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Malibu Barbie, Holiday Barbie ... Toxic Barbie?

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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."

No one really knows how many vintage Barbies or other toys containing PVC are in circulation because everyday, more are found in the back of closets, basements, and in attics. And these are the toys most likely to be emitting the chemicals. Still, Locker has seen only two or three dolls that were sticky, and says that's because "they were stored in the attic, which resulted in extreme cold and hot temperatures that can force the plasticizer out of the doll." These dolls -- which the collectors call 'greasy' -- can be filled with cornstarch to help absorb the plasticizers back into the doll and then stored in acid-free tissue paper.

Locker says that if the old dolls are kept away from strong sunlight and in a reasonably climate-controlled area, most of them will remain in good condition for several years and not become sticky.

Mattel Inc., manufacturer of the Barbie doll, did not respond to WebMD's request for comment. However, Shashoua says that use of the troublesome substance has been generally banned, and a new formula now used in PVC products does not pose a known health risk.

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