You hear a lot of buzz in the media about dangerous chemicals found in food, makeup and other products that we use on a daily basis. The latest one to get a lot of attention is phthalates, a chemical commonly found in cosmetics like perfume and self-tanners. Recently the University of Uppsala in Sweden published a study that found a link between this chemical and Type 2 diabetes, so we wondered if we should we really be concerned? That’s why we brought in an expert to clear the air.
“Phthalate esters are mainly used in nail polish to impart flexibility to the film, reducing chipping and cracking, and in fragrances as a fixative to make them last longer,” says cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos. “Phthalates are also used in plastic to decrease rigidity. There is a misconception that phthalates are purposefully added to a lot of cosmetics, and that isn’t the case.”
While large doses of phthalates did cause some developmental problems in rats, its effects on humans haven’t been thoroughly established yet. What’s more, the amount absorbed into the skin is minimal, according to studies. On top of that, your nails are made of hard keratin, and are even more difficult to penetrate. That means that the likelihood of your body absorbing enough of the chemical to do serious damage is low.
Because of all the controversy, many formulators are phasing out phthalates from their products in favor of alternatives. The problem with some alternatives, like using a water base for nail polish, is that they have to add in preservatives to prevent microbial contamination.
“Being an educated consumer is essential, but it is also important to keep in mind the correlation does not equal causality,” says Dobos. “A good deal of research is misrepresented because fanatical headlines generate more buzz.”
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