In nail products and some hair sprays. Toxic to reproduction and may interfere with hormone function. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
Dibutyl phthalate or DBP is used mainly in nail products as a solvent for dyes and as a plasticizer that prevents nail polishes from becoming brittle. Phthalates are found in some nail polishes and hair sprays, and are commonly hidden on ingredient labels under the term “fragrance”. Fragrance recipes are considered trade secrets, so manufacturers are not required to disclose fragrance chemicals in the list of ingredients. DBP is also commonly used in polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC) to render it flexible.
Health and Environmental Hazards
DBP is absorbed through the skin. It can enhance the capacity of other chemicals to cause genetic mutations, although it has not been shown to be a mutagen itself. In laboratory experiments, it has been shown to cause developmental defects, changes in the testes and prostate, and reduced sperm counts. The European Union classifies DBP as a suspected endocrine disruptor on the basis of evidence that it interferes with hormone function, and as reproductive toxic on the basis that it may cause harm to the unborn child and impair fertility. Health Canada notes evidence suggesting that exposure to phthalates may cause health effects such as liver and kidney failure in young children when products containing phthalates are sucked or chewed for extended periods.
The European Union classifies DBP as very toxic to aquatic organisms. Under the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, DBP is listed as a Chemical for Priority Action.
Health Canada recently announced regulations banning six phthalates (including DBP) in soft vinyl children’s toys and child care articles, but its use in cosmetics is not restricted. International regulations are stronger. The European Union bans DBP in cosmetics, as well as in childcare
articles and toys.
Other phthalates are widely used as fragrance ingredients in cosmetics – in particular diethyl phthalate (DEP). DEP is suspected of interfering with hormone function (endocrine disruption), causing reproductive and developmental problems among other health effects.
Fragrance recipes are considered tradesecrets, so manufacturers are not required to disclose specific fragrance chemicals. The best bet to avoid phthalates in cosmetics is to opt for products that do not list “parfum” or “fragrance” (see below) as aningredient.