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February 17, 2008

Cosmetic industry bullying & consumer victims

Tony Burfield Feb 2008.

The tendency of powerful corporations to pursue their marketing aims by totally ignoring consumer resistance or preference is becoming a worrying feature of modern society. And instead of taking a neutral stance on controversial safety issues, regulators in the US or EU bureaucracies may well side with the money-makers. We see this, for example, in the FDA’s failure to regulate cosmetic ingredient safety & so protect the US cosmetic & beauty product consuming public, and we see it in the EU Commissions determination to force GM technology on a reluctant Europe, most of which is markedly averse to buying GM products. Indeed on this point the UK is set for a forthcoming battle this year, as BASF attempts to plant GM potatoes for trials in a small field near Cambridge to the considerable annoyance of GM protestors, who will doubtless attempt to wreck the trial, as previously.

In the cosmetics area, the issue of phthalates as unsuitable or hazardous cosmetic ingredients raises the same degree of concern from many cosmetics  consumers as GM products do for food consumers in Europe. The cosmetic industry does not now defend, does not use (because it not allowed to) and keeps very quiet about the former use of those phthalates as diluents for resinoids, essential oils & perfumes – such as DIOP (di-isooctyl phthalate), DNBP (di-n-butyl phthalate), DEHP (di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate) etc. In fact in 2001 the EU passed regulations restricting the use of 6 phthalates (excluding DEP) in children’s products intended for age 0 to 3 years. But industry does continue to arrogantly defend the use DEP (diethyl phthalate) in the face of continued consumer opposition, which it thinks it can brush aside.

Diethyl phthalate (DEP) was given a clean bill of safety by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel (CIR) in 2002, & by the SCCP in 1992 (SCCNFP/0411/01) & in March 2007 – but Cropwatch had established in late 2007 that up to that point, the SCCP was incapable of conducting an independent literature search on any safety issue laid before it. It cannot be ruled out that its “expert” committee wasn’t prone to potentially be spoon-fed skewed or biased information. However that said, evidence of adverse health effects for DEP are pretty sparse. The National Resources Defence Council (NRDC) report on phthalates in air fresheners, & petition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) & Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), was summarily dismissed by the Fragrance Manufacturers Association of the United States (FMA) who, in a statement on Nov 7th 2007, called on the EPA to deny the citizens petition, maintaining that their conclusions on phthalates in air fresheners were ‘baseless & irresponsible’. Sathyanarayana et al (2008) claim to have found phthalates in infant diapers,citing baby care products as possible sources of exposure. Again the FMA have been quick to criticize this study. In an earlier study (TNO 2005), Greenpeace Netherlands commissioned the TNO to analyse 36 perfumes, 35 of which contained phthalates, 34 of which contained DEP, and 19 of which contained DEHP.  The TNO report eliminates the polymer spraying parts of the perfume containers as a source of phthalates.

If it is (now) true that the majority of the fragrance industry does not use phthalates other than diethyl phthalate, it still needs to explain why a range of phthalates often appears in the detailed analysis of perfumes. However in spite of the virtual dismissal of the problem by industry trade associations, many of us who aren’t career toxicologists making second-hand reassurances, but who actually work hands-on within the cosmetic industry, can name a handful of companies who still occasionally use phthalates other than DEP. Further, ingredient processing where molecular distillation employs co-solvents, or leaching from processing & storage containers & pipework, could still prove to be the source of some of these minor phthalate contaminants It is certainly not good enough to for the assemblers of perfumes who manufacture perfume compounds from bought-in ingredients to throw their hands up in the air and say “we’re not guilty.” There is more to the story than this.

Finally, the fragrance manufacturing industry has to face the fact that however safe they may maintain diethyl phthalate to be, consumers don’t want the ingredient in their purchased cosmetics, and they don’t necessarily want to be bullied by industry into having to accept its presence. Ultimately, of course, it may be up to the consumers to buy their cosmetics from manufacturers with a “no phthalates” policy.


Sathyanarayana S., Karr C.J., Lozano P., Brown E., Calafat A.M., Liu F., Swan S.H. (2008) "Baby care products: possible sources of infant phthalate exposure." Pediatrics 121(2), 260-268, or available on-line at http://www.pediatrics.org/cgi/content/full/121/2/e260

Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP), “Opinion on Phthalates in Cosmetic Products," FR/07/69, adopted at its 11th plenary meeting of March 21, 2007. Available online here in PDF format.

TNO-report R&I-A R 2005/011 "Phthalates & Artificial Musks in Perfumes" Greenpeace Netherlands, available online here in PDF format.

Posted by Tony Burfield on February 17, 2008 in Perfumery, Regulatory Issues, Safety/Toxicity | Permalink


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