In 2015 The EU banned the use of 4 phthalates (butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP), di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP)) but companies could seek—and have obtained—continued-use authorizations if there are no safer alternatives. However, very recently on June 20 2017, the EU went further and voted to remove the chemicals from consumer products that contain the phthalates at levels greater than 0.1% by weight by getting rid of any exemptions.
Phthalates are industrial chemicals often used to soften plastics in toys, household items such as food containers, and medical devices as well as construction materials, floorings, paints, lubricating oils, wood finishes, detergents, industrial plastics, pharmaceuticals, and as a plasticizer for polyvinyl chloride products. Phthalates have been increasingly added to cosmetic products such as perfumes, lotions, hairsprays, moisturisers, nail polish, deodorants, and ingredients in makeup, shampoos and soaps. They are used primarily at concentrations of less than 10% as plasticizers in products such as nail polishes (to reduce cracking by making polished nails less brittle) and hairsprays (to help avoid stiffness by allowing them to form a flexible film on the hair) and as solvents and perfume fixatives in various other products. Phthalates produce oily textures in lotions and they contribute to making skin feel soft and helping lotions penetrate deeper into the skin.
Some phthalates are included in personal care products because of their ability to hold colour, denature alcohol, and fix fragrance. Phthalates are also used as a fragrance base and as components of fragrances to make scents last longer. If a product’s label lists “fragrance” or “parfum,” it’s possible, even probable, that it contains phthalates (and parabens), as companies are not required to disclose fragrance components. Fragrance has emerged as the strongest predictor among PCPs of urinary concentrations of certain phthalate metabolites. In a 2012 study, the highest concentration of one particular phthalate was found in fragrance/perfume and car air freshener. Other products with high concentrations include car interior cleaner, tub/tile cleaner, bar soap, shaving cream, and lipstick. Interestingly, three different phthalates were found in so-called “alternative” products. These compounds may have been introduced as substitutes for the better-known anti-androgenic (testosterone) phthalates, even though they are also endocrine-disrupting chemicals. An “alternative” shaving cream contained five different phthalates, illustrating the potential for simultaneous exposures to multiple phthalates, which act cumulatively and may act synergistically. What is worrying is that none of the products that were tested had “phthalate” on the label—including personal care products, which by law are required to list phthalates unless they are part of a secret fragrance ingredient. However, the conventional nail polish sample with measurable phthalate contained a product labelled “phthalic anhydride copolymer” which is just another phthalate. Phthalates are seldom listed on product labels in most countries because current regulations do not require listing individual fragrance components. It is obvious now that products marketed as “natural” may also contain phthalates, even though the consumer believes them to be “chemical-free.”