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.