Phasing Out Dibutyl Phthalate:

The New York Times reports that several cosmetic makers are ending the use of dibutyl phthalate in nail polish due to concerns about possible health effects.

Some studies have linked exposure to dibutyl phthalate — a plasticizing ingredient that has been used to increase flexibility in nail polishes as well as medical equipment — with testicular problems in rats and humans. The chemical is banned from use in cosmetics in Europe and is considered a reproductive toxin by California.

A study that examined nail polishes and perfumes, published in 2004 in The Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, concluded that the amount of exposure to dibutyl phthalate from these cosmetics is relatively small. The study cautioned, however, that total exposure to the chemical from multiple sources may be greater and requires further investigation.

Companies are adjusting formulas even though beauty executives said the ingredient is safe in the concentrations in which it is used in cosmetics.

UPDATE: A commenter assumes that I posted this item because I find something wrong with the companies' decision. That is not the case, but I understand how my lack of comment could have led to that conclusion.

There has been an active debate over the health risks of phthalates for some time, and I found the story interesting insofar as it suggests that manufacturers are becoming more concerned about potential liability, additional regulations, or negative consumer reaction. It is also interesting to me because the fear of phthalates seems to be much greater in Europe than in the United States. Such differences in risk perceptions are not unusual -- Europeans tend to be more afraid of agricultural biotechnology and food additives, but less afraid of nuclear energy and, it seems, secondhand smoke -- but are quite interesting.