What are Phthalates?
Phthalates (plasticizers) are sometimes referred to as the “everywhere chemical” because they are in hundreds of products you use every day. More specifically, they are chemicals that make plastic more durable and flexible. These are just some of the items you might find them in:
- Shower curtains
- Cars (steering wheel, dashboard, etc.)
- Pesticide / insecticide
- Plastic packaging (bottles, containers, etc.)
- Plastic kids’ toys
- Cosmetics (perfume, deodorant, make-up, etc.)
- Vinyl flooring
You can also be exposed to them through eating and drinking out of plastic containers. This includes dairy products, processed food, meat, pastries, cakes, fast food, and more.
Even though phthalates have been used in products for over a hundred years, researchers started looking more closely at the effects that these chemicals have on our health.
Are Phthalates Harmful?
Research is still being conducted on the level of harm that phthalates cause our bodies. So far it is known that pregnant women can pass phthalates on to their unborn babies and these chemicals can have harmful effects on babies and young children.
Our bodies are extremely sensitive and even the smallest imbalance can throw off its natural function. Considering that these chemicals are used to dissolve or mold tough materials, it is hard to imagine that it could be healthy to put this into our bodies.
Studies have shown that these chemicals can possibly cause damage to our organs and affect some of the major systems in our bodies. Some of these include the following:
Reproductive system – phthalates may lead to decreased amount of sperm as well as affecting the quality of sperm, disrupts estrogen and testosterone levels which may lead to difficulty conceiving or even infertility, also linked to an increased chance of miscarriage
Brain – may cause issues in brain development with prenatal exposure, behavioral problems, and other disorders, affects mostly infants and kids (they are more sensitive since they are still growing and developing)
Endocrine system – phthalates are often referred to as “endocrine-disrupting” chemicals and are difficult to break down in the body,
Immune system – phthalates can weaken the immune system and make it harder to fight off infection and can lead to increased risk of chronic conditions
Hormones – these chemicals may decrease testosterone, could block certain hormones altogether, may affect heart health
8 Ways to Avoid Phthalates
It is nearly impossible to avoid phthalates completely because not all products list them in the ingredients. However, you can still read the labels on your products and specifically look for the phrase “phthalate-free.” Even if you cannot completely control the phthalates you are exposed to in your environment, you have total control over what you choose to put into your body.
1. Do your research
As previously mentioned, look for “phthalate-free” on your products. If possible, try not to use plastic microwave containers or bottles and only use glass, silicone, or stainless steel. Phthalates reach a higher level of concentration when heated up.
2. Avoid scented products if possible
Companies do not have to list the specific phthalates in their products, but your best indicator is if you see “fragrance” or “parfum” on it. This typically means it contains phthalates. Try switching to a more natural alternative or do not wear perfume at all.
3. Try to avoid eating foods high in fat content wrapped in plastic
Phthalates seem to be attracted to fat and seep into it from the plastic. Instead of wrapping up your leftovers in saran wrap, use tin foil or glass containers instead.
4. Phthalate-free devices
If you have a medical condition that has a machine that requires plastic tubing, then you can ask for a “phthalate-free” device.
5. Processed and packaged food tends to be high in phthalates
As we have already discussed, phthalates have adverse effects on mostly infants and children, and many packaged foods are used for snacks or put in lunches. It may take a little more work to make fresh snacks or meals, but you can google easy ways to meal prep that will be healthier for you and your kids.
6. Be weary of toys
Many children’s toys (usually those that involve teething or chewing) are not allowed to contain phthalates after a law was passed in 2009. However, a lot of people use hand-me-down toys for their kids that more than likely still contain phthalates, so be mindful of this. There are countless toys on the market today that are phthalate-free and will be safe for your children. Or you could always buy classic wooden toys.
7. Go organic
Many pesticides and insecticides have phthalates, but these cannot be used in organically grown food. This option is better for your health and wellbeing and probably tastes better too!
8. Filter your water
Phthalates get into your tap water because of the pipes and while some bacteria are okay and healthy for building up our immune system, you should try to filter out as much of it as you can. You can purchase a fairly cheap, yet quality, water filter at your local grocery store.
Doing What You Can
All in all, it is important that you do not stress. It can be very overwhelming to try and figure out how to eliminate phthalates from your diet and environment altogether, but that is an unrealistic expectation. In trying to reduce your stress, you will be adding more anxiety to your plate by managing it all at once.
Additionally, you may not be able to find a must-have product that is phthalate-free. For example, this might not be an option for your medically necessary device for a chronic condition and that is okay. Since phthalates are around us all the time, you cannot get rid of them completely. Weigh the pros and cons of it.
Start small and work on reducing the amount of phthalates you consume in a particular area of your life. For example, switch to all-natural hair care products or get creative with recipes that use only 100% organic fruits and veggies. Over time it will get easier.