I remember when I first started hearing about phthalates, described in the news as the chemicals that make rubber duckies soft. They’re in all kinds of plastics, from shower curtains and rain coats to medical tubing, but it was their presence in children’s toys and products that caused the greatest alarm. In July of 2008, in response to studies that linked phthalates with hormone disruption and reproductive defects in lab animals, Congress banned phthalates from children’s products.

Phthalates are back in the news recently for their presence in items other than plastics, including beauty products like hairspray. As components of fragrance oils that help the scents to linger, they can be found in body lotions and hand creams as well as many other scented household products, products to which consumers are exposed on a daily basis. With this history of bad press and legislation against it, it’s hard for people to be objective about this group of chemicals. But the question is, do humans have the same hormone disruptions and reproductive effects that have been seen in rodent studies? Are people harmed by the levels of phthalates present in everyday products? Are phthalates safe?

Last week’s 60 Minutes asked that very question. If you missed the segment, a quick scan of the video or transcript will show you that they asked, but the researchers questioned couldn’t give a definitive answer. Phthalates are like so many other chemicals in our environment, according to these scientists: we need more research, and more data, before deciding if their benefits outweigh their risks. The jury is still out.

What do we know? The FDA states: “It’s not clear what effect, if any, phthalates have on health. An expert panel convened from 1998 to 2000 by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), part of the National Institutes of Health, concluded that reproductive risks from exposure to phthalate esters were minimal to negligible in most cases….In 2002, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) reaffirmed its original conclusion (reached in 1985) that DBP, DMP, and DEP are safe as used in cosmetic products. The panel evaluated phthalate exposure and toxicity data and conducted a risk assessment for dibutyl phthalate in cosmetic products. The panel concluded that exposures to phthalates from cosmetics are low compared to levels that would cause adverse effects in animals.” The EPA added 8 phthalates to its list of “chemicals of concern” but diethyl phthalate, (DEP), one of the phthalates most commonly used in personal care products, was not one of them.

Many of the articles and blogs listing “toxic” chemicals in personal care products point to Europe as the example we should follow; yet Europe’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) (now the SCCS, or Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety), issued “a positive opinion…on the safe use of diethyl phthalate (DEP) in Cosmetics. This positive opinion was confirmed by the SCCNFP at its 26th plenary meeting the 9th December 2003.” In this Opinion on phthalates in cosmetic products, they also stated, “The levels of phthalates found in perfumes, either as impurities, technically unavoidable during manufacturing or as a fragrance ingredient would be a minor contribution to the global exposure from other sources.” The SCCS advises the EU about the safety of non-food consumer products, such as cosmetics.

How do we as a company make decisions in the face of ongoing research and opposing opinions? We offer choices.

If you want to avoid fragrance and its components altogether, select unscented products—or choose those that use essential oils instead of fragrance oils. All of our bath and body products, for example, are available unscented. We also offer lavender products, scented with lavender essential oil, and our peppermint pedicure is scented with peppermint essential oil.

For those of you who enjoy scented products but would like to avoid phthalates, we have been adding phthalate-free choices. Our fragrances page lists our available fragrances and lets you know which are phthalate-free. Why aren’t all of our fragrances phthalate-free? We have been testing fragrances to phase in phthalate-free alternatives, but have not yet found adequate replacements for all of our line. We know that our customers have come to expect high standards, so we are being careful to replace with fragrances of comparable or higher quality. Some of our custom blends, such as lemon blueberry and cupcake, have proved more difficult to reformulate. We appreciate your patience as we work on more options for you.

If you would like more information about our fragrances, or would like to make a special request, just contact us! I’d love to hear from you and would be happy to work with you to provide the fragrance solution you are looking for.

Additional sources of information:
Phthalates information at cosmeticsinfo.org

FDA opinion on phthalates
U.S. Fragrance Association finds new cosmetics report misleading
SCCP Opinion on phthalates in cosmetic products
European Union reorganizes its scientific advisory structure
Decrease in Anogenital Distance among Male Infants with Prenatal Phthalate Exposure
American Chemistry Council’s Phthalates Information Center
Environmental Working Group on Phthalates