Common Chemicals in Nail Polish, Perfume Could Lead to Diabetes

By Chelsea Whyte on July 13, 2012 8:27 PM EDT

nail polish
Personal care products, including nail polish, contain chemicals that may increase the risk of diabetes. (Photo: Creative Commons: » Zitona «)

Chemicals found in cosmetics, fragrances and plastic packaging could be fueling the dramatic rise in diabetes rates, according to a new study.

Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found an association between increased concentrations of phthalates - chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system - and an increased risk of diabetes in women. Phthalates are found in moisturizers, nail polishes, soaps, hair sprays and perfumes, and they are also used in adhesives, electronics and toys.

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The team, led by epidemiologist Tamarra James-Todd, analyzed urine samples of 2,350 women ages 20 to 80 who took part in the study between 2001 and 2008. They found that women with higher concentrations of the chemicals were more likely to have diabetes.

Of the participants, who made up a representative sample of American women controlled for socio-demographic, dietary and behavioral factors, 217 self-reported diabetes. Women who had the highest levels of two chemicals - mono-benzyl phthalate and mono-isobutyl phthalate - had nearly twice the risk of diabetes compared to those with the lowest levels of these chemicals.

A 70 percent increase in risk was found in women who had moderately high levels of the chemicals mono-n-butyl phthalate and di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate. It's possible that phthalates indirectly increase the risk of diabetes by interfering with the metabolism of fat tissue, which can lead to insulin resistance, the researchers said, according to Fox News.

"This is an important first step in exploring the connection between phthalates and diabetes," said James-Todd. "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, according to U.S. News & World Report.

"What we really need to do now is to start exploring phthalate levels over time," James-Todd told The Boston Globe, "to determine whether high levels actually lead to a greater risk of becoming obese and developing diabetes down the line."

Because of the common usage of phthalates, it could be difficult to avoid the chemicals. "A moisturizer can say it's phthalate-free, but it's packaging can still contain the chemical, which can leech into the cream," she said, according to The Boston Globe. "The bigger issue is whether the government should take steps to limit the use of phthalates in products."

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