Sunday, January 5, 2014

Decreasing Your Family's Exposure to Phthalates

What phthalates are: Phthalates are a group of chemicals whose uses include plasticizing vinyl, creating long-lasting scents in personal care products, and lubricating other products, allowing their formula to be absorbed into skin.

Where phthalates can be found: 

1.) Almost every toiletry or cleaner that contains the words "fragrance" or "parfum" in its ingredients contains phthalates.  This includes all those scented candles and bath and body products easily available in mall store chains and the majority of name-brand and store-brand shampoos, conditioners, shaving gels and creams, lotions, creams, hand soaps, hair products, body soaps and washes, perfumes, cologne, aftershave, deoderant, household cleaners, dish soaps, dishwasher detergents, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, sunblocks, air fresheners, etc.
2.) Vinyl products like PVC shower curtains, raincoats, rain boots, and medical devices.
3.) The interiors of many new cars.
4.) Because they're in our environment, phthalates can contaminate food and can be found in processed foods, dairy and meat.
5.) Many plastic or rubbery toys, like action figures, bath toys, rubber ducks, balls, etc.
Because phthalates aren't tightly bound to the items they're in, they can leach out onto the floor, furniture, dust, etc., making children and pets more susceptible to exposure since they are more likely to crawl in the phthalates or put their hands in their mouths.

The health effects of phthalates:

A hormone disruptor, fetal exposure of phthalates has been linked to liver cancer and a whole host of reproductive disorders in animal studies, including birth defects and an increased risk of testicular cancers in adulthood.  Human studies have also found that prenatal phthalate levels in mothers were associated with higher levels of phthalate syndrome in male children.  Higher phthalate levels have also been associated with earlier breast development in girls, lower sperm count in males, and they have been linked to asthma and allergies in some studies.

How to decrease your exposure to phthalates:

1.) Remember that "fragrance" and "parfum" are warning signs when reading ingredient labels.  

  • Personal Care Products: Opt for natural products like Dr. Bronner's, or products with less toxins in them like Burt's Bees, Tom's of Maine, or Desert Essence.  The more conscious companies will even state on their labels that they are phthalate free.
  • Toiletries for children that are phthalate-free include Earth Mama Angel Baby, California Baby, Desert Essence, Jack N Jill Toothpaste and Toothbrushes, MAMs toothbrushes, among others.
  • If you are pregnant, Earth Mama Angel Baby has several zero toxin certified personal-care products.

  • Cleaners: Here is an older post of mine on homemade, natural cleaners.  In addition to using vinegar and baking soda to clean, I use Method Free and Clear laundry detergent for my entire family, Method dishwasher tablets, Seventh Generation dish soap, and for hand soaps, I use Seventh Generation, Method or I make my own foaming soap out of Dr. Bronner's Castille Soap and water.  Bronner's is totally natural whereas the other two brands do have some chemicals in them but they do not use phthalates.

  • Air Fresheners: Ditch the candles and air fresheners and plug-ins.  You can get natural candles that are scented only with essential oils like AromaNaturals.  You can make your own air fresheners by purchasing essential oils from health stores or online vendors like Vitacost, which sell their own air fresheners and Aura Cacia's line as well, and putting a few drops of the oils in a spray bottle with water.  You can deoderize items with baking soda or a mix of baking soda and vinegar.  You can also boil mixtures of herbs and spices to scent your house naturally, like orange peels, clove and cinnamon.  There will be a future Wading Through Soup post with more detailed information on how to make your own natural air fresheners.

2.) Replace your PVC shower curtains with fabric ones.  They are easily available at stores like Target.

3.) Avoid plastic toys, especially when children are younger and more likely to mouth the toys.  This isn't difficult to do when there are so many less toxic or non-toxic options available now like wooden toys made by Haba, Tegu and PlanToys.  Instead of using soft plastic bath toys, you can replace them with simple household items like a stainless steel bowl to use as a pouring tool.  In cases where plastic is your only option, like a baby bathtub, look into companies like Primo, which makes the Eurobath, a bathtub that states right on its label that it is phthalate free.  If you are buying plastic toys, do your research.  Contact the companies and check out resources like for help finding brands that do not use phthalates.

4.) Never heat or microwave plastic and try to decrease the amount of food packaged in plastic that you purchase.  Avoid PVC and use appliances that are specifically labeled as being phthalate free, and store your food in glass containers, not plastic.

5.) Vacuum and dust frequently to reduce the levels of phthalates in your house.

6.) Avoid products with a #3 recycling code, as they are likely to contain phthalates.

According to Slow Death By Rubber Duck, although everyone has phthalates in them, unlike other toxins, phthalates break down quickly in the environment and our bodies.  In other words, "if we stopped making them tomorrow, the global contamination would disappear from most places relatively quickly-with the exception of isolated environments like deep sediments in lakes and oceans."

Further reading:

1.) on Phthalates
2.) The EWG on Phthalates
3.) The Breast Cancer Fund on Phthalates
4.) Slow Death By Rubber Duck
5.) The Huffington Post on How to Avoid Phthalates

Previous Wading Through Soup Posts on Decreasing Your Family's Exposure to Toxins:
1.) PFOAs
2.) BPA
3.) Triclosan
4.) PBDEs

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