Last Friday, I introduced the concept of body burdens, or how chemicals build up in each person. Today, I’ll start explaining the toxins in detail.
Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are colorless, odorless liquids commonly found in many products. 1 In personal care products, phthalates often are hidden as the term “fragrance” on ingredient lists, as they help fragrances last longer. They’re also part of the fragrances in laundry detergents, fabric softeners, deodorizers, glass cleaners, floor polish, and air fresheners.2
Aside from being a component of fragrances, phthalates also soften plastic and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Phthalates are part of many soft plastic toys, teethers, and crib mattresses. 3
Dangers of phthalates
Even though they’re an integral part of many manufactured products, phthalates stick with humans as body burdens and contribute to birth defects – particularly by damaging male reproductive systems and feminizing males. Not only do phthalates reduce sperm count, but they also cause birth defects of the penis, testicles, and urethra; reduce testosterone levels; and affect prenatal androgen production. (Androgens, essential in making a man a man, are created during prenatal development.) 4
Exposure to phthalates
In 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act banned three phthalates – benzylbutyl phthalate (BBP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and diethyhexyl phthalate (DEHP) – from toys. All three phthalates are known to harm male reproductive systems. Even though they’re now excluded from toys, they’re still part of perfumes, colognes, hairspray, and nail polish. Simple inhalation or skin contact is enough to contaminate a person – in other words, spraying perfume on your skin or even smelling someone else’s sweet aroma can contaminate a person. If the contaminated person happens to be pregnant, then the unborn child also gets a dose of phthalates, too.
What can I do?
While exposure to phthalates is not preventable, you can certainly reduce your exposure. Limit your use of products that include fragrances. (Sorry, all of you good-smelling readers … that includes perfumes, lotions, and body washes.) And buy products that are labeled “phthalate-free.” By doing this, companies will begin to understand that consumers would rather choose from safe, healthy options.
1. “Phthalates: Hard To Pronounce, Hard To Spell, And Unjustly Attacked.” Michael D. Shaw. May 12, 2008.
2. “Women and Household Cleaning Products.” Women’s Voices for the Earth.
3.“Toxic Hazards. Toy Safety.” U.S. PIRG.
“How to Green the Kids’ Toys.” eHow.
“Safe Non-Toxic Organic Crib Mattresses.” Jane Sheppard. Healthy Child.
4. “Environmental anti-androgens and male reproductive health: Focus on phthalates and testicular dysgenesis syndrome.” Jane S. Fisher. Reproduction: The Journal of the Society for Reproduction and Fertility. Jan. 8, 2004.
“Personal Care Product Use Predicts Urinary Concentrations of Some Phthalate Monoesters.” Susan M. Duty, Robin M. Ackerman, Antonia M. Calafat and Russ Hauser. Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 113, no. 11, Nov. 2005, pp. 1530-1535.
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