You may not have known exactly how to pronounce it, but
chemicals called phthalates ("thah-lates") have sparked
concerned conversations among many moms and dads of young tots in
recent years. Parents and scientists alike wonder whether and how
kids might be affected by exposure to these modern manmade
chemicals - used in everything from cosmetics to household
products, from toys to pacifiers, from PVC pipes to plastic food
Now, a new study suggests that some common baby products many
parents regularly use - and trust as safe - could contain these
chemicals that may be toxic to infants' developing endocrine
and reproductive systems.
Researchers tested the urine of 163 babies (2 to 28 months old)
to find out how much, if any, phthalates infants may be absorbing
through their skin from common baby products. What their research
revealed: All of the babies had at least one type of phthalate in
their urine at "measurable levels," and 80% had
"measurable amounts" of at least seven types of
phthalates (which are used to produce fragrances and soften
plastics and rubber).
Using baby lotions, shampoos, and powder within the past 24
hours significantly upped infants' levels of certain phthalates
- especially in babies under 8 months old, who are at increased
risk because their body systems are still developing. And
youngsters whose moms said they used baby products more often also
had higher levels.
The researchers acknowledge that children may be exposed to
phthalates from a wide variety of sources. And although they say
absorbing the chemicals through the skin could be "a major
route of exposure," the scientists point out that babies and
toddlers also could come into contact with phthalates through the
air and dust they breathe (as they crawl around on the floor) and
by what they put in their mouths (from food products that could
leach the chemicals, to toys and teethers they might suck or chew
However, the researchers found that some things did
seem to have much effect on babies' phthalate levels: diaper
creams, baby wipes, and how often babies used plastic toys and
pacifiers that could contain phthalates.
What This Means to You
Although it's unclear whether or how the phthalates in the
products used in this study are causing harm, parents may want to
avoid using baby care products until scientists can say, for sure,
that they are safe.
The fact remains that limited studies have been done on the
effects of phthalates on young children. That's why the
researchers in this study admit that they don't know if or how,
exactly, childhood exposure to phthalates affects development
What previous studies
suggested is that phthalates may:
- be toxic to the development of the reproductive organs of
animals - and possibly male fetuses
- affect grown men's reproductive function
- change hormone levels in unborn and breastfed babies
So, some health officials are taking measures to limit young
children's exposure to phthalates. For instance, the European
Union banned the use of six phthalate softeners used to make
certain toys and child-care products that babies and young kids
might put in their mouths. And California is banning phthalates
used in the same kinds of kid-used items.
But what's a puzzled parent to do when shopping in the baby
aisles at the grocery store or pharmacy? Unfortunately, you
can't just pick up a product to find out if it contains
phthalates by looking at the label - manufacturers in the United
States aren't required to disclose phthalate contents on
Still, here are some ways to reduce exposure to these and some
other potentially toxic chemicals in your home:
- Limit the use of lotions and powders with babies and young
children - only use them when the doctor says it's
- Try to choose products that are "phthalate-free"
(although the study points out that "the safety of these
alternatives has yet to be established").
- Skip the fancy-smelling stuff. Buy unscented (or
"fragrance-free") items instead, especially for
- Don't bathe your baby every day - two or three times a
week will suffice (bathing more often can dry infants' skin).
And mild soap, mild shampoo, and water will do the trick.
- Try to use glass and/or stainless steel instead of plastic
food containers and plastic kids' cups. You can opt for
tempered glass, which won't break as easily.
If you have questions or concerns about any products you're
using (or have used) at home, talk to your doctor for advice and
recommendations on how to get more info.
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2008
Source: "Baby Care Products: Possible Sources of Infant
, February 2008.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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