It seems like every time you turn around, researchers have discovered something new that’s hazardous to your health. The latest threat are phthalates. Here’s what you need to know about the family of chemical products, and how you can reduce your exposure.
What are Phthalates?
Pronounced thah-lates (the “ph” is silent), they are a family of chemical products that are used in thousands of consumer products. They’re used as a plasticizer, making plastics more flexible and harder to break. They’re also used as solvents in other materials, like personal care products, home goods, and candles.
What are the Health Hazards Associated with Phthalates?
The CDC recognizes that clinical studies have found a link between phthalates and reproductive issues in animals. The material has the potential to increase the risk of miscarriages, birth defects, and damaged sperm DNA in individuals who have high levels of exposure.
Another study focused on children cite phthalates as a possible cause for health issues like asthma, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and thyroid problems.
The FDA has issued guidelines on limiting some types of phthalates that have the greatest health concerns, but they are still widely used in a variety of products. While it’s impossible to eliminate them from your life altogether, there are a few easy steps you can take to reduce your exposure.
How are We Exposed to Phthalates?
Most often, we’re exposed to phthalates by consuming food or drinks that have been in contact with something that contains the chemical. You can also breathe in the vapors or dust.
Most commonly, phthalates are found in plastic-based items like:
• Shower curtains, vinyl products
• PVC Water pipes
• Vinyl flooring and mini blinds
• Steering wheels, vinyl stating
• Plastic food containers and wraps
It’s also used in many household and personal care items like:
• Glue, paint, and cleaners
• Scented shampoos, body washes, and moisturizers
• Scented candles
• Nail polish
• Lubricating oils
How to Limit your Exposure
With phthalates used in so many different products, the challenge of changing your habits to limit your exposure might seem daunting. Here are a few simple lifestyle changes that will make a significant impact.
Food and Drink
A good rule of thumb to follow when it comes to food and drink is to eliminate as much plastic from the process as possible.
Try to stay away from plastic-wrapped foods and choose fresh options whenever you can. Don’t bother putting your fruits and vegetables into plastic bags at the supermarket. Instead, use natural fiber or paper bags.
When selecting beverages, opt for glass bottles or cans rather than plastic. When it’s time to store your food or drink, choose glass or stainless steel containers.
Finally, avoid reheating your food in plastic containers. While the disposable options can be affordable and easy to use, they are also prone to leaching phthalates and other chemicals when they’re heated.
Personal Care Items
Phthalates are commonly used to preserve fragrances in liquids, so you’ll frequently see them in personal care items, in particular for women.
Begin by avoiding any hair and body products that list any type of fragrance, natural fragrance, or perfume as an ingredient. Instead, choose fragrance-free products. If you want a scent, you can buy natural and safe essential oils to add, or look for options that use them instead.
Check the label on your hairspray and nail polish and ensure that it says it’s “phthalate-free.” If it doesn’t, then it probably contains the chemical and you should consider another option.
Just like personal care products, scented household items likely contain phthalates. Avoid things like cleaning products, laundry detergents, air fresheners, or scented candles that list fragrance as one of their ingredients. Instead, diffuse essential oils to make your home smell nice.
Also, remember vinyl and PVC are two big culprits made from phthalates. Opt for cloth shower curtains, natural flooring, and window treatments made from wood or cotton to keep your home healthy and safe.
Baby and Kid Items
Children are especially susceptible to the health hazards of phthalates. As such, it’s imperative to be aware of all of the ways they could potentially be exposed and limit them as much as possible.
Look for bath toys, play mats, teethers and rain gear made from natural fibers, rubbers, or silicone and avoid anything that includes vinyl or other soft plastics. If your home has vinyl floors, cover them with a blanket, quilt, or sheet before allowing babies to crawl on it.
When you’re back-to-school shopping, avoid plastic binders, lunchboxes, and toys and look for options made from cardboard, metal, or cloth.
Just like with your own personal care items and food and beverages, opt for glass jars instead of plastic and don’t use anything that includes fragrance.
Europe put stricter phthalate regulations in place in 2006, and the US enacted them in 2009. Therefore, any soft plastic toys manufacturers before then might have unsafe levels. While it’s always nice when you receive a hand-me-down toy as a gift, think twice if it’s from the pre-2009 regulations.
While you might find products that are labeled fragrance-free, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re healthy. Although they don’t have phthalates they could contain other harmful chemicals, so be sure to check the label.