What Are Phthalates & Why to Avoid Them

Reading Time: 9 minThis post contains affiliate links. Click here to read my affiliate policy. For those of us interested in nontoxic personal care, trying to navigate the ever-growing list of chemicals to avoid can be overwhelming. Phthalates are on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen List Endocrine Disruptors,” but what exactly are they and…

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Reading Time: 9 minThis post contains affiliate links. Click here to read my affiliate policy.

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For those of us interested in nontoxic personal care, trying to navigate the ever-growing list of chemicals to avoid can be overwhelming. Phthalates are on the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen List Endocrine Disruptors, but what exactly are they and what harm do they cause?

What Are Phthalates?

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make certain plastics softer, more flexible, and less fragile. Two million metric tons of them are produced each year!

Sound like a lot? It is That's 4,409,245,244 lbs, which equals the weight of 367,437 African elephants or 6 Empire State Buildings! Each. Year.

How Are They Used?

There are over 20 different types of phthalates that are commonly used in hundreds of products, such as:

Construction materials and industrial products such as vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, automotive plastics, solvents, materials, adhesives, varnishes, and wires and cabling for machines and appliances. Home Products: shower curtains, wallpaper, vinyl mini-blinds, food packaging and plastic wrap, garden hoses, printing ink, sporting goods Medical Equipment: tubing, storage bags, fluid and blood bags, catheters, feeding tubes, anesthetic, and dialysis equipment Toys and Clothing: Inflatable toys, raincoats, rubber boots Cosmetics: nail polish, perfume, hair spray

Concerns About Phthalate Exposure

Exposure to phthalates can occur by ingestion, inhalation, and through skin contact. Plastic storage containers can contaminate foods and drinks. We can breathe dust that has come into contact with vinyl wallpaper, mini-blinds, shower curtains, or recently installed vinyl flooring. When we put phthalate-containing cosmetics on our skin and near mucous membranes we can absorb small amounts.

Of particular concern are the phthalates used in medical equipment. It can pose a problem for those who often need IV medical treatments, such as dialysis patients or hemophiliacs who require blood transfusions.

Phthalates and their effects can be an occupational hazard for those who work in plastic manufacturing or with the many industrial products which contain chemicals. Those at risk include individuals who work in home construction and remodeling, painters, printers, and those who work in plastics manufacturing.

At the greatest risk for exposure however are children, especially in-utero during the crucial stages of fetal development. Babies and toddlers under 36 months of age are also at risk because they naturally put things in their mouth, especially their toys (which are often plastic).

Effects of Phthalates?

The greatest concern is the way phthalates affect reproductive organs and hormones, especially in prepubescent males. Some have been linked to breast and other cancers, allergies, obesity, thyr

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