hair sprays (to help avoid stiffness by allowing them to form a flexible film on the hair); and diethylphthalate (DEP), used as a solvent and fixative in fragrances. According to FDA’s latest survey of cosmetics, conducted in 2010, however, DBP and DMP are now used rarely. DEP is the only phthalate still commonly used in cosmetics.

Phthalate risks

There’s been lots of publicity over recent years reporting the possible risks caused by exposure to phthalates – particularly to babies and young children. We’ve highlighted the issue on this blog before – most recently last October when reports showed that phthalates could be a major cause of the increase in asthma (Click here to read the article).

The most recent research linking phthalates to early menopause was carried out at Washington University. Amber Cooper was one of the scientists who examined more than 30,000 women, finding that those with the highest levels of the chemicals – known as endocrine disruptors – were likely to start the menopause between two and four years earlier.

Amber advised that women should take more interest in the chemicals found in beauty products, adding; “We can educate ourselves about the day-to-day chemical exposures and become more aware of the plastics and other household products we use.”

Artificial fragrances

The powerful smells from perfume counters show how effective phthalates can be.

The powerful smells from perfume counters reveal the presence of phthalates.

Phthalates are used in artificial fragrances as a fixative – to ‘fix’ the fragrance and make the smell last. The problem is that it’s not easy to identify which products contain the DEP phthalate as manufacturers aren’t required to include it on the list of ingredients.

The biggest signal of the presence of phthalates is when the fragrance lingers for a long time. Think of the perfume counter in department stores, clothes and linen that hold the smell of laundry detergents and fabric conditioners, air fresheners, and most household cleaning products.

It’s all very well for scientists to say we should read ingredients listings. But my experience shows it’s far easier said than done. Which really is a dreadful situation for concerned consumers. Especially in the light of all these reports highlighting the possible serious side-effects on our health from ingredients such as phthalates.

The ingestion of phthalates – either through our skin or the air we breathe – is extremely difficult to avoid. It is almost impossible to buy household products that don’t contain them. But more on that subject in my next blog post as my long-suffering husband, David, shops for phthalate-free disinfectant!