Phthalates and DEHP

Dangers of Phthalates and DEHP

Phthalates, a family of industrial chemicals used to soften PVC plastic and as solvents in cosmetics and other consumer products, can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system — particularly the developing testes — according to animal studies.

Medical devices made of flexible PVC, such as IV bags and tubing, can leach the phthalate DEHP into patients, resulting in some of the highest exposures to this toxic chemical.

Several government agencies have concluded that some patients are likely to be exposed to potentially unsafe amounts of DEHP while receiving medical care. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have found that sick infants treated in neonatal intensive care units have high exposure levels to this reproductive toxicant.

HCWH is working with health care providers and manufacturers to identify products that contain DEHP and replace them with safer, affordable alternatives.

Exposures Add Up

Outside the health care setting, people are exposed to DEHP and other phthalates from a variety of sources, including beauty products, PVC toys, vinyl shower curtains, car seats, wallpaper, and many other consumer products.

HCWH has compiled a comprehensive report about the risks associated with aggregate exposure to phthalates (pdf).

The National Academy of Sciences in their report, Phthalates and Cumulative Risk Assessment: The Task Ahead, recommends that risks associated with phthalate exposure should be considered in the context of cumulative exposures to all phthalates and other anti-androgens. When infants, toddlers, and pregnant women are exposed to DEHP from medical devices, it adds to the already existing burden of chemicals that also may interfere with normal development of the reproductive tract.

Phthalates and U.S. Federal Regulatory Policy

Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. In 2008, the U.S. Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which includes a federal ban on phthalates in toys and children's products, taking action to reduce exposures and protect children's health. DEHP is one of six phthalates banned from children's products through this federal legislation. (See Section SEC. 108. Prohibition on Sale of Certain Products Containing Specified Phthalates).

Phthalates in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

The study, Baby Care Products: Possible Sources of Infant Phthalate Exposure, published in Pediatrics, 2008, indicates that infants receive widespread exposure to a variety of phthalates found in lotions and shampoos. These exposures are especially concerning for young infants who are most vulnerable to harm.

HCWH and partners have also conducted product testing and found phthalates in many top-selling beauty products. Test results are compiled in the reports:

For more information about phthalates in cosmetics, please visit