All About Phthalates + Why You Should Avoid Them
By Marilee Nelson |
You may have heard about recent studies done on phthalates (pronounced THAIL-ates) in the news recently. Phthalates are harmful chemicals that are in many everyday items that can wreak havoc on health. In this article, we’ll touch on what phthalates are, where they’re found, why they’re a problem, and how to avoid them in your everyday life!
What Are Phthalates?
The manufacturing of soft plastics requires various chemicals and additives to give it its designated color, shape, and flexibility. This is where phthalates come in: they are an additive called a “plasticizer” that helps make plastics and materials like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) softer, more flexible, and shapelier. The addition of phthalates facilitates unlimited variety in the pliability of plastics! Unfortunately, phthalates are far more widespread than plastics in our environments because of how cheap they are. Phthalates are also used in fragrance ingredients, inexpensive gelling agents and lubricants for products commonly put on and around our bodies.
What’s the problem with phthalates?
While these hard-to-pronounce additives might seem harmless from the perfumed products they regularly appear in, numerous studies have come to light that show their ill effects on human and animal health. This one chemical substituent can affect many body systems and contribute to multiple health conditions.
Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with our hormone balance. These chemicals have the potential to bind to the same receptor sites that hormones can and hijack hormone function and quantity. For this reason, you may have heard of phthalates or other similar chemicals referred to as “xenoestrogens” for their ability to “mimic” estrogens. Because of this, phthalates have been linked to lowered sperm counts, low testosterone, damage to sperm, genital defects, and early puberty.
Phthalates have also been linked to metabolic syndrome causing impaired glucose control and “insulin resistance” based on markers like fasting blood glucose, insulin, and Hb1Ac. While insulin resistance is most often associated with Type-2 Diabetes, it also can contribute to pre-diabetes, cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and systemic inflammation.
Studies continue to link phthalates to health conditions like autoimmunity, asthma, obesity, and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s, and congenital disabilities. Because phthalates are transferred from mom to baby via the placenta in utero and breastfeeding, they can lead to birth and developmental defects.
Phthalates In Everyday Products
Knowing how and why phthalates are so widespread in these products is crucial to avoiding them. Considering their abundant presence in products that you may put in or on your body, it’s no wonder that phthalates have been nicknamed “the everywhere chemical.” While your mind might jump to thinking phthalates are primarily found in plastic water bottles, think again! Plastic water bottles are only one small piece of the puzzle. And while the list of phthalates you’re about to read is long, reducing exposure to them is manageable!
Plastics: Phthalates are widespread in food storage, given their plastic presence. Aside from water bottles, you can also find them in plastic utensils, containers, and plastic wrap, which in turn can transfer into your food. When these containers are heated or cooled, phthalates leak even more into your food and water.
Food and water: Phthalates are also found directly in foods. Because they’re found in packaging and are an ingredient used as pesticides, phthalates can find their way into produce and animal products like meats, dairy products, fish, and poultry that consume pesticide-riddled feed. Recent tests have shown phthalates in some baby food and formulas in excessively high amounts. Depending on where you live, the levels of phthalates in your tap water can be extremely high, too.
Everyday household items: The use of phthalates is not limited to direct oral ingestion. Phthalates in plastic boots, toys, raincoats, blow-up mattresses, and medical devices y can be absorbed by skin contact. Electronics, construction materials, carpet, vinyl flooring, and car interiors contain phthalates, which can enter the body through inhalation or skin contact.
Personal care: Phthalates are found in some of the highest concentrations in our personal care products. We never get a break from exposure to these products as they are on our skin and hair 24/7!. Phthalates are found in shampoos, conditioners, lotions, nail polish, deodorants, hairspray, perfumes, cosmetics, and baby powders.
Cleaning Products: Conventional cleaning products, window cleaners, soaps, dishwasher liquids, and laundry detergents are typically fragranced and therefore contain phthalates. As you can see, the list goes on! Read our blog post on how you can clean your home to reduce allergens and irritants.
All these products can make their way into the bloodstream by skin-to-skin contact, oral consumption, or inhalation of dust. Although it’s often forgotten, the skin where you spread these products is your largest organ! Phthalates are lipophilic (fat loving), meaning they make their way through the skin and incorporate into our fat tissue, increasing our toxic body burden.
So… How do I reduce my exposure to phthalates?
It is easy to reduce your exposure to phthalates and benefit your health and wellbeing!! Here are a few tips on where it is most important to start..To reduce phthalates exposure:
- Store your food and water in paper or glass that is free of plastic. Replace plastic water bottles, Tupperware, utensils, wraps, cutting boards, plates and silverware, with glass or stainless-steel counterparts.
- Eat organic produce as much as possible to reduce your contact with toxic pesticides.
- Try to source animal products from organic, pasture-raised and 100% grass-fed and grass-finished sources.
- Invest in a quality water filter - read our article How to Choose the Best Water Filter for Every Home and Budget
- Replace your personal care products with toxin-free ones! Be your own advocate and vet products via the EWG’s Skin Deep Database.
- Avoid products with fragrance. Learn more about our passion for going fragrance-free in The Emotional Attachment To Fragrance and Fragrance Is The New Secondhand Smoke | Eliminate Synthetic Fragrance To Improve Your Health
Related read: 8 Tips for Transitioning to Non-Toxic Living
The elimination of phthalates in their entirety is impossible to achieve given their prevalence in our everyday environments. However, removing sources where you can in your household and making non-toxic swaps can dramatically improve your health and wellbeing! A study of 100 teenagers showed that just three days after the removal of only skin care products with phthalates, there was a 28% reduction of phthalates in the urine. Take the challenge to reduce your exposure to phthalates!
Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.