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Chemicals in Cosmetics

an assortment of chemical cosmetics

There’s been a lot of talk in the last few years about the dangers of phthalates (pronounced thay-lates). These industrial chemicals are used as solvents and to soften plastics. They’re in everything from fragrances, antiperspirants, sunscreen, nail polish, cosmetics, shampoos, conditioners, and lotions to candy, toys, and food containers.

The use of phthalates is so widespread that a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that all the people tested had DBP (dibutyl phthalate) in their system. The highest levels were found in women of childbearing age (likely because they used the most cosmetic products).

This information is particularly disturbing because phthalates are endocrine disruptors. They’ve been shown to cause birth defects in lab animals, including damage to developing testes. Phthalates can also damage the liver, kidneys, and lungs, and a Puerto Rico study found that girls who experienced early puberty had high levels of phthalates in their bodies.

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Women aren’t the only ones affected. A Harvard study conducted in 2002 looked at the levels of diethyl phthalate (found in fragrances and other products) in men being evaluated for infertility. The study showed that at its current levels in men’s bodies, DEP was damaging the DNA of the men’s sperm. Sperm DNA damage can cause infertility and may be linked to miscarriages, birth defects, infertility, and cancer.

Two common phthalates, DBP and DEHP, have been banned in Europe because they’re considered reproductive toxins according to EU law. Unfortunately, they’re still allowed in products in the U.S., and they’re not labeled. The FDA does not regulate cosmetics, and says that “a cosmetic manufacturer may use any ingredient or raw material and market the final product without government approval.”

So what can you do to keep safe from chemicals in cosmetics?

I know it’s impossible to avoid cosmetic products, antiperspirants and fragrances entirely! The good news is that there are many effective, inexpensive products out there that don’t use phthalates and other dangerous chemicals. Aveda, The Body Shop, and Burt’s Bees all claim not to use phthalates in their products.

Try natural cosmetics instead of mainstream makeup, which may contain carcinogenic artificial colors. Natural cosmetics are made from herbs, minerals, and plant oils and are less likely to irritate sensitive skin.

Try natural fragrances and essential oils rather than colognes or perfumes.

For healthy skin, drink lots of water and eat plenty of organic fruits and veggies. Try a natural moisturizer, but be aware that some natural products contain hormones. If hormone imbalance is a problem for you, be sure to ask what hormones, if any, a moisturizer contains. One good choice is Genesis IC, by Sabre Sciences, which I carry at the clinic. This natural moisturizer has powerful antioxidants, a natural sunscreen with an SPF of 15, and is very reasonable. Ask Lind if you’re interested. I love it.

To see a list of other phthalate-free products (or to check your own brand), go to the Environmental Working Group’s site and check out the Virtual Drugstore and Phthalate-free Product List at


“Environmental Group Examines Toxic Chemicals in Cosmetics.”

“Group links nail polish to birth defects.”

“Introduction to Hormone Disrupting Chemicals.”

“Organic Beauty Is Only Skin Deep.”

Poisoned Cosmetics, Not Too Pretty

“Sperm Damage Linked to Phthalate Used in Fragrances, New Study by Harvard Researchers Finds.”

The Environmental Working Group,

* The information in this article cannot be substituted for medical advice about your unique body. Call for an appointment to discuss questions or concerns.

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