Environmental group tests beauty products for chemicals

Colleen Valles, The Assocaited Press
Thursday July 11, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — Chemicals that are feared to cause birth defects have been found in toiletry products ranging from hairspray to deodorant, the same substances that also have been discovered in high concentrations among women of childbearing age, an environmental group reports. 

The chemicals, called phthalates and pronounced THAH-lates, were found in 52 of the 72 products tested. Phthalates have been shown to cause birth defects in laboratory tests on animals — especially in males — although the effect on humans has not been determined. 

The report, released Wednesday by Washington and Oakland-based Environmental Working Group, shows that 70 percent of the products tested contain phthalates, but not all of them list the chemicals on the packaging. 

Jane Houlihan, vice president for research at the group, said the chemicals should be listed so cosmetics users can decide whether they want to avoid products with phthalates. 

“Almost across the board, phthalates did not appear on the label because there are so many loopholes in the labeling law,” she said. “Women are left in this bind — how do they choose products that are phthalate free?” 

The Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association posted a statement on its Web site Wednesday defending the use of the chemicals. 

“The use of phthalates in cosmetics and personal care products is supported by an extensive body of scientific research and data that confirms safety,” the statement said. 

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2000 found that women of childbearing age absorbed more phthalates than other groups. The chemicals are excreted from the body within days. 

While nail polish has been targeted as the product most likely to explain the higher absorption of the chemical in young women, the substances are found in a number of other products, from plastic toys and food packaging to adhesives. 

The Food and Drug Administration requires that phthalates be listed on consumer products marked for retail sale.  

But individual ingredients in fragrances do not have to be identified. 

If the FDA determines that phthalates pose a health hazard, it can take steps to get the product removed or force a labeling change.