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Cosmetic companies using fewer plastics additives report

by Sara GoodmanGreenwire
December 9th, 2008

Some beauty companies are using fewer controversial plastics additives in their products, according to a report released today by a coalition of advocacy groups.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics followed up on a 2002 report that looked at 72 personal care products, including shampoos, deodorants and fragrances. That report found that 72 percent of cosmetic products tested contained phthalates, and 12 products contained more than one. For the new tests, an independent lab analyzed those 12 products with the highest levels and found that none of the products contained more than one phthalate, while nine have reduced or eliminated phthalates, the report says.

The results are noteworthy in part because they show that these products do not need to contain phthalates, the report says. For example, Poison perfume by Christian Dior was the most contaminated product in 2002, containing four phthalates. In the new tests, it had no detectable levels of phthalates in three of the four bottles tested in 2008, and low levels of one phthalate in the fourth bottle. And campaign spokeswoman Stacy Malkan said there are safer alternatives for all cosmetic products.

That message has been hammered home by federal and state regulations that have stepped up to ban various individual chemicals, including phthalates, Malkan said.

"A lot of this has to do with policy changes, because the right policy can drive industry to innovate," Malkan said. "In many cases, it was laws passed at the state level that drove this change."

For example, the California Safe Cosmetics Act of 2005 required companies to notify the state if they are using certain phthalates in personal care products. Malkan said that rather than admit to using phthalates, some companies started taking them out. At the federal level, lawmakers signed legislation this year that will ban several types of phthalates from children's products.

"With this increasing regulatory pressure, a lot of companies saw the writing on the wall with phthalates," Malkan said. "It's a good step forward, but there are still many toxic ingredients in cosmetics."

The study found that DEP is still used in high quantities in some fragrances and noted that recent human studies have linked it to DNA damage in sperm and feminization of the male reproductive system.

Cathy Cook, spokeswoman for the Fragrance Materials Association, said in an e-mail that the most common phthalate used in cosmetics -- diethyl phthalate, or DEP, which is used in fragrances to help blend fragrance ingredients and as a fixative to make fragrances last longer -- has been thoroughly tested by international governments and has been consistently supported as safe for use at current levels, indicating that companies have no reason to phase out these phthalates.