Personal care products use and phthalate exposure levels among pregnant women

March 11, 2019

Phthalates are well-known endocrine disrupting chemicals that remain ubiquitous in the environment. Fetuses are susceptible to phthalates within sensitive windows of development. It is crucial to determine the major sources of phthalates to reduce exposure. The use of personal care products (PCPs) has been suggested as one noticeable exposure pathway of phthalates. However, phthalates in PCPs are not as well-regulated as consumer products such as food contact materials, toys, and child care products. Thus, the risks of phthalate exposure caused by PCPs must be investigated. A recent work done by Dr. Shu-Li Wang and her collaborators revealed the associations between usage patterns of PCPs and urinary levels of phthalate metabolites across pregnancy in a multi-hospital based birth cohort. These new findings are recently published in the Science of The Total Environment, an international journal for scientific research into the environment and its relationship with humankind.

Dr. Shu-Li Wang of the National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) collaborates with Dr. Ming-Tsang Wu, Dr. Mei-Lien Chen, and Dr. Chia-Jung Hsieh in a birth cohort study named the Taiwan Mother Infant Cohort Study (TMICS). The TMICS group found significant associations between urinary phthalate metabolites and the use of PCPs, particularly leave-on PCPs, using structured questionnaires and repeated measures of urinary phthalate metabolites throughout the pregnancy. Because of the short half-lives of phthalates, it is hard to capture the temporal variation of phthalate exposure during pregnancy. A strength of this study lies in the use of repeated urinary phthalate measurements throughout pregnancy to reduce exposure misclassification. In summary, the research team indicated that with the increasing use of skin toners, lipsticks, and essential oils, individuals are exposed to higher concentrations of mono-ethyl phthalate (MEP). Additionally, a positive trend was found regarding the number of leave-on PCPs used and the measured change in MEP concentrations. Other positive associations included mono-benzyl phthalate (MBzP) and body lotions.

[Graphical abstract from Science of The Total Environment, 2019]

Dr. Wang and the team concluded that the use of leave-on PCPs is the more probable source of phthalate exposure in contrast to the use of rinse-off PCPs. They also suggest pregnant women reduce the frequency of leave-on PCPs use during pregnancy to avoid such phthalate exposure.

For the full text of our publication in the Science of The Total Environment, please visit:

Media contact:

Dr. Shu-Li Wang, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Health Research Institutes, TEL: +886-37-246-166 ext.36509, E-mail:  

Nathalie Huang, Secretariat, National Health Research Institutes, TEL: +886-37-246-166 ext.32113, E-mail:

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