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Canadian study highlights phthalate levels in cosmetics

By Andrew McDougall , 30-Jan-2012

Following a study released in New York last week claiming to have found further evidence linking childhood obesity to the chemical group phthalates, a study in Canada has found that one particular chemical, diethyl phthalate (DEP), has been detected in almost all personal care products, with the highest amount detected in fragrance.

Phthalates are multifunctional chemicals used in a variety of cosmetic products and the Canadian study, which was conducted early last year and recently published in the peer-review journal Environmental Research, sought to determine the particular levels in cosmetics and personal care products obtained from the Canadian market.

These chemicals have been linked to a decrease in mental and motor development in children and many personal care manufacturers stay clear of using phthalates due to their adverse health associations, highlighted most recently in the child obesity study released last week.

Health risks?

Scientists at government agencies in both the US and Canada agree that exposure to the chemicals could cause a wide range of health and reproductive problems in people.

However, manufacturers use phthalates because they cling to the skin and nails to give perfumes, hair gels and nail polishes more staying power.

The industry-backed Phthalate Information Center asserts, " there is no reliable evidence that any phthalate has ever caused a health problem for a human from its intended use," accusing many groups of 'cherry-picking' their results.

A 2003 European Union directive bans phthalates in cosmetics sold in Europe, but US and Canadian regulators have not been so proactive, despite mounting evidence of potential harm.

Study shows phthalate concentration

In the current study, 252 products, including 98 baby care products were collected at retail stores in several provinces across Canada. These products included fragrances, hair care products, deodorants, nail polishes, lotions, skin cleansers and baby products.

Samples were extracted with different organic solvents, depending on the types of the products, followed by gas chromatography mass spectrometry analysis.

DEP was detected in almost all types of surveyed products with the highest level is found in fragrances. Di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) was largely present in nail polish products, as well as in other products such as hair sprays, hair mousses, skin cleansers and baby shampoos, at much lower concentrations.

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