What Are Phthalates?

Phthalates (pronounced-“THAL-ates”)
There are many different chemicals to avoid in every day cosmetics and plastic products. In most fragrances there are over 1000 toxins and irritants. We will focus on just one group…Phthalates.

What are phthalates?

Phthalates, like many, contain hormone disruptors. This group of chemicals depletes male hormones and mimics female hormones. That results in lower sperm count and problems reproducing in woman. Phthalates in low concentration have even been found to cause sex reversal in fish and amphibians. Headaches, dizziness, nausea and respiratory problems are the most common side effects.

Skull and Cross Bones
Photo Credit: www.freedigitalphotos.net

What is scary is how many products contain phthalates. You will find phthalates in cosmetics containing fragrances like perfume, shampoo, deodorant, soap, nail polish and even lotion. The 3 main phthalates used in cosmetics are dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP), and diethylphthalate (DEP). I know those are way too hard to remember, so just look for “phthalate” at the end of each word. Along with many other personal care products, you will find phthalates in food packaging like plastic wrap, vinyl and PVC (polyvinyl chloride), IV tubing and blood bags, toys, detergents, pharmaceuticals, and plastic bowls and cups. (FDA 2008)
Why do companies use phthalates? It is a plasticizer used to soften material and make it more pliable. It increases the products flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. (wikipe
dia.com) For example; in hair spray it is used to make the chemicals stretchy to give hair a bouncy feel instead of leaving it sticky and stiff. In perfumes phthalates make the fragrant smell last longer. Those are all things the average consumer wants. The problem is they come at a cost. Not only are we negatively affecting ourselves but we are destroying the environment. The release of phthalates accelerates as plastics break down. They eventually break down all the way but will continue to cycle through the food chain for awhile. For example; Plastics end up in water a lot. They will break down over time and become so small that fish will eat them. It comes right back to us when we eat the fish. This is just one of the many chemicals that cause this never ending cycle.The worst part is the FDA cannot require cosmetic companies to conduct safety assessments or product recalls. (safecosmetics.org) Also, there are no legal standards for products labeled as “natural” or “organic.” (Palliser 2010) There are so many loopholes for labeling the products that phthalates can be hidden. The company is not required to list the types of Fragrances. Therefore if you see “fragrance,” instead of essential oils, then you should avoid it. Also a lot of plastic products and toys come from China and are not regulated like products made here. Then, IF unsafe levels of contaminants are found there will be a recall, but that is a big IF. Why take the chance?

What can you do?

As far as bath and body products go, stick to as natural as possible and read every label. Think about it this way. You are going to be applying these things to your body every day, sometimes more than once a day. Your skin is the largest organ in your body. Do you really want all those chemicals being absorbed into your skin? Good products will contain natural scents and essential oils. As far as other products go, look for safe sturdy plastics like polypropylene (#5), especially with food dishes and cups. Even if a plastic says BPA (Bisphenol-A) Free or phthalate free there are no regulations, so look for the recycle symbol. Avoid recycle symbol #3, PVC. When plastics are heated up or frozen (even left in the car) they can leach chemicals faster. The more you look into it the more you will find. Children’s toys (especially ones they chew on) aren’t even safe anymore. Try to get wood, metal, and glass products instead and buy products made in the U.S.
There are so many other options out there. You just need to look. Good luck in your journey to a better you. Knowledge is power!



  • Palliser, Janna. “Green Beauty.” Science Scope December (2010): 11
  • www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductandIngredientSafety/SelectedCosmeticIngredients/ucm128250.htm
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phthalate
  • safecosmetics.org/section.php?id=74

About Angela Vullo

I am a mother to three wonderful children. I love to read and write. I created this blog to share my experience and tips on trying to live a green lifestyle.

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