Monday, April 14, 2014

Are Our Doll's Killing Us?

My Chatty Cathy Family:  Chatty Cathy (Ashton Drake), Tiny Chatty Baby, Tiny Chatty Brother,Tiny Chatty Baby, 1960s Chatty Cathy, 1960s formerly white-now-dyed-brown Chatty Cathy

After posting the above photograph of most of my Chatty Cathy doll family, leaving them untouched on the shelf where they are permanently displayed, I realized that I forgot to photograph one additional member of the family.

I snapped the above separate photograph of Chatty Baby, then took a height comparison photograph of the doll alongside Tiny Chatty Baby and Chatty Cathy, the tallest of the three (next picture).

Chatty Baby (my almost forgotten Chatty family member) poses for a size comparison photo with one of my Tiny Chatty Baby dolls and Ashton-Drake's reproduction Chatty Cathy.
After touching one of my Tiny Chatty Babies, I noticed her face felt sticky.  Her body and arms, made of  different vinyl materials did not have this sticky film covering it.  I checked the other Chatty family members and found that only the Tiny Chatty Babies were affected.

After using a lens wipe on the above doll's face, I posted the following message in one of my Facebook doll groups:

...How can I remove the tacky/sticky feeling from my Tiny Chatty Baby dolls' faces. I noticed this earlier today when I took their photograph. It only affects the face. I think a chemical Mattel used in the vinyl is breaking down. It feels greasy/sticky. I used a lens cleaner to wipe one doll's face. It reduced it some, but it still feels tacky. I know corn starch has been suggested for white dolls, but I don't think that will work too well with brown dolls. Any suggestions?

One member suggested using a degreaser.  Another member suggested Dawn dishwashing detergent.

I tried Dawn first. Diluted in warm water, it seemed to remove approximately 75% of the stickiness, but I wanted it all gone. 

Tiny Chatties have had undiluted Dawn dishwashing liquid rubbed over all visible vinyl areas of their heads.

Going a step further, I rubbed undiluted Dawn all over the dolls' faces, ears, and napes of necks and allowed it to remain before washing it off the next day.   This worked well, but the face of one doll still felt a bit tacky.  I sprayed some undiluted Totally Awesome all-purpose cleaner and degreaser on that doll's face and washed off the residue.  Now all three have squeaky clean faces... at least for now.

Later in the day, another Facebook member added the following alarming comment:
OH! such a shame! It's called sticky doll disease and caused by a break down in the chemical make up. As far as I know, any cleaning will only be temporary and it will take over again. It usually gives a vinegary smell and eventually looks like it's covered in a fine powder. Make sure any diseased dolls are stored well away from your other dolls. If you have dolls made of the same chemical make up, it will spread!

So I googled "sticky doll disease" and found the following article, a portion of which I have shared here:

Vintage Barbie Dolls Can Be Dangerous to Your Health!
...Researchers in Europe reported this week at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society  that when the plastic used in vintage Barbie® dolls and other dolls made in the 1950s and 1960s disintegrates, that the plastic can emit a chemical that can disrupt hormone development in young children.

What happens is that in certain (not all) formulations of the plastic used to make these old dolls and toys, the plasticizer has separated from the plastic mix and has begun to ooze out of the toy...  These dolls were manufactured with a type of plastic called polyvinyl chloride.  Not all plastic dolls and toys from this era suffer from this "doll disease"--in fact, many, like the Barbie pictured at left, show no signs of this disintegration.  The ones that do, however, feel "sticky."

The researchers have just stumbled on this phenomena, which has been familiar to vintage Barbie collectors for years!  So far, only certain #4 and #5 dolls have suffered from this "sticky" disease.  It is not known if eventually all Barbie and similar vinyl dolls from this era will suffer from this problem, and the researchers were silent on this point...

Early 1960s blonde ponytail Barbie has weeping legs

The mention of #4 and #5 Barbie's led me to retrieve my early 1960s Barbie that I already knew suffered from "greasy" legs.  I have repeatedly wiped the substance that oozes from her legs away only to have it return.  This time when I examined her, there was no ooze, but her face and legs still looked shiny.  I decided to remove her clothing, give her an undiluted Dawn rub down, and allow the Dawn to remain on overnight before washing off.  I also hand washed her clothes.

Early 1960s Barbie with Dawn applied all over her body in hopes of eliminating or stalling any further vinyl ooze.

The above mentioned article warned that children should not be allowed to play with dolls with this condition because "the plasticizer can mimic estrogen and disrupt development in the very young."  The writer indicates the type of plastic used on modern Barbies does not contain the chemicals used on dolls from the 1960s.  But my question is:  Are there other chemicals being used in today's dolls that we should be worried about?

