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I have heard that there are good phthalates and bad ones, and that a lot of the perfume industry uses the good one, but the public thinks they use the bad ones. What is right?
You're right to be concerned about 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 and fragrances, pharmaceuticals and vinyl products. A number of different phthalates have been found in perfume products in the past but a recent report published by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that many perfume manufacturers had lowered the levels of phthalates in perfume and were primarily using one phthalate, DEP or di-ethyl phthalate. DEP is also used in air fresheners as revealed in a NRDC report.
DEP has been reported to be a "safe" phthalate because there is no evidence from animal studies that it causes hormone disruption or interference with the development of the male reproductive tract as other phthalates have been shown to do. However, in human studies, DEP has been associated with numerous impacts on male reproductive health including changes in hormone levels and genital development in baby boys. There is scientific debate about why these differences in the animal and human studies exist and in the meantime, the widespread exposure to DEP continues. CDC studies have shown that every single person in their sample of over 2,500 Americans from ages 6 to greater than 65 years carried residues of DEP in their bodies. It is possible to make perfume and air fresheners without DEP or other phthalates, so I’d recommend avoiding exposure where possible by avoiding synthetic fragrances or choosing brands that have removed phthalates from their formulation. Learn more about phthalates in cosmetics and personal care products and what you can do to avoid them.
GINA SOLOMON is a senior scientist and physician in NRDC's health program. Gina specializes in internal medicine and occupational/environmental medicine. She is also an associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco where she is a teaching physician at the pediatric environmental health specialty unit. She received her medical degree from Yale University and her specialty training at Harvard. She is a co-author of Generations at Risk: Reproductive Health and the Environment.
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