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Phthalates Found in Baby Shampoo, Other Infant Care Products

Feb 4, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

A new study suggests that a variety of baby care products such as shampoos, lotions, and powders may expose infants to phthalates, chemicals which have been linked to possible reproductive problems.

These chemicals, called phthalates, are found in many ordinary products including cosmetics, toys, vinyl flooring, and medical supplies and are used to stabilize fragrances and also to make plastics flexible.  The study found the presence of phthalates (pronounced thowl-ates) in elevated levels in the urine of babies who had been recently shampooed, powdered, or lotioned with baby products.

The new study, which appears in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics, involved 163 babies. Most babies studied were white; between the ages of two to 28 months; and living in California, Minnesota, and Missouri.  Researchers measured levels of several phthalates in urine from diapers and also questioned mothers about use in the previous 24 hours of baby products including lotions, powders, diaper creams, and baby wipes.  All urine samples contained detectable levels of at least one phthalate; most had levels of several more.  The highest levels were linked with shampoos, lotions, and powders and were most prevalent in babies younger than eight months of age.

Animal studies also separately suggest that phthalates can cause reproductive birth defects.  Some consumer activists believe phthalates may cause reproductive problems in boys and early puberty in girl.  While environmental advocacy groups are concerned about the chemicals and their presence in daily products, experts are uncertain what dangers, if any, they might pose.  Unfortunately, strong scientific evidence does not exist and the federal government does not limit phthalate use; California and some countries have restricted their use.

“There is an obvious need for laws that force the beauty industry to clean up its act," said Stacy Malkan of Health Care Without Harm.

The study's lead author, Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, a University of Washington pediatrician, said, "The bottom line is that these chemicals likely do exist in products that we're commonly using on our children and they potentially could cause health effects."

Babies don't usually need special lotions and powders, and water alone or shampoo in very small amounts is generally enough to clean infant hair, Sathyanarayana said.

Concerned parents can look for products labeled "phthalate-free," or check labels for common phthalates, which include DEP and DEHP.

Unfortunately, chemicals often don't appear on product labels because retail products aren't required to list individual ingredients of fragrances, a common phthalate source.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) argued that it "has no compelling evidence that phthalates pose a safety risk when used in cosmetics," spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek said.  "Should new data emerge, we will inform the public as well as the industry," she added.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the health effects of phthalates in humans are uncertain, "Although several studies in people have explored possible associations with developmental and reproductive outcomes (semen quality, genital development in boys, shortened pregnancy, and premature breast development in young girls), more research is needed," according to a 2005 CDC report.



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