Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Health & Parenting

Font Size
A
A
A

Malibu Barbie, Holiday Barbie ... Toxic Barbie?


WebMD Health News

Aug. 25, 2000 -- For generations, parents and grandparents have passed along their old Barbie dolls to little ones. Now a report shows that this might not be such a healthy idea. Information presented this week at the American Chemical Society meeting in Washington suggests that some vintage toys -- including Barbies -- may pose a health risk to very young children.

According to Yvonne Shashoua, a conservation scientist and chemist with the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, some old Barbie dolls manufactured in the early years after her release in 1959 contain polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. PVC has also been found in "protective clothing, footwear ... and medical equipment," says Shashoua. Some of these items are deteriorating and oozing a chemical that could disrupt development and interfere with the reproductive system in very young children.

PVC is a chemical found in thousands of products to help keep them soft. While PVC has been linked to cancer and kidney and liver damage in animals, the threat to humans has not been proven. Some European studies have shown that when PVC begins to deteriorate, a chemical is emitted that can mimic the female hormone estrogen, causing potential danger.

But Shashoua says, "It's not a cause for alarm, but rather caution."

"The dolls are not poisonous -- it's not like rat poison," she tells WebMD, "but it is something that can build up in the body and have future effects. The effects are known, but the quantities that can produce an effect are not known," she says. "It's best to be cautious."

But some experts aren't so sure about the Barbie hoopla.

Joseph Prohaska, PhD, says he believes that the report "is a bit overreacting." He says, in fact, estrogen similar to that found in some Barbie dolls is not harmful. "I would be careful not to pull the fire alarm without more information," he tells WebMD. Prohaska is professor and biochemist in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in Maryland had no specific comment about PVC in old Barbie dolls, but a spokeswoman did tell WebMD, "We will review the work conducted by the Danish researchers and determine if there is a need for concern."

Owners of vintage dolls can recognize PVC by a stickiness or the 'tacky' feel on the outside the doll. "These [dolls] have become sticky on the surface and difficult to handle," Shashoua says. "If you have a Barbie doll from the '50s and it's sticky, always wash your hands and never let children lick or chew them. The best thing is to put them in a plastic bag and avoid contact with the surface."

But although many people have vintage Barbies, it's not likely that many of the dolls in circulation pose a health risk. According to collector Sarah Locker, president of the Barbie Doll Club of Eastern Oklahoma in Tulsa, "This doesn't concern me too much because most of these dolls are in the hands of adult collectors and rarely handled," she tells WebMD. "Collectable dolls are usually kept in climate-controlled situations well away from sunlight and are not exposed to the elements that cause the plasticizers to leak."

Today on WebMD

family walking on the beach
Slideshow
two boys in a swing
Article
 
mistakes_parents_make_with_toddlers_2.jpg
Article
woman with cleaning products
Slideshow
 
mother and daughter talking
Tool
child brushing his teeth
Slideshow
 
Sipping hot tea
Slideshow
Young woman holding lip at dentists office
Video
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Build a Fitter Family Challenge – Get your crew motivated to move.
Feed Your Family Better Challenge - Tips and tricks to healthy up your diet.
Sleep Better Challenge - Snooze clues for the whole family.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply
Which Vaccines Do Adults Need
Article
rl with friends
fitSlideshow
 
tissue box
Quiz
Child with adhd
Slideshow