P&G Pledges To Remove Controversial Chemicals From Its Products

While maintaining it’s products were never unsafe, Procter & Gamble says it's caving to consumer pressure to stop using phthalates and triclosan.
By @katierucke |
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    Personal care company Proctor and Gamble bans two controversial ingredients, some found in toothpaste, antibacterial soaps children’s lunch boxes, backpacks and school supplies. (Photo/makelessnoise via Flickr)

    Proctor & Gamble is banning two controversial ingredients in its products, some of which are found in toothpaste, antibacterial soaps, children’s lunch boxes, backpacks and school supplies. (Photo/makelessnoise via Flickr)

    Last week Procter & Gamble (P&G), one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, announced it would be banning two controversial ingredients from all of its beauty and personal care products: phthalates and triclosan.

    P&G is the world’s largest manufacturer of consumer products and includes brands such as CoverGirl, Tide, Crest and Ivory. Though the company says it uses a safe form of both chemicals, the company has been working for several years to eliminate phthalates in particular from its products. On its website, P&G wrote, “We are 70 percent of the way there and will be finished by 2014.”

    The announcement comes about a decade after activist groups began targeting P&G and other consumer product manufacturers, saying that companies should stop using the chemicals that have been linked to birth defects, cancer, diabetes and infertility.

    “We made a strategic choice to exit the use of these two ingredients for a couple of reasons, including feedback from some of the people who use our products,” said Dr. Scott Heid, a company spokesman. Heid added that currently 70 percent of all P&G products are phthalate-free while triclosan has already been removed from P&G’s personal care products.

    According to P&G, phthalates are a diverse group of materials that makes plastic more flexible. The chemical is used in a variety of products, from building materials and medical devices to lunch boxes and sporting equipment.

    Comparing phthalates to mushrooms, the company wrote on its website that some types of phthalates — those P&G uses — are safe, while others are not. P&G says that the type of  phthalate used in its products, known as diethyl phthalate (DEP), is used to make the scent in fragrances last longer and has been ruled safe by the Food and Drug Administration. The chemical is also used in soap and shampoo, where it not only helps scents last longer, but colors as well.

    Other types of phthalates known as DBP and DEHP, which have been banned by the European Union for safety reasons, are not currently used by P&G.

    “DEP has been reviewed by regulatory agencies, and is permitted for use in a wide variety of products around the world. Monitoring studies have show DEP amounts from all product sources to be well within established safe ranges, and it is easily broken down and eliminated,” the company’s website says.

    Still, due to all of the concerns about the chemical’s effect on a person’s health, P&G says it has worked to eliminate DEP from its products, including fragrances.

    “We know that there is the potential for people to confuse DEP with other phthalates that are banned from certain product types,” Heid said. “We want people to also feel safe about using our products and not have any misperceptions about the product ingredients we use. So, we decided to remove DEP from our products.”

    The company also says that it will also no longer use triclosan, an antimicrobial agent that slows or stops the growth of germs such as bacteria and mildew. However, other reports have referred to triclosan as a “pesticide” that has been added to products such as toothpaste, antibacterial soaps, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, cutting boards and school supplies, and is known to cause hormone disruptions that can lead to thyroid disorders and diabetes.

    In response to the company’s chemical ban, P&G has maintained that triclosan is safe and that the company’s decision to remove the ingredient came after discussions regarding how effective it was in reducing bacteria.

    However, a press release from Women’s Voices for the Earth, a co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics national coalition, says that the FDA is reviewing the safety of triclosan after scientific studies showed the chemical contributes to antibacterial resistance.

    In addition to affecting the health of a user, triclosan can also form toxic byproducts in tap water and may additionally pose a threat to fish and other aquatic life.

    Andy Igrejas is the executive director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. He applauded P&G’s decision to remove the chemicals, saying, “This is one of the most significant steps taken by a major market player to remove harmful chemicals in common consumer products. Companies increasingly see the value in selling safer products to their customers. This welcome news will create momentum among competitors and retailers to improve the safety of products on store shelves.”

    Janet Nudelman, program director at the Breast Cancer Fund and co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, agreed with Igrejas the announcement was a positive first step, and said, “The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics congratulates P&G for taking bold and globally significant action to protect the health of its 4.8 billion consumers.”

    “Major multinational cosmetic companies have no business using toxic chemicals linked to health concerns including cancer and reproductive harm to manufacture personal care products,” she continued. “Now it’s time for the other industry giants like Avon, Estee Lauder, Revlon, L’Oreal and Unilever to clean up their act by eliminating these and other toxic chemicals from their cosmetics and personal care products.”

    While the reaction has been mostly positive for P&G, some say they are concerned that the company seems to avoid acknowledging just how harmful these chemicals are. In a March 2013 episode of the NBC program “Dateline,” one of the show’s producers wanted to see how her daily behaviors affected the levels of chemicals in her body, including phthalates and triclosan.

    Using a urine analysis, producer Andrea Canning tested the baseline of the chemicals in her body, which were around the national average. She then ate a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and avoided products that contained the chemicals as best as she could. She used unscented cosmetics and avoided antibacterial soap. At the end of the experiment, her urinalysis showed she had almost none of those chemicals in her body anymore.

    But after using scented makeup, drinking from plastic containers, using Dial soap and brushing her teeth with Colgate Total, her numbers spiked. After the program ran, more of the American public was aware that the use of common products such as toothpaste, hand soap and perfume can expose a person to chemicals that may have harmful side effects.

    According to a report from the Environmental Working Group, teenagers are at the highest risk for chemical exposure since they tend to experiment with different kinds of cosmetics and personal care products. In the report, 16 different chemicals were found in the blood and urine samples of 20 adolescent girls aged 14 to 19. The chemicals found in the teens were linked to health effects such as cancer and hormone disruption.

    Groups like the EWG say the use of the chemicals wouldn’t be a worrisome an issue if Americans were exposed to only one product containing the chemicals in question a day, but point to the fact that on average, Americans are exposed to between 10 and 15 such products daily. The EWG estimates that Americans apply between 126 to 178 different ingredients to their skin daily, which in aggregate makes the chemicals particularly hazardous.

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