Personal Care Products


Although most phthalates make vinyl flexible for a wide variety of uses, a few phthalates are, or have been, used in personal care products, such as perfumes, lotions, and nail polish. Recent media reports have erroneously suggested that the use of these products results in unsafe exposures to phthalates. In fact, the level of phthalates in cosmetics and other products is quite small (2 percent or less of the product). An extensive review of the scientific literature by an expert panel of the Cosmetics Ingredient Review, comprised of seven dermatologists and toxicologists, plus representatives of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), declared the phthalates “safe as used” in personal care products.

Like all of the phthalates on the market today, those phthalates used in personal care products do not build up in the body, but break down within minutes and are quickly eliminated from the body. In fact, the most recent data from biomonitoring studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), show that average (total) human exposures to phthalates used in personal care products are well below safe levels established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to EPA, the safe level is the estimate of a daily oral exposure to the human population, including sensitive subgroups such as children, that is “not likely to cause harmful effects during a lifetime."

DEP, or diethyl phthalate, is the most common of the phthalates used in personal care products. DEP is a clear liquid with no or little odor. It is the lightest in weight of the commonly used phthalates, and is sometimes used in cosmetics, air fresheners, and other products to make fragrances last longer -- typically at concentrations of less than 2 percent of the total product. Since fragrances are often complex combinations of natural and man-made substances, manufacturers are not required to list each individual ingredient in a fragrance. Like all other ingredients used in cosmetic and personal care products, fragrances are regulated by the federal FDA and thoroughly evaluated for safety prior to use in marketed products.

DBP, dibutyl phthalate, has been used in nail polish to make it both flexible and resistant to chipping. Restrictions on its use in nail polish and other cosmetics in Europe have caused most manufacturers to eliminate the use of DBP in nail products. Numerous reviews in the United States and Europe suggest, however, that exposure to DBP through regular use of nail polish products poses little or no risk to humans.