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Dibutyl Phthalate: Why You Should Care

Since 2006, there has been a steady stream of stories in the press about a chemical called dibutyl phthalate, or DBP. To the average consumer, these stories may have been irrelevant—after all, every week there’s another story about the latest food or chemical that’s supposedly ruining our lives, and we’re getting along just fine, right?

Dibutyl Phthalate Causes Birth Defects

Not so much. Scientists now have strong evidence that dibutyl phthalate is teratogenetic—a fancy way of saying it causes birth defects. DBP causes damage to the reproductive organs of male fetuses in laboratory animals, in some cases rendering them sterile. So far there’s nothing to suggest that this damage isn’t also happening to human fetuses, because nobody has studied the issue in detail yet. Scientists have tested human subjects to see how many people are carrying DBP in their systems, however. The answer? 100%.

This isn’t surprising: for 40 years, DBP has been used in thousands of common products, including shower curtains, children’s toys, pharmaceutical capsules, and, perhaps most famously, nail polishes and nail treatments. You’ve been exposed to what seems to be a harmful chemical, so you should care.

Dibutyl Phthalate Is Literally At Your Fingertips

DBP is used by industry as a plasticizer. It makes materials more flexible and easy to mold or shape. DBP in nail treatments is a major concern because so many people use them so often. It helps keep the formula from becoming too watery while you’re painting it on, and makes it dry to a hard and shiny finish.

Unfortunately, DBP is absorbed through the nails (just because they’re hard doesn’t mean they’re non-porous), and then enters the bloodstream, the liver, and so on. If you’re pregnant, it also enters your growing baby.

Other Countries are Banning Dibutyl Phthalates

It’s because of this effect on male babies that the European Union and Canada have banned the use of DBP in nail treatments and other products. The FDA in the US has not followed suit, but pressure from consumer groups and environmental groups has convinced several major producers of nail treatments and nail polish to reformulate their products.

Since 2006, many major producers have taken DBP out of their goods. But not all producers, and not all of their goods, have had it removed.

You Can Avoid DBP In Nail Products

Even though the FDA isn’t getting tough on DBP the way its counterparts in other countries are, it’s becoming easier to choose products that don’t have DBP in them. Part of this is because of legislation. California passed a law in 2007 that requires the presence of DBP to be announced on labels. Part of this is because of pressure on companies, such as Sally Hansen, from consumers, as mentioned above.

But a major factor is the rise of cosmetics companies founded on eco-friendly or health-conscious values. Many companies formed in the last ten years have developed formulas that don’t use DBP or other toxins like toluene.

Nail-Aid, a Florida company, led the cosmetics industry in its use of ingredients like wheat protein and multivitamin compounds. It has never used DBP, formaldehyde, or toluene. Nail-Aid has also signed on to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a consumer advocacy group that recognizes the healthiest cosmetics companies. Consumers can visit the CSC’s website at to find new brands that deliver beauty without questionable toxins.