Phthalates: Hidden Dangers In Everyday Products

Lori Alper, Groovy Green Livin’

I think we can all agree that this “going green journey” can at times be overwhelming. There are so many things to consider and remember when it comes to the safety of our families and the planet. At the top of my greenie “to do” list is avoidance of all toxic chemicals that could potentially make me and/or my family sick.

Sounds simple, yet it’s not. Especially when it comes to phthalates.

What are phthalates?

Phthalates are chemicals used as softeners or plasticizers in polyvinyl chloride (PVC, vinyl) products. They can be found in hundreds of products: pre-2009 toys, wallpaper, cling wrap, shower curtains, nail polish, perfume, blood bags, cosmetics, personal care products, shampoos, carpeting, wood finishes and insecticides (the list could go on and on). Phthalates have even been known to coat pharmaceutical pills and vitamins.

Manufacturers like to use phthalates because when added to plastic it increases the flexibility and durability of the plastic and allows products such as nail polish, skin products, perfumes, hair gels, wallpaper and paint to cling on and last longer. That new car smell that you either love or hate is partly caused by phthalates.

Should phthalates be avoided?

YES. Phthalates have been shown to disrupt hormone activity, reduce sperm counts and some preliminary studies show that they may be causing a slow and steady demasculinizing of men. Other studies have linked phthalates to liver cancer and breast cancer.

How do I know if something has phthalates?

Good question: unfortunately, you can’t always tell.

According to the FDA ingredients have to be listed on personal care products, including cosmetics. So far so good. However, the regulations don’t require the listing of the individual fragrance ingredients; therefore, the consumer will not be able to determine from the ingredient list if phthalates are present in a fragrance. Also, the law doesn’t apply to products used solely by professionals. For example- there is no requirement that products used in a hair salon be labeled as containing phthalates. WHAT?? The FDA has some mighty big loopholes in their regulations.

How to avoid phthalates

  1. Avoid fragrance. Fragrance mixtures are considered a trade secret or proprietary information and this enables companies to get away with not disclosing their “secret” ingredients. If a product lists “fragrance” steer clear.
  2. Use EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database to check the safety level of your personal care products. Find safe alternatives for nail polish and other cosmetics with toxic chemicals.
  3. Avoid buying plastic as much as possible. Get to know your plastics and stick with numbers 2 or 5. Avoid plastic shower curtains and #3 plastic.
  4. Make your own cosmetics. The only way you will know with certainty what was used in your product.
  5. Check the Healthy Toys database for toys bought before 2009 – they may contain phthalates.
  6. Look for products labeled “Phthalate Free”.
  7. Read the ingredients. Avoid anything with:
  • DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate) and DEP (diethyl phthalate) are often found in personal care products, including nail polishes, deodorants, perfumes and cologne, aftershave lotions, shampoos, hair gels and hand lotions. (BzBP, see below, is also in some personal care products.)
  • DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate) is used in PVC plastics, including some medical devices.
  • BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate) is used in some flooring, car products and personal care products.
  • DMP (dimethyl phthalate) is used in insect repellent and some plastics (as well as rocket propellant)

Take action against phthalates

Do you try to avoid buying products with phthalates or other toxic chemicals? Do you try to limit your family’s exposure to phthalates?

Editor’s Note: This is part of our Blog of the Week series where we ask our network of bloggers to write about a hot topic from our community and then we choose one post to feature.

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