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Last updated January 1, 2014

Smelling Good May Cost Too Much

Hal Cohen, The Scientist, 17(2):21, January 2003

Smelling manly could harm more desirable manly traits, say some Harvard researchers. Investigators at the university's School of Public Health have found a link between sperm damage and monoethyl phthalate (MEP), a compound used to maintain the color and scent in many cosmetic and personal care items such as perfumes, aftershave colognes, and hair spray.

In ongoing research, five different urinary phthalate metabolites were measured in semen and urine taken from 168 men, but only MEP yielded a significant association with affected sperm. Susan Duty, a postdoctoral research fellow, says that sperm defects were assessed from the length of a sperm's comet tail, which is formed in cells with damaged DNA--the longer the tail, the more problems there are. Prior studies have shown phthalates to be a reproductive toxin in rats.

Researchers are not certain why MEP is deleterious to sperm, so Duty and Russ Hauser, assistant professor of occupational and environmental health, are recruiting a much larger sample size for the next study. Until then, keep the deodorant and perfume in the medicine cabinet, Duty advises. "We can't make any recommendations at this time on such a small sample size."


Preliminary Study of Phthalate Exposure in Humans Finds Association with Sperm DNA Damage
Harvard School of Public Health

The relationship between environmental exposures to phthalates and DNA damage in human sperm using neutral comet assay
Environmental Health Perspectives (NIH)




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