We can’t address and end the breast cancer crisis without ending our involuntary exposures to harmful chemicals that may increase our risk for the disease.

Many of our everyday products have chemicals like parabens, phthalates, PFAS, and other chemicals that are possibly carcinogenic, interfere with normal hormone function, and/or alter mammary gland development. In order to stop cancer before it starts, we must go upstream: we must shift responsibility from consumers to the industries using these harmful chemicals in their formulas.

In fact, BCAction became the first breast cancer organization to identify parabens and phthalates as a source of concern for breast cancer in 2003.

Here’s what you need to know about phthalates:

  • Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more durable.
  • They are commonly found in fragranced cosmetics and personal care products, as well as nail polish.
  • Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, and exposure to phthalates has been linked to breast cancer, developmental issues, decreased fertility, obesity and asthma.
  • Phthalates are also known to be hormone-mimicking chemicals, many of which disrupt normal hormonal processes, raising concern about their implications for increased breast cancer risk.
  • Phthalates are known to cause a broad range of birth defects and lifelong reproductive problems in laboratory animals exposed to these chemicals during pregnancy and after birth.
  • Because Phthalates are often not disclosed on the product label, it is difficult to tell just by reading the label whether phthalates are present. However, products that contain “fragrance” are likely to contain phthalates.

Phthalates impact different communities differently.

  • Adult women have higher levels of metabolites measured in urine than do men for phthalates used in soaps, body washes, shampoos, cosmetics, and similar personal care products. 
  • Non-Hispanic Blacks have higher levels of exposure for several phthalates and phthalate alternative metabolites than do Non-Hispanic Whites. 

While phthalates are banned for use in cosmetics in the European Union, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently require testing or approval of cosmetic products prior to entering the market. Consequently, phthalates and other harmful ingredients are regarded as safe for use in cosmetics formulas in the United States.

The Difficulty in Avoiding Phthalates

All U.S. cosmetics and personal care products are required to list their ingredients in order of their relative quantity, with the most frequently used ingredient listed first. However, any ingredients used in fragrances or mixtures are considered trade secrets and are exempt from these requirements. Phthalates are frequent components of fragrances, which often contain dozens of chemicals. The entire mixture simply appears as “fragrance” on the ingredient list. Thus, a product may include phthalates that are not listed on its label.

This fragrance and trade secret loophole gives consumers little power to avoid phthalates when purchasing their personal care products. Consumers should e-mail or call the company to ask whether their products contain phthalates. After extensive research, BCA was able to compile a list of some natural cosmetic companies that make products without phthalates, but it is not an exhaustive list of phthalates-free companies.

What You Can Do:

Want to know if your products contain phthalates? Here are some steps to take:

  • Check the product’s packaging for the “phthalate-free” or “0% phthalates” labels. 
  • Look for these acronyms in ingredient lists on the packaging:
    • DBP (dibutyl phthalate) 
    • DINP (diisononyl phthalate) 
    • DEP (diethyl phthalate) 
    • DEHP (di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate) 
    • DMP (dimethyl phthalate) 
    • BBP (benzyl butyl phthalate) 
    • DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate) 
    • DIDP (diisodecyl phthalate) 
  • Find out which company makes the product you use. See if they have a more extensive ingredient list on the company’s website.
  • E-mail or call the company to ask if its products contain phthalates.

At BCAction we know that large-scale, systemic change is how to address and end the breast cancer crisis, not individual acts of risk reduction.

As the breast cancer industry watchdog, our work is guided by a precautionary approach to public health, the Precautionary Principle, and we work towards true primary prevention of breast cancer. We hold accountable individual corporations, the entire cosmetics industry, and the regulatory agencies whose job it is to protect our health. We have called out industries such as the beauty industry, cleaning product industry, and plastics industry for their use of phthalates, and we’ve supported state and federal legislation to make personal care products safe.

Join our community of breast cancer activists by signing-up for our mailing list and taking action with us on behalf of all people living with and at risk of breast cancer!


Paraben-Free Cosmetics
Parabens are chemical preservatives that have been identified as estrogenic and disruptive of normal hormone function. Estrogenic chemicals mimic the function of the naturally–occurring hormone estrogen, and exposure to external estrogens these chemicals has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer. READ MORE

Mission, Vision, and Values
Among the endless sea of lucrative breast cancer charities, corporate donors, and pharmaceutical-funded research agendas, the independent voice that defines Breast Cancer Action has never been more urgently needed, and our relevance as an activist watchdog organization is greater than ever. READ MORE

Root Causes of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a complex group of diseases that occurs in an environmentally complex world. We are exposed to multiple chemicals and radiation sources in the course of our daily lives. READ MORE