Time to phase out phthalates, those toxic tongue-twisters linked to obesity in men and genital abnormalities in male infants. Recently banned by Congress from children's toys, these hormone disrupting are now, according to a study released today by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) being quietly phased out of cosmetics, too.
The mainstream personal care industry may still be denying the well-documented health problems related to phthalates (like DNA damage in sperm and feminization of the male reproductive system), but it appears that many companies are secretly reformulating, and removing the chemicals from, their perfumes. The CSC, a nonprofit environmental health coalition, retested the 12 worst offenders among the 72 products tested for phthalates in their groundbreaking 2002 report, "Not Too Pretty." Based on the results, they're dubbing this new report "A Little Prettier."
In the original tests, these offending 12 contained multiple phthalates, and/or very high levels of diethyl phthalate (DEHP), used to soften vinyl plastic as well as in fragrances. In 2002, "Poison" by Christian Dior was the most contaminated. This year, it's less poisonous, with no detectable levels of phthalates in three out of four bottles tested. Unfortunately, not all is so rosy: "Charlie," "Wind Song by Prince Matchavelli," and "White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor" actually had higher levels of phthalates than in 2002. And, companies still are not legally required to list components of "fragrance" among their ingredients on labels, so consumers remain in the dark.
"The industry is still using DEP and we think they shouldn't be," says CSC spokesperson Stacy Malkan, author of "Not Just a Pretty Face" (New Society, 2007). "We only tested a small percentage of things on the market but it gives us an indication that the industry seems to have made positive progress." she attributes this to the 2003 European Union ban on two phthalates in personal care products, the 2005 California Safe Cosmetics Act, the 2007 Washington state ban of phthalates in children's products, consumer pressure, and new human studies on the chemicals. Malkan singles out Dr. Shanna Swan's research on the correlation between babies' genital deformities and their mother's phthalate exposure levels, and Dr. Russ Hauser's work on phthalates and sperm quality.
Going forward, Malkan wants better news. "There are still huge loopholes in the law that allow companies not to tell us what is in products. There's no reason for products to contain phthalates."
Now to celebrate with some lip glossing.
Phthalate-free lip balms
To keep from licking hormone-disrupters off your winter-cracked lips, choose from this plethora of phthalate-free products, all of which use essential plant oils rather than synthetic "fragrance."
1. The Body Shop: Hemp Lip Protector
At a recent Jets game (remember the last one they won?), a green guy said it saved his lips from cold wind splice and the green tube showed off his team spirit. Body Shop is a CSC signatory. $8.
2. Burt's Bees: Beeswax Balms
The quickest of comforters: Burt's clear balm (Natural Products Association certified) and new Rescue Lip Balm, which blocks UV rays with natural titanium dioxide. Burt's has also signed the CSC pledge. $3-5 Lip Shimmers.
3. Dr. Bronner's: Lip Balm
This USDA-certified organic balm comes in "naked," lemon/lime and ginger phthalate-free flavors. Yum. A CSC signatory. $2.99.
4. Dr. Hauschka: Lip Care Stick or Balm
One of our top faves. Moisturizes with jojoba wax and carrot and rosehip extracts. $12.95 or $14.50.
5. Ola Hawaii: Tropical Melody Lip Balms (pictured above)
The islands in winter! Banana, coconut/lemongrass, liliko'i (passion fruit) and mango aromas will warm your lips and hearts. We can't get enough of 'em. $6.
6. Origins Lip Balm
Their USDA-certified organic stick is pure salve-ation. Completely odorless and taste-free, slicks on effortlessly.
7. Weleda Everon Lip Balm
Another top pick. With shea butter, vanilla and rose. Cheap, creamy, and long-lasting. $3.50-4.99.
It's rare these days to hear good news from anyone fighting the good fight against the countless toxins in our consumer products, which is why the latest results from CSC are such a pleasure.
Story by Alexandra Zissu. This article originally appeared in Plenty in December 2008.