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Known as “the everywhere chemical,” phthalates are used in a wide range of products, including plastics, solvents, and personal-care products. If an ingredient label lists “fragrance,” phthalates likely lurk inside: They’re often found in nail polish, hair gel, deodorant, soap, and body lotion, because they help fragrances linger longer. They also make formulations stick to the skin better, explains Lockhart.

Phthalates are endocrine disrupters, which means they can contribute to infertility, hormone imbalances, and birth defects. According to the nonprofit Zero Breast Cancer, “Children under the age of 3 are more at risk from phthalates because of their developing, smaller body size and ever-present exposure to children’s products manufactured using multiple types of phthalate compounds.”

Phthalates are endocrine disrupters, which means they can contribute to infertility, hormone imbalances, and birth defects.

Black consumers may also be more vulnerable to phthalate exposure. A recent study from the Silent Spring Institute found that hair-care products marketed to Black women contain higher percentages of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including phthalates, than those marketed to the general public.

The study looked at 18 hair products marketed to Black women, including hot-oil treatments, anti-frizz hair polishes, leave-in conditioners, root stimulators, and hair relaxers. Forty-five endocrine disruptors were detected in the products, and 84 percent of the chemicals detected were not on the product label.

Several types of phthalates are banned or restricted in the European Union. In the United States, two types — dibutyl phthalate and diethylhexyl phthalate — will be banned in California beginning in 2025 as part of the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act.

On labels, look out for phthalate, diethyl phthalate (DEP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), and fragrance. Choose nail products with labels that say “phthalate-free.”

This was excerpted from “Know Your Beauty” which was published in the December 2021 issue of Experience Life magazine.

Jessie Sholl

Jessie Sholl is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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