Is perfume or hair spray increasing diabetes in women?

July 20, 2012

Women with higher urinary levels of certain phthalates—endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonly found in personal care products, such as moisturizers, nail polish, soap, perfume and hair spray—are almost twice as likely to develop diabetes mellitus as women with lower levels.

Is perfume or hair spray increasing diabetes in women?

  • Phthalate exposure associated with higher risk of DM

  • No association between phthalates and hemoglobin A1c levels

Women with higher urinary levels of certain phthalates-endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonly found in personal care products, such as moisturizers, nail polish, soap, perfume and hair spray-are almost twice as likely to develop diabetes mellitus as women with lower levels.

In the first study to examine an association between phthalates and diabetes mellitus (DM) in a large U.S. population, researchers from Brigham and Women’s hospital included 2,350 women aged 20 to 80 participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001 to 2008.

Published online in Environmental Health Perspectives, the findings revealed that approximately 9% of the women in the study reported being diagnosed with DM by a physician. After adjusting for potential confounders, including urinary creatinine, body size, and other sociodemographic, dietary, and behavioral factors, the investigators found that the women in the highest quartile for the 2 phthalates known as mono-benzyl phthalate (MBzP) and mono-isobutyl phthalate (MiBP) were almost twice as likely to develop DM as the women in the lowest quartile. Those in the 3rd or 4th quartiles for urinary levels of mono-(3-carboxypropyl) phthalate (MCPP) were 55% to 68% more likely to develop DM. And those in at least the 3rd quartile for levels of mono-n-butyl phthalate (MnBP) and di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) were about 70% more likely to become diabetic.

Although the researchers found evidence of a threshold effect with MBzP and MCPP, they found that increasing levels of MiBP continued to increase the odds of DM. The investigators also found that MiBP was positively associated with fasting blood glucose, and that MiBP and DEHP were positively associated with homeostasis model assessment-estimated insulin resistance (HOMA-IR), both of which are markers for DM. They found no associations between the phthalates studied and hemoglobin A1c levels.

Phthalates are also found in adhesives, food packaging, flooring, electronics, toys, medical devices, and in some medications used to treat DM, so reverse causation cannot be ruled out in the current study, according to the authors.  

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