I know for certain that this breakdown in materials in not isolated to dolls from the 1950s and 1960s. 
In 2004 when doll manufacturers combined vinyl and silicone in an attempt to create the feeling of human skin for artist baby dolls, they had no idea this material would also decompose resulting in an unsightly lumpy texture.  While not all silicone-vinyl dolls have begun this process of deterioration, I have at least three that developed this unnamed doll disease.  "Now" and "prior" photos of the one most afflicted are shown below:
Be Still My Heart by Sheila Michael made of a silicone-vinyl mix will do more than make a heart standstill with the indentations across her forehead that extend down to her nose.   The doll was made in 2004.  I first noticed the lumpiness about three years ago, which has progressively gotten worse.  The next picture is how she looked before this decomposition began.

Be Still My Heart before the silicone-vinyl deterioration -- she looks totally different now.

I have an additional question:  What are we exposing ourselves to when we surround ourselves with dolls -- both old and new -- for extended periods of time?  Mattel's dolls have been produced offshore since the 1960s and now with most toy manufacturers and doll artists who mass produce dolls using labor from China and other offshore locations, how can we feel confident that chemicals being used in dollmaking are safe for human exposure?  The answer is:  We cannot.    

Please share your thoughts. 




  1. More recent Barbie dolls have been found this problem aka "leaky legs." Charles of Dollstuff wrote about this phenomenon.

    Some dolls in my collection have this problem: a Generation Girl Blaine, a 1960s Allan, a Magic Jewel AA Ken. My Harley Davidson AA Barbie had sticky black boots, but her feet have been okay since I set those boots aside. I've set aside dolls with this problem to avoid cross contamination. I would not sell dolls with this condition - not knowingly anyway.

    Most of my dolls are not affected by this problem so I am not worried about it overall. It is a shame that it has happened, but I don't think that Mattel and/or other plastic/vinyl manufacturers thought that the plastics could break down as they have - in some cases. For more recent dolls - current dolls - I do think that we need to inform Mattel et al. of these problems to avoid any potential of harm to children.

    P.S. I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award.

    1. Thanks, D7ana, for sharing the link to Charles' informative article. I believe I read it some time ago. I had always thought this condition was isolated to Barbie, but apparently it is not.

      I saw the link to part 2 of your Versatile Blogger Award yesterday on Facebook, tried to follow it, but access was slower than my patience allowed. I tried it again earlier today... same thing. I decided to access it directly from the Blogger Dashboard and was able to read it. Thank you for nominating me. I shared a link to your post on my Black Doll Collecting Blog page of Facebook, where I thanked you there as well. I cannot remember if I commented on your post. If not, please excuse my oversight. I will scoot on over and rectify that now. Big thanks, again!


    2. You're welcome, DBG! Yes, you read Charles' article before. No, other toy manufacturers use the same or similar plastics as Mattel does. So they would have the same leak problem. Sigh. As you, Vanessa, and Paulette point out, we the collectors will need to be vigilant for our sake and for those we love. Thanks for bringing up this topic.

      Regarding the Versatile Blogger Award - I know you have received many Awards for your blog. I wanted you to have one from me though ;-)

      Thanks for the time, effort, and love you share here in the creation and the sharing of this blog. Write/Right on!

  2. Well you said it, we can't know for sure what we are being exposed to. This is a great post, albeit a little alarming. It's nice to know more about the "sticky disease". I used to have Barbie dolls with sticky legs. They have since been rebodied. Oh my goodness! I can't believe that happened to your silicone-vinyl baby. That is pretty disturbing. That doesn't even look like the same doll. I think sometimes doll makers rush to create the next new thing, without doing adequate research. But the market moves so quickly, there isn't time to test product for 10 years to see if it holds up. Doll people need to be alerted to what's potentially happening to their health. In my case, I don't feel I have overexposure to my dolls. They are mostly kept in one area. I still think we are more likely to get sick from what is knowingly happening to our food source, but we definitely need to know this,too.

    1. Hi Vanessa,

      Yes, our food source is another cause for alarm as well as other products we consume and expose ourselves to on a daily basis.

      I was recently in a local grocer's "fresh" fish section, very few selections has domestic sources. Most selections were from China with others from India, Vietnam and other non-American sources. I had to pay more per pound for the American tilapia I purchased, but it was worth it to me.

      It makes me want to "take to my bed" and cover my head, but my sheets were probably made offshore, too. These issues of inferior and often unsafe products all stem from Corporate America's attempt to decrease production costs and increase profits at the top while simultaneously eliminating American jobs and compromising our livelihood and overall well-being.

      I am going to continue to read labels, buy American as much as possible, and now think twice about adding additional soft and hard plastic vintage dolls to my collection.


  3. Hi Debbie,

    I have been wondering about the toxicity of plasticizers for some time. Since I buy a lot of clones, the sticky legs phenomenon is quite common. Usually I rebody those dolls but I have also had to throw some out after a year or two because their legs, faces, and even hair were breaking down.

    I don't think we should be paranoid about our dolls in particular, however. The plastic bins that I keep my play sets in also leach plasticizer. They are all Rubbermaid brand which supposedly stands for quality. Our homes are full of plastics and particle board that off gasses formaldehyde (another toxin). Until corporations are held accountable to all stakeholders and not just shareholders, we will continue being poisoned for profit.

