The FDA's web site, meanwhile, says that people are exposed to phthalates from a variety of products and that "it's not clear what effect, if any, phthalates have on health." The FDA says that at the present time it "does not have compelling evidence that phthalates, as used in cosmetics, pose a safety risk," but says that it "continues to monitor consumers' potential exposure to phthalates through the use of cosmetic products."
Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency put eight phthalates on a "chemicals of concern list," pointing to human studies showing possible links with health problems and tests indicating effects on the reproductive systems of male lab animals. High doses of some phthalates have been shown to change hormone levels and cause birth defects in rodents. DEP, however, was not one of the eight phthalates placed on the list by the EPA.
Dr. Bailey of the Personal Care Products Council said in a statement that the assertions in the CSC report that some fragrance ingredients could be hormone disruptors are based on incomplete assessments of available scientific data about potential hormone affects and do not take into account actual exposure in cosmetic products: "[The amounts of the substances] measured [in this report] are tens of thousands of times less than what would be expected to cause effects in humans. The weight of evidence in hormone disruption science today does not support the conclusions presented in this report."
But a doctor interviewed by ABC News insisted consumers should pay attention to this study, which he said is part of a growing body of science that indicates that exposure to hormone disruptors like DEP may have negative consequences.
"In this country we assume chemicals are safe, people buy them and keep their fingers crossed," said Dr. Phil Landrigan, a pediatrician who is Chair of Preventative Medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York. Landrigan, who has recently conducted studies on DEP, has evaluated Environmental Working Group reports in the past, although he has no financial relationship with the group.
Landrigan noted that the European Union has stricter controls governing the use of chemicals in perfumes and therefore international perfume manufacturers often create two products, one with fewer chemicals for Europe, and one for the United States. "That's just sick to me," he said.
Landrigan said he recommends to pregnant women to minimize exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals found in fragrances. "They shouldn't buy perfume unless it is phthalate free."
An analysis of the study results by the EWG also found that a majority of the unlabeled ingredients found in the perfumes have no published safety assessments.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D.-Ill.) is drafting a bill that would require pre-testing of the products used in perfumes and would prohibit the use of any products linked to cancer or birth defects. The bill would also close what the CSC had described as a loophole, and require companies to fully disclose the chemical ingredients in perfumes.
"Consumers have no way of protecting themselves from what we know to be hazardous chemicals in cosmetics," said Schakowsky.