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Phthalate and Chemical Formula Risky?

Phthalate and chemical formula - used as solvents and plasticisers in cosmetics - are among the chemicals in beauty products that are alarming natural health and organic pharmacists worldwide. Many consider they are more risky than we are led to believe.

Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry says that the chemical industry has been poorly regulated for decades, and tens of thousands of synthetic chemicals have been put on to the market with no thought to the health implications.

"The result is that we are living in a toxic chemical soup and the mixtures of these chemicals have not been studied for long-term health impacts," she says.

Phthalates are found in most fragrances, nail varnishes and sprays. They are thought to mimic the female hormone oestrogen. A build-up occurs in a mother's body fat or breast milk, which can affect the development of unborn children, especially boys. But it is claimed that phthalates used in today's products have no reprotoxic effect.

And that's the nub of the matter. In the past 20 years we have become increasingly attached to beauty products.

According to the American group Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, we don't just wear lipstick, lip balm or gloss, we unintentionally eat it, as much as 2kg of it in a lifetime.

Yet Britain's Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) questions whether our bodies absorb the toxins in the first place, because the skin is such an effective barrier. The European Cosmetics Directive is also designed to ensure that nothing too harmful could be seeping into our skin.

Yet, according to Jessica Kiddle, writing in Scotland on Sunday, before leaving the house in the morning, many women could easily use toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, hair styling products, deodorant, body moisturiser, foot lotion – then there might be cleanser, toner and moisturiser for the face, followed by eye cream, foundation, blusher, mascara and lipstick.

"It has been calculated that the average woman uses 20 to 30 grooming products a day, which exposes her to roughly 200 different chemicals. Around 60% of these chemicals are absorbed into the bloodstream. The result, some argue, is that over time her body will contain a cocktail of toxins which have the potential to severely damage health," she says.

"Men will be surprised at how many products they tot up, too. As well as soap and shower gel, there's shaving foam, aftershave, hair gel, moisturisers and deodorants – and more. The ethical consumer website Hippyshopper estimates that the average man uses eight to ten styling and grooming products a day."

Are there alternatives? Usually. Phthalate and chemical formula for instance, can be replaced by products based on essential oils or ones which specify 'no synthetic fragrance'.

Kiddle quotes Margo Marrone, founder of the Organic Pharmacy in London, who says that the beauty industry is not as tightly regulated as people think.

"Yes, there are only minuscule amounts of toxins in most beauty products, but when you repeatedly put lots of them on, that daily dose accumulates and becomes harmful."

For those leaning towards an organic lifestyle, such claims may just be the final push towards an all-natural beauty regime.