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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, November 16, 2002

Common chemical may be bad for unborn child

By Laurie Steelsmith

Q. As a pregnant mother, I'm very concerned about an article I've read saying that nail polish and other personal-care products could have toxic side effects on my baby. Is this true? Which products should I be concerned about?

A. An article published in the New York Times in July, "Not Too Pretty," outlined the potential hazards to your unborn child if you use products containing synthetic compounds called phthalates. These chemicals are used in many personal care items including nail polishes, fragrances, hair sprays, body lotions, deodorants and hair gels. They are also used in a number of plastic and household products including toys, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, wall paper, and detergents.

The increasing concern about the effects of phthalates on human health is the result of research that found these chemicals prevent the normal development of the male reproductive system in animals. In the womb, animals exposed to high levels of phthalates showed reduced sperm counts and malformed genitalia. How relevant this is to human reproductive health is not yet known.

Phthalates have been on the market since the 1930s. Manufacturers dismiss concerns that they may be detrimental to human health, claiming that they have been used for many years without ill effects. However, there is enough uncertainty about the issue that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are conducting further research. Measuring levels of phthalates in humans, the centers have found that virtually all of the 289 people tested had been exposed to them. The centers also found that the levels of phthalates were highest among women of reproductive age. This group of women may have been exposed to higher levels of phthalates from their personal care items.

Since the publication of the newspaper article, many women across the country are taking heed and looking at product labels. Nail polish is subject to federal requirements that phthalates be listed on labels if they are present, but other personal care products are not. Phthalates are often listed as fragrances, or not listed at all.

How can you minimize your exposure to phthalates? One way is to purchase all-natural personal care products. The New York Times article includes an extensive list of 72 products tested for the presence of phthalates and lists products that are phthalate-free. You can obtain the full report online at www.NotTooPretty.org.

Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu.

Send questions to: Prescriptions, Island Life, The Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; e-mail ohana@honoluluadvertiser.com; fax 535-8170. This column is for information only. Consult your health provider for medical advice.