How can I get a copy of the 2008 report, "A Little Prettier," and a list of the products that were tested?
Why did the Campaign for Cosmetics decide to conduct these tests?
What are phthalates? Where are they found?
How many products did the Campaign test this time? Are these the same products that were tested before?
Are companies phasing phthalates out of their products?
Don’t companies have to use these ingredients? The products would be totally different without them, right?
If these chemicals are so bad for us, shouldn’t the government be regulating them?
What can I do to limit my exposure and stop manufacturers from using phthalates in cosmetics?
Q: How can I get a copy of the 2008 report, "A Little Prettier," and a list of the products that were tested?
A: You can download the report, which includes a list of all products tested, on the main report page.
Q: Why did the Campaign for Cosmetics decide to conduct these tests?
A: As a follow-up to product testing of 72 personal care products in 2002 that found high levels of several toxic phthalates in over two-thirds of the products tested, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics decided to re-test the cosmetics with the highest phthalate levels to see if companies were quietly reformulating their products as a response to recent legislation and changing consumer demand. This year’s tests for phthalates, which usually do not appear on product ingredient labels, revealed that there were less of the toxic chemicals in the 2008 products than in the 2002 products. However, some companies were still using much higher levels of DEP, a chemical linked to poor sperm quality, alterations in male sex hormones and feminization of the male reproductive tract.
Q: What are phthalates? Where are they found?
A: Phthalates (pronounced THA-lates) are plasticizing chemicals that are probable human reproductive or developmental toxins and endocrine disruptors. Phthalates cause reproductive birth defects in laboratory animals, particularly males.
Two phthalates often used in cosmetics (dibutyl and diethylhexyl) have been banned in the European Union. Unfortunately, phthalates are still found in some nail polishes and hair sprays, and are commonly hidden on ingredient labels under the term “fragrance.” We recommend that consumers steer clear of products with “fragrance” as an ingredient, especially pregnant women, women of childbearing age, babies and pubescent children.
Q: How many products did the campaign test this time? Are these the same products that were tested before?
A: For the recent tests, which took place in the fall of 2008, an independent lab analyzed 12 products that we tested in 2002 that are still available on store shelves. The original 2002 tests analyzed 72 products; the 12 chosen for 2008 were those that had the highest levels of phthalates, or multiple phthalates, in the initial tests.
Q: Are companies phasing phthalates out of their products?
A: It appears as though some phthalates are being phased out, while others are still being used; in some cases, companies even increased the usage of a particular phthalate.
None of the products tested contained more than one phthalate. The fragrances, deodorants and hair sprays tested negative for dibutyl phthalate (DBP), dimethyl phthalate (DMP), diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP).
Some companies are still using high levels of diethyl phthalate (DEP). DEP is linked to poor sperm quality, alterations in male sex hormones and feminization of the male reproductive tract. Animal studies have shown links to other health problems, such as reduced offspring size, liver abnormalities and elevated cholesterol. The five perfumes and colognes with the highest levels of DEP in 2002 all still showed more than 20,000 parts per million of that phthalate.
Three of the fragrances – Charlie, Wind Song by Prince Matchibelli and White Diamonds Elizabeth Taylor – had higher levels of DEP in 2008 than they did in 2002. Charlie Cologne Spray, manufactured by Revlon, had more than twice as much DEP in 2008 as the same product had in 2002.
Q: Don’t companies have to use these ingredients? The products would be totally different without them, right?
A: Actually, it’s not difficult for companies to use alternatives to these toxic ingredients. In the recent tests, Poison perfume by Christian Dior – which in 2002 was the most contaminated product with four phthalates (DBP, DEHP, BBP and DEP) – had no detectable levels of phthalates in three of the four bottles tested in 2008, and low levels of DEP in the fourth bottle. There have been no indications that consumers even noticed the difference. This shows that it's possible to make products without toxic chemicals.
Q: If these chemicals are so bad for us, shouldn’t the government be regulating them?
A: We think the government should be regulating the ingredients that go into our cosmetics, too. But because of loopholes in the law that protect the formulation of certain ingredients, such as fragrance, as “trade secrets,” cosmetics companies are not required to list phthalates on product labels.
The FDA does not review – nor does it have adequate authority to regulate – what goes into cosmetics before they are marketed for salon and consumer use. In fact, 89 percent of all ingredients in cosmetics have never been assessed for safety by any publicly accountable authority.
Large cosmetics companies and the industry’s trade association, the Personal Care Products Council, continue to maintain that phthalates are safe, despite solid scientific evidence to the contrary. The Personal Care Products council has a very powerful lobby — last year, the council more than doubled its money spent on federal lobbying, spending $1,160,000 in 2008, up from $530,000 in 2007.
Q: What can I do to limit my exposure and stop manufacturers from using phthalates in cosmetics?
A: There are quite a few things you can do to limit the use and sale of these toxic chemicals in your personal care products. Here are a few:
- Avoid synthetic fragrance, often listed as “fragrance” on cosmetic packaging. Because fragrance is considered a trade secret, this listing indicates that the product may contain phthalates.
- Join the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and help us advocate for federal and state laws that will require all cosmetic ingredients be assessed for safety.
- Contact your governor, federal and state legislators and the candidates running for public office and ask them to support efforts to regulate chemicals to protect human health and the environment, including those in personal care products.
- Write a letter to the editor of your local paper or post a blog about the findings in this report and the lack of FDA oversight of the personal care products industry. For more information, check out our FAQs and materials pages.
- Spread the word! Let your friends, family and colleagues know that no one is minding the store when it comes to pre-market safety assessment of personal care products, and encourage them to ask cosmetics companies to protect us all from toxic ingredients.