A coalition of environmental, health and women's organizations, known as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, is pushing to remove phthalates from a wide array of beauty products. The organization put ads in newspapers and women's magazines, as well as a billboard at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

The group is demanding that cosmetics manufacturers remove phthalates and other harmful ingredients. A recent FDA study concluded that phthalates were found in two-thirds of the products tested, including skin care, body care and hair care products. Since the FDA does not regulate the use of pthalates in cosmetics and beauty aids, however, manufacturers are not required to disclose them as ingredients.

Proponents of the ban cite research that the chemical decreases fertility and causes birth defects in rodents. Other studies have linked phthalates in men's urine with sperm abnormalities. A recent study of 85 infant boys found a correlation between increased exposure to some forms of the chemical phthalate and smaller penis size and incomplete testicular descent. It is the first time phthalates have been shown to influence the sexual development of human males.

The human study raises concerns because the infants did not experience levels even close to the high doses used in rat experiments. The boys' exposures, measured by analyzing their mothers' urine during pregnancy, were no higher than those found among the general population.

Many researchers say the current research does not prove that phthalates harm humans. The Wall Street Journal reported that "an expert panel of the industry-supported Cosmetic Ingredient Review, which assesses safety and publishes findings in peer-reviewed journals, has concluded that exposure levels for humans are far below those in the animal studies and well within the margin of safety set by the Environmental Protection Agency, even when multiple phthalate-containing products are used at once." The FDA says it 'does not have compelling evidence that phthalates, as used in cosmetics, pose a safety risk.'

The controversy continues. Legislation introduced this month in New York state would to ban the use of certain phthalates in beauty products. A similar bill in California was recently defeated. The European Union, which unlike the U.S. can act against chemicals if there is only a suspicion of harm, recently banned the use of certain phthalates. To comply, several major cosmetics companies have agreed to reformulate their products world-wide.

For more information visit The Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, at