Phthalates are chemicals that can cause damage when absorbed or otherwise ingested into the human body. They are commonly used as an inexpensive chemical ingredient in several consumer goods.
Phthalates are mostly used as a “plasticizing” agent to help keep materials cohesive. They are often used to make plastics more flexible or to act as a suspension or stabilizing agent in solutions.
The phthalate group of chemicals is being eliminated from some products built for close human contact or consumption due to health concerns. However, there are still some consumer products out there that have kept this ingredient in order to create a desirable consistency.
Some of these products include nail polish, perfumes, lotions, air fresheners, soaps, cosmetics and hair care products. The health concerns for this chemical are vast. Perhaps the largest concern is the effect that even “normal” exposure to phthalates can have on unborn and young children.
Studies have shown that phthalate exposure in mothers of unborn males can result in a blockage of male hormones during gestation. This can lead to reproductive abnormalities in infant boys and ultimately to adult infertility. The connection to phthalates was identified when mothers of baby boys with reproductive abnormalities tested with high levels of phthalates in their blood.
Women of child bearing age actually have tested the highest for phthalate concentration in adult male and female studies. This suggests a connection to frequent use of body care and cosmetic products containing phthalates.
Children are particularly susceptible to the hormonal disruption phthalates cause because their bodies are still developing.
Children are also more likely to put things in their mouth that contain phthalates, increasing their absorption of the chemical. This is why it is important to check your labels and make sure your child’s toys are phthalate free, as well as the personal care products you use on them.
Phthalate use in children’s toys has been banned in the U.S. since 2008. After the ban took effect, stores were allowed to sell toys containing the plasticizing chemical if they were in their “existing inventory” at the time of the ban. This means you may want to discard toys purchased before or during 2008 if they are not specifically labeled as phthalate-free.
You may also be inhaling phthalates if you use scented sprays, air fresheners or perfumes that are not labeled as phthalate-free. The chemical is often used as a stabilizing agent in these types of scented sprays, so read your labels on products of this nature as well.
Aside from the proven endocrine disrupting properties of this chemical, there are studies that show phthalates can damage the lung, kidney and liver tissues. Breathing disorders such as asthma have been linked to exposure, as well as liver and kidney cancers.
There is more and more evidence that phthalates are generally toxic to the human body. It is therefore wise to avoid this chemical as much as you possibly can in your daily life.