Vintage Barbie® Dolls Can Be Dangerous To Your Health!
In my current article on Barbie® Doll Restoration, I talk about how to repair "greasy face" syndrome, which is a problem that occurs in certain 1960s vintage Barbie® dolls. Well, not only can greasy-faced Barbies® be a collecting annoyance, but it turns out they can also be bad for 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 (see the doll pictured, below, who suffers from this condition--the doll's face has a shiny look). 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.
Collectors try all sorts of remedies to get rid of the unattractive sticky look--they use talcum powder, even alcohol, which can be very damaging to the doll over time.
Now, EVERYONE needs to be aware that you shouldn't let young children play with Barbies from the early 1960s--the researchers say that this plasticizer can mimic estrogen and disrupt development in the very young. There is nothing to worry about with later Barbie dolls, however--the type of plastic that was used on these dolls was NOT used on later Barbies, and, in fact, has been banned from toy manufacture for many years.
If you have any old Barbies left over in a toy box, or that you were saving for your little girl to play with, NOW is the time to go and sell these dolls on eBay to adult collectors--besides the fact that you can make good money selling the dolls (some of the mint condition dolls are worth several hundred dollars!)--you will be keeping a potential health hazard away from children.
However, the VERY scary thing that researchers also said about these dolls which is of interest to collectors, is, and I quote: " The plasticizer in old toys forms a tacky slime on the surface. It eventually crystallizes and turns to dust." Um, that's right, dust. I can see my several #4 and #5 vintage Barbies, worth a few hundred dollars each, as piles of dust....its a very disturbing image!
BUT....the researchers haven't said how LONG it takes for the dolls to turn to dust. I have some #5 Barbies that have been oozing plasticizer for 10 years, and haven't gotten to the dust stage yet. Various museum conservationists worldwide are trying to find solutions for this problem, including sprays to stabilize the toys.
In the meantime, while the experts are looking for solutions, if you HAVE any of these dolls:
1. Keep them out of reach of children!
2. Keep them out of light and in cool storage places--follow the advice in my article on Doll Conservation.
With luck, these dolls will still be around to delight lovers of dolls for years to come--but not, unfortunately, to evermore be the playthings of children.
Kiss That Barbie! Why There Is No Such Thing As A Toxic Barbie: Don't miss Nick Hill's response to this article. Nick Hill lis a well-known vinyl doll preservation and restoration expert.
Are you interested in Conservation and Restoration issues? Don't miss our folder in the Dolls Forum devoted to doll restoration, repair and conservation! Exchange views, ask questions and LEARN! Join us HERE in the Doll Repair and Restoration Folder in the Dolls Forum!
©Denise Van Patten 2000
All Rights Reserved.
All photos ©Denise Van Patten 2000