What are Phthalates?

Phthalates are widely used industrial chemicals found everywhere from vinyl plastic to car care products. They are used to make plastics softer and more flexible.

What we are personally concerned with is that phthalates are also added to many cosmetics and personal care products. This includes scented lotion, shampoo, perfume, aftershave, nail polish, and hair spray. Phthalates can make up a major portion of a product by weight, but since they are not chemically bound, the chemicals leach out over time. For example, a new vinyl shower curtain can elevate indoor air toxin concentration for over a month.

According to the federal Center for Disease Control, phthalates are found in Americans of all ages, sizes, and races. They are present in breast milk and can cross the placenta to enter a growing fetus.

In this study, the seven women who reported using perfume at least once every three days had high levels of phthalates in their urine. Perfume and other scented products are known to contain phthalates. An independent testing of name-brand beauty products in 2002 found phthalates in 52 out of 72 products; none of which listed phthalates as an ingredient. Furthermore, all 17 products labeled with “fragrance” contained phthalates.

Phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals that threaten reproductive health. Phthalate exposure has been linked to lower sperm counts, reduced sperm motility, and damaged sperm in adult males. They reduced female fertility and caused premature breast development in young girls, liver and kidney damage, and asthma. The EPA classifies phthalates as a probable human carcinogen.

Phthalates are still largely unregulated in US.

Some states are starting to pass legislature restricting the use of phthalates. Unless made by a U.S. manufacturer who has indicated the product is phthalate-free, avoid PVC, soft plastic toys, and soft vinyl products that emit a strong plastic smell such as plastic shower curtains. For information on PVC-free products for the home, office, and building materials, check out the resources available at http://www.preventharm.org/take.buyg.shtml#pvc.

Purchase phthalate-free beauty products.

Avoid nail polish, perfumes, colognes, and other scented products that are labeled as containing phthalates.  Since many products simply list “fragrance” as an ingredient, avoid those products or do more research.

For more information on phthalate-free cosmetics and personal care products, please visit these web sites:

The National Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

Environmental Working Group Database – a database on cosmetic products and their ingredients.

Materials were used using information from The Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine.

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