    1. That is the bottom line, Paulette: Until corporations are held accountable to all stakeholders and not just shareholders, we will continue being poisoned for profit.

      Proceeding on, I will buy with caution and with non-doll products, remain highly selective in my purchases.


  4. I think that being aware is the best we can do in the face of outsourced manufacturing - heck, even with insourced manufacturing, you just never know the long reaching consequences of materials until it occurs. Just like I recently found that most of the Barbie's I bought in 1991 disintegrated at the neck when I tried to remove their heads. I have also noticed that a few of my boxed Liv dolls have greasy faces.

  5. Hi Muff,

    I haven't seen any issues with my LIV Alexis dolls or the heads that were on Alexis bodies, but you never know what might happen in the future. I wonder if keeping yours inside the box caused the leaching.

    Continuing to proceed with caution,


  6. interesting, informative read.... as I garage sale/estate buy dolls

  7. I just unboxed a year 2000 Mattel Generation Girl My Room Mari doll. This is a gorgeous Asian face-mold doll that was only produced for that one year. I have two other Maris from 2000---both "Dance Party" models (different color eye makeup from the "My Room" version, so it's worth hunting down the elusive "My Room Mari" to have a variant).

    I freed her today from her Ebay shipper and then her Mattel factory-sealed box. That took a few minutes; her hair is sewn to a plastic backer, in two places, and to a green fuzzy pillow thing. I carefully freed the stitches and liberated the doll. She is lovely.

    I took off her pajama bottoms and found that her legs were very sticky. That dreaded thing. I will have to alcohol and powder her legs, and if possible, eventually rebody her.

    I have started collecting vintage Barbies, bubble cuts mostly, but have avoided any of the earliest ones of particular number issues because I want nothing to do with the greasy-face syndrome. I'm not really crazy about the narrower faces of that facemold anyway, so I go for the later 1962, 63, and newer Barbie bubble cuts. I know about green ear, and how some vintage models may be able to be degreened completely or at least partially, but that Mod-era dolls generally can't be, so don't hold out hope for them. So I don't buy any green-ear dolls---just not ready for that experiment. (However, I've bought a couple of successfully degreened dolls, and they were fine.) I've read and read and know what to avoid. I've read about the problems of TNT Mod-era pink vinyl Barbies and know about their difficulties, the way the faces yellow and the way they can go to rot in general, what can be bleached or painted over or color-washed and restored, and what can't, even down to the way different years of Barbies react to the same kinds of treatments, because of known problems with the vinyl from that relative year or model. I research and avoid the troubled ones, looking only for particular dolls that don't display the kind of problems that I am not prepared to live with. I'm very picky about the plastic and having all the fingers and toes in place, and no splits in the head or nips on the nose (although I truly don't mind scratches on the body, or a few stains on the legs, or a few spots on the arms) and I've gotten some very nice vintage dolls, for not too much money, that don't have any of these troubles.

    But how do you plan for such a new doll having such an icky problem? It stumps me.

    1. Eklectic 1,

      You seem to be quite knowledgeable about which vintage dolls to shy away from that might have begun the process of deterioration or have some other undesirable traits. There seems to always be that one doll that manages to slip through the cracks.

      It is unfortunate that a doll of 15 years has sticky leg syndrome. I hope alcohol and powdering will cure the ailment.

      We take risks when we purchase dolls on the secondary market that are NRFB and others that are unable to be examined physically. Until the doll arrives, the stability of the materials the manufacturer used will remain a mystery. We can only hope for the best or choose the alternative: buy new dolls that might eventually do the same thing.


  8. I have had problems with my original Hasbro Shana Doll. At first I was keeping on her original outfit, but then I noticed years later that the pants she was wearing had damaged her legs. I thought it was just the pants, and I should have removed her clothes to store her or only used plain cotton clothes, but then I noticed her torso is now a different color from the rest of her body.

    1. Hi Laurel,

      I am sorry to hear about your Shana's discoloration issue. I need to check my doll. She came to me redressed in a nylon jumper, but who knows her body might have already been discolored when she arrived. I'll have to check.

      We just never know what changes might occur over time with the synthetic materials used in doll making.


  9. I am starting to notice this with my she ra horses from the 1980s and it is only the crystal horses that have this problem. All of the crystal horses wings are sticky to the touch and one has a leg that is starting to bend , and curl under the body and one is giving off this nasty chemical like smell. I worry because these toys are not that old .

    1. What you've described seems to also be a chemical breakdown or leaching of materials. I have seen it happen with dolls from the 1990s. It's very unfortunate that some of the things we love were made from materials that fight against themselves and melt away into the atmosphere. The chemical smell is a sure sign this is happening and I wouldn't personally want to keep something with this obvious sign of breakdown.



Thank you! Your comments are appreciated!