What Are Phthalates?
Phthalates are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics more flexible or resilient and also as solvents. Leading one to ask “Why would they put that in a bottle of shampoo anyway?” Good question, wondering that myself.
Phthalates are found in just about everyplace in modern society – food packaging, hoses, toys, shower curtains, rain coats, vinyl flooring, lubricants, wall coverings, detergents, adhesives, nail polish, hair spray and shampoo. The problem with them is that they have been found to be hormone disruptors. Not good!
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s 2005 National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, several phthalate compounds have been shown to cause reduced sperm counts, testicular atrophy and structural abnormalities in the reproductive systems of male test animals, and some studies also link phthalates to liver cancer.
The Environmental Working Group has focused on phthalates since 1998, when EWG reported that dibutyl phthalate (found in 37 nail polishes) was also present in the body of every single American tested. In 2000, an EWG analysis of CDC data found that dibutyl phthalate was present in every single person tested for industrial pollutants. We are fortunate to have the EWG looking out for us. Since the EWG and other health groups have gotten involved, the U.S. Congress has passed legislation banning six phthalates from children’s toys and cosmetics.
The problem is they’re still out there. Not everyone has conformed to the legislation.
How to Avoid Phthalates
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – READ THE INGREDIENTS on everything you buy. Sadly, it’s not easy to know when phthalates are being used as you’ll rarely find the word “phthalates” on a label (except for the occasional “phthalate-free,” which is helpful). Here’s what you’re looking for:
- DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate) and DEP(diethyl phthalate), 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).
Be wary of anything that says simply “fragrance” – often used to denote a combination of compounds, possibly including phthatates, which are a subject of recent concern because of studies showing they can mimic certain hormones.
Choose plastics with the recycling code 1, 2 or 5. Recycling codes 3 and 7 are more likely to contain bisphenol A or phthalates.
There are good products out there. For some good recommendations, see my post Another Source For Safe Cosmetics and Body Products.
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