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In Tests, Phthalates Worsen Skin Allergies

Jan 15, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP

Dangerous, plastic-softening chemicals called phthalates have been found to exacerbate dermatitis in lab tests with mammals.  In laboratory tests with newborn male mice exposed to DEHP—a type of phthalate—through their mothers, it was found that the baby mice developed more serious skin reactions over nonexposed mice, reports Environmental Health News.

The results mean this phthalate likely increases allergic reactions in young animals when exposed as infants to the deadly chemical through their mother’s milk, said Environmental Health News, which pointed out that dermatitis—allergic skin conditions—are on the rise.  Dermatitis includes skin that is swollen, red, and/or itchy following exposure to an allergen or irritant.  The researchers believe that the link between the rise in allergic dermatitis and the ubiquitous use of phthalates may signal a trend.  "Our results support the novel hypothesis that maternal exposure to DEHP during neonatal periods via breast milk and/or infant formula may be responsible, at least in part, for the recent increase in atopic dermatitis in offspring,” said the study’s authors according to Environmental Health News.

Phthalates are toxic plastic-softening chemicals found in some children’s toys and products and which have been making headlines lately over pending implementation of a ban on these toxins.  Some phthalates are among the chemicals banned in the recently passed Consumer Product Safety Commission Improvement Act, which comes into effect next month.  The Act bans three phthalates in children’s toys and products in all but the smallest of amounts and, pending additional research, bans three others.  The six phthalates, said Reuters recently, have been banned for almost 10 years in European toys and, according to Science Daily, the European Union (EU) banned some phthalates from cosmetics and has bans in place similar to the pending U.S. ban.

Phthalates have been in use for decades and are linked to hormonal disturbances and other adverse effects and are often found in soft plastic toys and children’s products.  Science Daily noted that phthalates are used in other products including medical devices and building materials and Reuters reported that phthalates are also used in personal-care products, food packaging, pharmaceuticals, and cleaning materials.  

Because phthalates such as DEHP are often found in polyvinyl plastics, the chemical can be easily found “everywhere in the environment,” said Environmental Heath News and shows up, for example in seemingly innocuous places with exposure taking place anywhere DEHP-containing products are used.  As a matter-of-fact, said Environmental Health News, because DEHP is used in vinyl flooring and carpet backing, it is also commonly found in household dust.

California has officially banned phthalates in children’s products in advance of the federal law, and Science Daily noted a scientific committee just concluded that exposure to various phthalates in lab animals produced outcomes including effects on the development of the male reproductive system such as infertility, undescended testes and testicular development; penis and other reproductive tract malformations, such as hypospadias; and reduced testosterone levels.  Some phthalates, reports ConsumerReports.org, have been associated with liver cancer and problems with the developing fetus and are known to interfere with androgens.


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