Beware of Phthalates in Infant-Care Products

A new University of Washington study that appeared in last February’s Journal of Pediatrics concludes that phthalate exposure in infants is “widespread and variable.” Phthalates have been proven multiple times to disrupt the endocrine and reproductive systems. Phthalates are human-made chemicals used in the manufacture of household and industrial products such as children’s toys, infant-care and personal-care products, cosmetics, and PVC tubing. Because they are not chemically bound to the products they appear in, phthalates leach into the atmosphere and into liquids. As a result, humans ingest, inhale, and absorb phthalates when exposed to them. This is especially true with phthalate-containing lotions, shampoos, soaps, or anything applied directly to the skin. Those most vulnerable are infants, who have not yet developed the capacity to metabolize these chemicals, and whose small bodies have relatively more absorptive surface area for their volume than adults. Phthalate exposure is also a problem for young children due to their tendency to put in their mouths anything they can hold in their hands, and the time they spend playing on floors made of synthetic materials. The results of the sobering study show that 81 percent of infants groomed with infant-care products containing phthalates tested positive for increased urinary concentrations of phthalates. Babies with the highest phthalate levels were those exposed to multiple products (e.g., lotions, powders, shampoos). Also, the younger the babies, the higher the concentrations. “The FDA does not regulate the use of phthalates and does not require that they are listed on labels,” states the owner of www.alchemistsapprentice.com, a website that sells only personal-care products that are free of synthetics and chemicals. To avoid phthalates, it is suggested that consumers buy products that specifically state that they are “phthalate-free.”

—CANDACE WALSH