What are phthalates and what is phthalate free?
A fellow doctor and colleague friend of mine jokingly asked me, so what are phthalates and why do we have to set them free? What’s next, free range phthalates?
Despite the fact that phthalates are virtually everywhere in our environment, a surprisingly few number of people actually know what they are and what products contain them. And worst of all, they have no idea how they could be affecting their health in negative way.
So whether you did hear about this weirdly spelled chemical or not, there may be a lot about phthalates that you do not know. Phthalates; (pronounced f-THAL-lates), are actually a group of chemicals that include DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate), DEP (diethyl phthalate), DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate), BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate), and DMP (dimethyl phthalate). They are used to give plastics flexibility and used in cosmetics as a lubricant or in fragrances to help dissolve organic material. But don’t rush to your bathroom to check the label on your cologne or shampoo because in most products they are not listed on the label.
What products contain phthalates?
Phthalates are found in perfume, deodorants, shampoo, conditioner, air fresheners, laundry detergent, nail polish, hair spray, insect repellant, carpeting, flooring, vinyl flooring, the coating on wires and cables, the old shower curtains, plastic food and beverage containers, raincoats, plastic toys, sex toys, car steering wheels and dashboard (new car smell), and medical products like IV bags and tubes. They are also found in our food and water. They are in dairy products possibly from the plastic tubing used to milk cows and they have been found in meats and cheeses and some in the water. It is also found in pesticides that are sprayed on fruits and vegetables. A billion pounds of phthalates are produced every year for use in all these products and studies have shown that 95% of us have detectable levels of phthalates in our urine.
So, as you can see it is virtually impossible to completely avoid phthalates unless you live on a deserted island. Why, then, am I even writing this article, you may ask, as you reach for the mouse to click to another page. Stop and I will tell you.
Although we cannot completely avoid phthalates, we can significantly reduce the level of phthalates we are being exposed to by reducing the use of skin care products and personal care products and buying organic fruits and veggies as much as possible and washing our non-organic produce very well. We can lesson ingestion through water by using water purification systems that remove phthalates, which most charcoal systems do. Limiting consumption of dairy and meat products or switching to organic meats and cheeses would lesson exposure as well. Other than ingestion in our food and water, skin care products most likely give us the highest concentration of phthalates directly absorbed into our body from our skin. Chances are you are not licking your steering wheel or your floors, so the levels from those types of products are probably not that high.
One thing that is important to know is that phthalates do not stay in your system that long so it is the constant exposure that is a problem. Since they do not remain in your system you don’t need to feel you are doomed because you have been using colognes and moisturizers loaded with phthalates for years. And if you make a change today to phthalate free you are decreasing the chemical load of phthalates in your body tomorrow which is going to allow your hormone system in your body to function as nature intended.
What do phthalates do to us?
The effect of phthalates, especially on male reproductive development, has been observed since the 1940s, and phthalates are now widely known to be endocrine disruptors. So then the question is what exactly does an endocrine disrupter do? It acts as a hormone mimicker, binding to your hormone receptors and blocking binding of your own hormones to those receptors. They also inhibit production of your own hormones. As you can imagine this can create havoc in your system affecting things like metabolism (weight loss), growth (cancer) and fertility.
To sum up some of the research that has been done on phthalate exposure; phthalates have been linked to boys being less masculine, abnormal sexual development in babies, reproductive birth defects, premature breast development in girls and increased waist circumference and insulin resistance (pre-diabetes). There is also research linking phthalates to breast cancer.
How to Avoid Phthalates
Some good news, most plastic wraps, water bottles and food containers are phthalate free, so that is good. They may have another chemical called d DEHA (di(2-ethylhexyl) adipate), which -- while not technically a phthalate -- is chemically very close to DEHP and has been associated with liver tumors in rodent studies. So the best advice is try to avoid plastic as much as possible. Try to use more ceramic, glass, and steel containers to store your food and to heat up your food or freeze your food.
· Use only phthalate free fragrances. Unfortunately, you will not see phthalates listed on your bottle of perfume or cologne so unless they specify they are phthalate free they are most likely not. And, if your shampoo, conditioner or body lotion has fragrance or parfum on the label you can be sure that almost always means some kind of phthalate is in that product. If something is truly phthalate free the label will read--"no synthetic fragrance" or "scented with only essential oils" or "phthalate-free." To find phthalate free fragrances visit www.phthalate-free.co.
· Use only phthalate free personal care products like body lotions, shampoos, conditioners, cosmetics, deodorants, and soaps. To find these products visit www.phthalate-free.co.
More and more companies are offering phthalate free products.
· Avoid plastic whenever possible, and never heat your food in plastic. High fat foods like meats and cheeses, are particularly prone to leaching out chemicals when heated in plastic in the microwave. Even BPA or phthalate-free plastic may contain dangerous chemicals. Use glass food storage containers, and use only bottles and sippy and snack cups that are mostly stainless steel, silicone, ceramic or glass.
· If you must use plastics, make sure the recycling codes are not 3 or 7 because those types of plastics may contain phthalates or BPA. Use only plastics with recycling codes 1, 2 or 5.
· Invest in a water filter. Granular activated carbon filters should remove the type of phthalate that is used in water pipes which is DEHP. However, some claim that some DEHP may pass through a carbon filter. A nano-filtration system would probably ensure all DEHP is removed but they are much more expensive.
· Eat organic fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy. Phthalates are used in pesticides and are also found in sewage sludge that is used in non-organic farming. Pesticides and sewage sludge are allowed on certified organic produce, and pesticide-treated animal feed is not permitted for use in organic meat and dairy production.
· Lose your old plastic children’s toys;
Good News! Several types of phthalates are banned from children's toys, teething toys, bottles, and feeding products. However, these laws only took place in 2009, so anything made of soft plastic that was manufactured prior to that probably contains phthalates. (rubber duckies are soft plastic so they are a problem but not Legos).