You might be noticing the words “phthalate-free” popping up on personal care products, and wondering what are phthalates and how the heck to pronounce it. (It’s tha-lates, by the way).
I’m glad you’re asking, because what you do with the information can make a world of difference in your health. Really.
What’s Wrong With Phthalates
Phthalates have been connected to some pretty bizarre symptoms, like little boys who never develop distinguishable scrotums. And hypospadias, a condition in which the urethra develops somewhere along the shaft of the penis rather than at the tip. OK, that last one was from studies on mice and rats, but who’s to say it won’t happen to humans as well? Personally, I’d rather not take the risk. And there are some conditions that have been more clearly connected to phthalates:
- Certain cancers
- Developmental issues
- Neurological issues
So here’s the deal. You have phthalates in your body right now. If you have young children, they were likely born with phthalates in their blood. That’s how prevalent they are in the environment.
There’s Good News About Phthalates
Here’s the good news: If we were to stop the use of phthalates right now, they would be gone from the environment and from our bodies very quickly. Possibly even a matter of days.
“Well that’s fine,” you say, “but how are we supposed to do that?” Well, like most things we vote with our dollars. Do your best to avoid products that contain phthalates. “Right. Like my little boycott is going to matter.”
Yeah, I get that. But, there’s a bonus to this method. And it’s a doozy.
We spend like 90% of our time in our homes, right? So, get the stuff out of your house, and imagine how quickly you’ll free your body of this genital-deforming, hormone-disrupting, cancer-causing chemical. Yes, you will still have some exposure leading to some amount in your body. But you can greatly decrease it just by changing your purchasing habits.
OK, So What Are They Already?
Phthalates are a class of chemicals used in a variety of applications. There’re all over the place. Global production is estimated to be around nine million tons every year. There are three main uses for phthalates:
- As a plasticizer, to soften things like vinyl so they don’t crack and break
- To aid absorption, like in lotions and creams
- To hold fragrance, like in cleaners, air fresheners and shampoos
Let’s Take a Look at How to Avoid Phthalates
First of all, get rid of anything you spray or plug in for the sake of aroma. You don’t need air fresheners. You need to open the windows. Air fresheners are one of the worst offenders when it comes to indoor air pollutants.
Second, go through your house and get rid of any unnecessary vinyl products. Look for rubbery toys (especially ones being chewed on or handed down), shower curtains (that steam is releasing toxins into a small space), and rain gear.
Finally, you need to avoid anything that lists “fragrance” or “parfum” in the ingredients. Here’s why: a product’s fragrance is considered a “trade secret.” They can legally throw almost anything in there, and almost always, part of the secret recipe is phthalates.
If you’d rather not have to read every label on the shelf (which will be very frustrating in your average supermarket which has fragrance in just about everything), you can just use Environmental Working Group’s handy-dandy databases, Skin Deep and Guide to Healthy Cleaning. They even have apps with which you can just scan the bar code of a given item and see how it rates. Easy-peasy.
So, now that you know, what are you going to do about it?