Baby Ills from Beauty Aids?

By Washam, Cynthia | Environmental Health Perspectives, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Baby Ills from Beauty Aids?


Washam, Cynthia, Environmental Health Perspectives


Last November, pregnant women had a reason to be glad they could no longer reach their toenails. Beauty Secrets, a report published by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group (EWG), warned that women of reproductive age should avoid cosmetics containing dibutyl phthalate (DBP), a compound commonly used in nail polish and other beauty products. The month prior, in the October 2000 issue of EHP, scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) published results of tests on urine specimens collected through the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The tests revealed that some of the highest concentrations of the DBP metabolite monobutyl phthalate turned up in women of child-bearing age.

The current DBP reference dose, set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is 100 micrograms per kilogram body weight per day. DBP has not been connected to birth defects in humans, but studies with rats have shown this phthalate to be antiandrogenic, suppressing hormones involved in male sexual development. Although male rats appear more sensitive to the effects of DBP, higher doses can induce effects such as high liver and kidney weights, hepatic lesions, and neural tube defects in females as well.

For years, scientists assumed that most human DBP exposure came primarily through the minute quantities found in the food chain. The CDC/NTP team, led by CDC researcher John Brock, now adds cosmetics as another possible source of exposure. DBP metabolite concentrations in the 289 adults studied suggest people are exposed frequently because the phthalate ester does not bioaccumulate and has a half-life of r less than 12 hours, says Brock.

Added to a variety of consumer products since the 1930s, DBP is used in cosmetics to reduce brittleness and cracking and as a "penetration enhancer" and emollient. But Beauty Secrets coauthor Jane Houlihan says neither women's exposure to DBP via cosmetics nor the human health effects of DBP exposure have ever been measured. Except for chemicals added directly to food, there is no legal requirement for health and safety testing or human exposure monitoring for any chemical in commerce, states the report, which adds, "The same chemicals, ironically, are often tightly regulated as pollutants."

The authors of Beauty Secrets read cosmetic labels both online and in drug stores. They found that ingredients were often listed in tiny print, inside the packaging, or not at all, despite Food and Drug Administration requirements. …

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