Ingredients to Avoid: Phthalates
Every time I jump online, turn on the tv or read an article, it seems there something new to avoid or something that is causing the demise of all health and well being, that we once thought was good, amiright? Pestcides, parabens, GMO, and more, there's definitely enough info floating around to make you want to move overseas, to a cave, on an island.
While it may seem a bit overkill at times, these concerns are legit and should be taken seriously, as should all things potentially affecting the health of you and your family.
It does make it a bit tricky though, when trying to wade through said information and prioritize which you should eliminate. There have been several studies in the past few years that point to phthalates contributing to things like: reduced sperm count, lowered IQ scores, and more. Many of the effects of phthalates can be traced back to early pregnancy. As a mom of 4 boys, those stats got my attention. I mean, how scary is that?!
Let's unpack what we really need to know about phthalates.
WHAT EVEN IS IT?
So, it turns out I have been mispronouncing this for like, years. As a word nerd, thats pretty embarrassing. "Thal-ates" refers to a group of chemicals that make plastics more flexible, or hard to crack/break. Phthalates are also sometimes referred to as plasticizers.
They can be found in many products like personal care products (a.k.a: soaps, shampoos, nail polish), air freshener, perfume, kid’s toys, flooring, adhesives, laundry detergents, rain gear, hair spray, food storage containers, and are also WIDELY used in medical devices, which we'll discuss shortly.
Phthalates are used in so many products that it’s hard to avoid them completely. Have you ever had a plastic container or toy crack after a while? That’s because the phthalates easily leach out of the products over time. To break it down Bill Nye style: they’re small molecules that can easily move between big chains of molecules- which is part of why they make a plastic item so flexible or make fragrance stick better to your skin and linger longer, Can you see why they clearly pose such a major exposure risk?
HOW DANGEROUS IS IT?
The major problem with phthalates is that they are known hormone disruptors– (particularly sex hormones) and new studies have shown a correlation to low sperm quality in men. Hello, #boymom here! Anyone else pregnant with a boy or have a young boy(s) at home? There’s large a risk of The problem with phthalates is that they are known hormone disruptors– (particularly sex hormones) and new studies have shown a correlation to low sperm quality in men. Pregnant with a boy or have a young boy? There’s large a risk of phthalates disrupting baby boys’ hormones and many studies have linked them to genital deformities, less masculine identifying as they get older, as well as the low sperm quality we already talked about.
Phthalates also enzyme inhibitors, allergens, and have proven to be carcinogenic in animals. Despite their widespread use, they haven't been comprehensively studied, and many organizations are now requesting that more studies be done so we can truly know the effect on human health. You think?!
What few studies have been done, have shown higher amounts of phthalates in the urine of women and children. That isn't surprising when we consider the products they are commonly found in (see above).
HAVE I BEEN EXPOSED?
We've already talked about all the things that phthalates can be found in, which begs the question, "How badly have I been exposed?"
Exposure can happen through a variety of different ways. Ingestion would probably be the most likely since food is typically packaged or stored in plastic containers containing phthalates. I think of my 6 month old son and how many things he puts into his mouth in the course of a day. You can inhale phthalates through off-gassing (think new mattress, new car, new storage containers) or absorb it through using personal care products on yourself or your children that contain it. Almost ALL traditional lotions, soaps, perfumes, etc., use phthalates in their formulation. Because your skin is your largest organ, it absorbs what you put on it within 30 seconds. If you're pregnant, those lotions, perfumes and air fresheners travel the highway of your bloodstream, straight to your baby.
Another big source of exposure is through medical devices during any hospital stay. Many catheters and IV equipment contains phthalates, as well as blood or fluid bags. Because of the extensive equipment used during treatment, people receiving dialysis treatment often have a much higher rate in their system. Babies born premature, or other life-endangering conditions, spend massive amounts of time in the NICU attached to necessary medical equipment, and have had soaring levels when tested. Young children, particularly boys are at the greatest risk and measures should be taken to lessen the amount of phthalates used around them.
**Did you know that scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health reported that because of phthalates in intravenous tubing, blood and fluid bags, premature babies can be exposed to 4,000 to 160,000 times the amount of phthalates considered safe.**
HOW CAN I AVOID IT?
It seems overwhelming to cut back on your exposure to phthalates, but you can start somewhere and build from there. Every change makes a difference!
Look for, and AVOID the following phthalates-containing ingredients/code names:
BBzP (benzyl butyl phthalate)
Bisphenol A (BPA) is another plasticizer
DBP (dibutyl phthalate)
DEP (diethyl phthalate)
DEHP (di 2-ethylhexl phthalate)
DiDP (diisodecyl phthalate)
DiNP (diisononyl phthalate)
DMP (dimethyl phthalate)
DnHP (di-n-hexyl phthalate)
DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate)
SIMPLE TIPS TO GET YOU STARTED:
First, go flip over all the bottles of shampoo/conditioner, lotion, body wash, kid's bubble bath, etc and look for the word, "Fragrance". They're everywhere and the most noticeable part of laundry soap, fabric softener, dryer sheets, air fresheners, and household cleaners. Avoid it wherever you can.
We got rid of our microwave years ago for reasons that would need their own article, but if you use a microwave, avoid heating food in plastic containers and/or putting those containers in the dishwasher as excess heat can cause the phthalates to release more and at a faster rate.
After painting a room or a piece of furniture, allow plenty of ventilation so it can do its initial off-gassing before bringing your personal items and family into the room. You can also choose water-based paint that is free of VOC's.
Opt for glass or stainless steel containers instead, to store your food and liquids.
Steer clear of anything containing PVC or vinyl. Trust me, you don’t even want to bring that stuff into your house.
When it comes to baby, keep it simple. Unfinished wooden toys encourage creative play. Bath products can be kept minimal by washing with just castille soap and moisturizing with unrefined coconut or olive oil. If you buy natural products, be sure to still check the label to be sure they are free of artificial fragrances.
Pick toys, teething tools, and pacifiers made of natural materials: rubber, latex, wood, cloth, etc.
Instead of letting your child play with commercial clay, try your hand at a simple, DIY play dough recipe (there's even a gluten free option!).
Was this the first time you have learned about the dangers of phthalates? What will be the first change you see yourself making for you and your family?