Study links cosmetics to increased risk of diabetes but trade association denies reports

By Andrew McDougall

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Personal care products, Cosmetics

A new study has suggested that phthalates found in many cosmetic products could increase the risk of diabetes in women, although the industry has moved quickly to refute these claims.

A team of scientists from Brigham and Women's Hospital found that elevated concentrations of phthalates in women’s bodies are associated with an increased chance of developing diabetes.

The researchers analyzed concentrations of phthalates in the urine of 2,350 women from across the US and found that women with the highest levels of mono-benzyl phthalate and mono-isobutyl phthalate were nearly twice as likely to develop diabetes as those with the lowest levels of the two chemicals.

Women with higher-than-average levels of mono-(3-carboxypropyl) phthalate had about a 60 percent increased risk of diabetes, and those with moderately high levels of the chemicals mono-n-butyl phthalate and di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate had about a 70 percent increased risk of diabetes.

Not conclusive

The study was published in peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives​ but the authors also state that further research is needed into the area, noting that the findings are ‘far from conclusive’.

It was led by Tamarra James-Todd, a researcher in the division of women's health at the hospital in Boston, who stated "this is an important first step in exploring the connection between phthalates and diabetes."

"We know that in addition to being present in personal care products, phthalates also exist in certain types of medical devices and medication that is used to treat diabetes and this could also explain the higher level of phthalates in diabetic women. So overall, more research is needed."

The researchers also cautioned that the women in the study "self-reported" their diabetes, a less than ideal method of conducting research. And while the study found a potential connection between phthalates and diabetes in women, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

‘No direct links’

The Cosmetic Toiletry & Perfumery Association echoed these sentiments insisted that cosmetic and personal care products are safe due to stringent EU rules surrounding the manufacture of products, which require manufacturers to carry out a rigorous safety assessment before placing a product on the market.

“It is important to stress that no direct links have been found between diabetes and the use of phthalates in personal care products; something that the authors of the study acknowledge,”​ says a CTPA statement.

“The cosmetics industry takes its responsibility to consumers very seriously and looks at new scientific studies or reports to see what implications, if any, there are for cosmetic products. In all cases, it is very important to put the science into context.”

It also questions whether any of the particular phthalates mentioned in the study are actually found in personal care products.

Previous studies

It is not the first time the link between phthalates and diabetes has been studied. Earlier this year a team of scientists at Uppsala University in Sweden published results linking the endocrine disrupting chemicals with diabetes.

The results showed that even at a modest increase in circulating phthalate levels, the risk of developing diabetes is doubled.

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