Phthalates are a family of chemicals added to plastics to make them more flexible, but they leach out and have been associated with hormone disruption and health effects like infertility and metabolic disorders. Here are some key points about phthalates:
They are used in the production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics and added to products like food/beverage packaging, personal care items, medical tubing, and children’s toys.
Phthalates are not tightly bound to plastics, so they can leach out of these products over time.
Found In Products
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics – phthalates are commonly used in PVC production.
Food and beverage packaging – phthalates are added to plastic packaging to make it more flexible.
Personal care products – phthalates are found in many cosmetics, fragrances, soaps, shampoos.
Medical tubing – phthalates make tubing more flexible and durable.
Children’s toys – phthalates added to plastic toys to soften them.
Building materials – added to vinyl flooring, paints, adhesives, roofing materials.
Automobiles – used in plastic parts of cars and trucks.
Clothing – phthalates can be used to make plastics in clothing more pliable.
Pharmaceuticals – phthalates used in coatings of some oral medications.
Some of the major health risks associated with phthalate exposure include:
Reproductive toxicity – Phthalates can reduce testosterone and estrogen levels, lower sperm count and quality, and interfere with reproductive development in animal studies. They are classified as reproductive toxicants.
Infertility – Phthalate exposure has been linked to reduced fertility in both males and females in some human studies.
Endocrine disruption – Phthalates disrupt hormones like testosterone, estrogen, and thyroid hormones. They block the action of these hormones in the body.
Obesity and metabolic effects – Studies have linked phthalate exposure to increased risk of obesity, especially in children. They may also contribute to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Neurodevelopmental effects – Some studies suggest phthalates may impact brain development and behavior in children.
Cancer – Limited evidence links phthalates to increased breast cancer risk.
How To Avoid Phthalates
Here are some tips to reduce exposure to phthalates:
- Reduce your overall plastic exposure by changing your shopping habits.
- Avoid plastics with recycling codes #3 (PVC) and #7 (other), which may contain phthalates.
- Choose phthalate-free personal care products – check labels for ingredients like “fragrance” or “parfum” which can contain phthalates.
- Opt for fragrance-free cleaning and laundry products, air fresheners.
- Use glass, stainless steel or polyethylene plastic containers for food storage instead of plastic wraps.
- Buy natural fiber clothing and furnishings instead of synthetic blends treated with phthalates.
- Avoid children’s toys made from PVC plastic – choose wood, cotton, polyethylene instead.
- Use gloves and minimize skin contact when handling receipts, currencies, and other thermal papers.
- Support policies banning phthalates from children’s toys and restricting use in consumer products, especially those with skin contact.
Reading labels, making careful product and packaging choices, and advocating for change are key given the ubiquitous use of phthalates in plastics and cosmetics.