Cosmetics Full of Suspect Chemicals, Group Says

By Maggie Fox,

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cosmetics ranging from perfume to hair gel contain chemicals shown to cause birth defects in animals, a group that lobbies on health issues said on Wednesday.

It listed 52 products that contain phthalates, which are used to make fragrances last longer and to soften plastics. Only one listed phthalates on the label.

Although there is no evidence that phthalates are harmful to humans, the group argues that they should be removed from cosmetics until they can be shown to be safe.

Health Care Without Harm, a coalition of health, religious, labor and environmental groups, has been lobbying against phthalates for years.

It cites tests that show the chemicals can cause defects in animals, most often abnormalities of the male reproductive organs, and cites evidence that certain birth defects such as hypospadias are increasing in the United States. Hypospadias is a condition where the urethra does not extend to the end of the penis.

The group commissioned a test of 72 products, including lotion, nail polish and deodorant. Fifty-two were found to contain phthalates.

These products could potentially hurt both developing fetuses and nursing infants, they said.

"Chemicals that can damage the development and future fertility of babies don't belong in products marketed to women," the group's Bryony Schwan told reporters. "Phthalate-free products that perform as well are on the market for virtually every single phthalate-containing product."

A panel of the National Toxicology Program found in 1999 that some phthalates -- which are a group of several different chemicals -- had clear reproductive effects in rats and mice.

The American Chemistry Council denied the use of chemicals in cosmetics can hurt people.

"Phthalates are among the most widely studied materials in the world and have been researched and tested for more than 50 years," a council statement said.


In a large-scale survey of just what chemicals can be found in people's blood, the CDC found surprisingly high levels of phthalates, although not enough to cause immediate concern.

"The only thing of concern that came up was this CDC report showing that women of child-bearing age had higher levels of dibutyl phthalates in their blood," a spokesman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ( news - web sites), or FDA, said in a telephone interview. The official asked not to be named.

"The problem is the study didn't say where they came from and the use of phthalates is ubiquitous," the official said.

Last September, the FDA determined most patients do not seem to be at risk from phthalates in IV tubing and other medical equipment, with the possible exception of children undergoing medical procedures such as blood transfusions.

The FDA said Cosmetic Ingredient Review, an independent body that reviews the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics, would take a new look at phthalates this year and a representative of the agency would be there.

Worried about evidence that phthalates could leach out of plastic, the European Union ( news - web sites) in 1999 banned their use in some baby toys designed to be put into the mouth, and recently extended the ban.

Health Care Without Harm names the products tested at the Internet Web site The industry's reply can be found at