Phthalates: Not Safe for Baby

Parents are alarmed by a new study suggesting that baby lotions, powders and shampoos may be exposing young children to potentially harmful chemicals called phthalates. Many phthalates (pronounced "THAL-ates") interfere with hormones (especially testosterone) and have been shown to alter normal reproductive development.

Phthalates are found in a wide array of consumer products, including cosmetics, fragrances, pharmaceuticals and vinyl toys. They have no place in any consumer products, but their presence in items intended for babies is particularly alarming since they interfere with normal reproductive and hormonal development. These chemicals are easily inhaled and also are absorbed through the skin.

The FDA regulates personal-care products, including cosmetics, in the United States. Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act, cosmetics and their ingredients are not required to earn approval before they are sold to the public. Pregnant women and children are advised to avoid products that contain phthalates, but because there is no disclosure requirement, it is virtually impossible for consumers to know which products may pose a risk. (While companies must list their ingredients on their labels, phthalates are most commonly added to products for fragrance, which is just listed as "fragrance." You won't see phthalates such as dibutylphthalate [DBP], dimethylphthalate [DMP], or diethylphthalate [DEP] mentioned on the label of personal-care items.)

The European Union has banned the phthalates DEHP and DBP, so products manufactured and sold in Europe shouldn't contain these—but they may contain others, such as DEP. 

The simplest way to try to avoid phthalates is to buy fragrance-free and unscented products (although even "unscented" products may contain some chemicals that mask odor). There are a number of baby-care product manufacturers that make at least some of their products without phthalates; California Baby, Burt's Bees and Baby's Bliss are just a few. Look for the words "phthalate free" on the label. Don't be misled by "natural" or "organic" labels. Personal-care products marketed as "natural" can be just about anything, and companies may use the word "organic" in a product name or on a label without complying with the USDA's organic certification. Even products that are USDA-certified organic can legally contain chemicals.


What you can do

  • Select fragrance-free or unscented products. 
  • Contact the makers of a couple of your favorite brands of beauty, personal-care or baby products and ask them if there are phthalates in their products. When manufacturers hear from hundreds of customers, they start to pay attention.
  • Don't be fooled by the words "natural" or "organic" in the product name. 

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