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A Whiff Of Danger In Your Personal Care Products

How safe is diethyl phthalate or DEP?

04/05/2017 8:50 AM IST | Updated 04/05/2017 8:50 AM IST
Puneet Vikram Singh, Nature and Concept photographer, via Getty Images

Body odour is probably one of the biggest pet peeves people have. As a result, perfume and deodorant companies make billions of dollars every year based on our dislike of body odour. But could spraying copious amounts of deodorant be making us sick?

Diethyl phthalate (DEP) is a clear substance with a slightly sweet odour. It is used as a plasticiser and solvent in various products of personal use, including fragrances. In 1995, DEP was reported as an ingredient in various products in the USA, at various concentration levels. DEP was used in, among other products, bath preparations, hair sprays, nail polish, perfumes and other fragrance products.

People generally use more than one personal care product on a daily basis and the effects of long-term everyday use in small doses have not been studied adequately.

A fact sheet, published in 2003 by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, noted that there was some evidence of DEP being a teratogen in animals, and recommended that it be treated as a possible teratogen in humans, till further testing was done. A teratogen is something that could cause the malformation of embryos and so is clearly an absolute no-no for pregnant women. Additionally, a teratogen that accumulates in the body is not safe for any man or woman who intends to be a parent at some future time. While the fact sheet was meant for workers who handle DEP directly on a daily basis, I think that the findings are relevant for everyone who uses products containing this substance.

In 2004, a study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health found that while exposure to phthalates from individual cosmetics was relatively small, total exposure from several sources may be greater, and requires further research. This is significant because people generally use more than one personal care product on a daily basis and the effects of long-term everyday use in small doses have not been studied adequately.

In 2010, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reviewed the toxicity of DEP. The CPSC concluded that DEP can be considered "toxic" under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA). The CPSC based its conclusion on animal studies which produced enough evidence of toxicity to the liver and other tissues. Importantly, the CSPC also noted that products containing DEP may be considered "hazardous" if long-term exposure during "reasonably foreseeable handling and use" exceeds the acceptable daily intake (ADI). It also noted that products containing DEP may be hazardous particularly for women as exposure exceeding the ADI may cause developmental effects in embryos.

Remember, although you don't see it, your skin directly absorbs a great deal. Be careful what you put on it!

It appears that while exposure to DEP through cosmetics and personal care products may not necessarily be a major problem, the sheer amount and frequency of use over a long period of time could be a matter of concern. More research needs to be done on the long-term effects of exposure to DEP through cosmetics and other personal care products, simply because people use several of them almost every day for their entire lives. Remember, although you don't see it, your skin directly absorbs a great deal. Be careful what you put on it! Live healthy, stay safe.

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