Recent Study Examines and Advises on the Potential Presence and Risk of Phthalates in Fabric Face Coverings

February 8, 2021

Paustenbach and Asssociates

We are pleased to share with you that our toxicologist, Melinda Donnell, recently published an article titled Methodology for Exposure and Health Risk Screening of Phthalates Potentially Present in Fabric Face Coverings in the journal Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: An International Journal. The article can be found here.  

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first suggested the use of fabric face coverings by individuals aged two years and older in public places in April of 2020 to help mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). This recommendation was intended to reserve the use of surgical masks and N95 respirators for healthcare workers and other medical first responders due to limited medical supplies. More recent guidelines were released in May of 2021, where the CDC advised that fully vaccinated individuals did not need to wear a mask except during travel and while indoors in certain establishments such as hospitals. In these instances, the CDC advised individuals to wear medical masks or masks made from breathable, tightly woven fabric such as cotton. Due to shortages of face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, many textile companies that traditionally manufactured clothing articles began producing fabric face coverings. In addition, many instructional videos for homemade face coverings were released onto the internet. 

A recent study by Xie et al. (2022) reported the presence of several phthalates in disposable and N95 face masks; however, no study has been published that evaluated the implications of the potential presence of phthalates in fabric face coverings (either commercially sold or handmade). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to estimate the concentrations of several phthalates in fabric face coverings; estimate the potential consumer exposures via the dermal and inhalation routes and compare them to health guidance values (HGVs); and advise on voluntary phthalate testing strategies and product specifications in textiles and/or face coverings. 

In this study, predicted phthalate exposures were below HGVs for both dermal and inhalation routes of exposure, indicating that a health risk from phthalates in face coverings was unlikely. Further, the authors found that the reported phthalate concentrations in textiles were well below the 0.1% regulatory limit established in many different countries for childcare articles or toys. 

How Can Paustenbach and Associates Help?

Phthalates and their potential health risks have been a concern among health officials, elected leaders, and the general public for several years (Benjamin et al. 2017, Boas et al. 2010, OEHHA 2021, Wen et al. 2017). We anticipate that the recently discovered potential presence of phthalates in face coverings will raise questions among consumers and advocacy groups, even as face coverings continue to be a critical tool for reducing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and other infectious agents. Paustenbach and Associates scientists have over 40 years of experience in conducting risk assessments, performing exposure and safety assessments for consumer products, and providing recommendations on potential solutions in product testing as it relates to human health. Please contact us at for more information regarding our capabilities.


Benjamin S, Masai E, Kamimura N, Takahashi K, Anderson RC, Faisal PA. 2017. Phthalates impact human health: epidemiological evidences and plausible mechanism of action. J Hazard Mater. 340:360–383. doi:10.1016/j.jhazmat.2017.06.036

Boas M, Frederiksen H, Feldt-Rasmussen U, Skakkebaek NE, Heged€us L, Hilsted L, Juul A, Main

KM. 2010. Childhood exposure to phthalates: associations with thyroid function, insulin-like

growth factor I, and growth. Environ Health Perspect. 118(10):1458–1464. doi:10.1289/ehp.


OEHHA. 2021. Chemicals considered or listed under Proposition 65. 

Massarsky, A., M. T. Donnell, N. R. Binczewski, K. Chan, D. Dinh, J. L. Bare, and K. M. Unice. 2022. Methodology for exposure and health risk screening of phthalates potentially present in fabric face coverings. Hum Ecol Risk Assess. 28(1):184-204.

Xie H, Han W, Xie Q, Xu T, Zhu M, Chen J. 2022. Face mask-A potential source of phthalate exposure for human. J Hazard Mater. 422:126848. doi:10.1016/j.jhazmat.2021.126848