Exposure poses potential risks for pregnant women working in retail
Women of reproductive age could be exposing themselves to harm by working on retail cosmetics and perfume counters. Researchers found higher levels of phthalates in these workers in Taiwan and warn that this can pose health risks, particularly for pregnant women.
Phthalates are a class of compound added to plastics to introduce flexibility and put in cosmetics as carriers for fragrances. Several phthalates have been listed as endocrine disruptors and attention has focused on their potential cumulative effects on reproductive health.
A team from Taiwan assessed levels of phthalates in 23 cosmetics, four perfume and nine clothing sales assistants before and after their shift. ‘We found that the potential reproductive and [liver] risk of these [cosmetics and perfume] sales clerks for a period of time were increased, and exposure route from inhalation and dermal absorption could be crucial,’ says first author Po-Chun Huang at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Taiwan.
The main contributors to exposure were dibutyl phthalate (DBP), diethyl phthalate (DEP) and di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP). Higher levels of DEP and DEHP were measured in cosmetics and perfume sales areas of the shop. And cosmetic sales staff had higher levels of urinary metabolites of DEHP, DEP and DBP than those selling clothing. The formulations in cosmetics and fragrances sold in Asia may differ from those sold elsewhere, however, even for the same brands. It is therefore uncertain if the results of the Taiwanese study are applicable worldwide.