Plastic is bad for the environment, but did you know chemicals added to plastic can impact human health, especially children’s brains? They’re called phthalates. They’re found in hundreds of plastic products such as rubber duckies, beach balls, raincoats and food containers (including prepackaged foods in markets). They act as carriers for fragrances in products such as laundry detergents, fabric softeners, perfumes, soaps and shampoos.
Phthalates also are in cosmetics. They keep mascara from running, stop nail polish from chipping and help perfume linger. Scientists have shown they are a probable human carcinogen as well as endocrine disruptors – gender-bender chemicals that make girls develop earlier and reduce testosterone levels in boys. One study in Environmental Health Perspectives (a peer-reviewed open access journal published by the National Institutes of Health) found prenatal exposure to phthalates caused an increase in ADHD behavior in children aged 4-9.
Health Care Without Harm, an umbrella organization of dozens of environmental and health groups, lab-tested 72 cosmetics from major brands such as Revlon, Calvin Klein, Christian Dior and Procter & Gamble and found phthalates in 52 of them.
The cosmetics companies insist the small amounts they use are completely harmless. But it’s impossible to know how much you’re being exposed to because you never will see the word phthalate listed on a label. Phthalates, along with many other chemicals, do not have to be named on the label because of a loophole in legislation designed to protect the commercial or “trade secrets” of manufacturers.
Secret ingredients often are listed under the catch phrase “other”, or “inert,” for example, but could be extremely hazardous to your health. Vinyl chloride used to be considered “inert” and exempt from labeling. Then in the late 60s, an epidemic of cancers spread through the manufacturing plants using vinyl chloride in the aerosols used in beauty parlors. Also, if you see the word “parfum” know this word is an FDA-approved catch-all word that is synonymous with hidden phthalates.
A new study from a team of Columbia University and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers showed that when pregnant women are exposed, their babies had lower IQ scores — about six points lower!
Bottom line: avoid fragrances whenever possible and use glass or metal containers instead of plastic.