Article - Nasty chemical of the month: Phthalates

Nasty chemical of the month: Phthalates

Phthalates (pronounced thay-lates) are a class of chemicals that are also known as phthalate esters or esters of phthalic acid. They are often used as plasticizers (substances added to plastics to make them more flexible, durable and last longer lasting) and are commonly used in plastics, clothing, cosmetics, perfumes (as solvents) and children’s toys.

According to the FDA, the main phthalates used in cosmetics are dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP), and diethylphthalate (DEP). They are used as plasticizers in products such as nail polishes (to reduce cracking by making them less brittle) and hair sprays (to help avoid stiffness by allowing them to form a flexible film on the hair) and as solvents and perfume fixatives in various other products. You can read more here.

What’s the problem with Phthalates?

Endocrine disruption Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors, which means they affect hormones within the body. Because hormones control so much of our bodies processes, interrupting the natural hormonal balance of the body with endocrine disruptors can have a very dramatic effect on health.

Risk to developing foetus and infant exposure Phthalates are known to cross the placenta. In animal experiments, exposure to phthalates has been shown to increase developmental abnormalities and increased foetal death. A large human population study found an association between phthalate metabolites in pregnant women and effects on the genitals of their newborns.  In 2004 a study showed that phthalates were detected in pooled breast milk samples from American women and in infant formula. Breast milk contaminated with phthalates was also linked to reproductive hormonal imbalances in infant boys.

High risk of exposure Phthalates can leach into food through plastic containers and are quite stable in the air so can travel long distances.  They have been measured inside people’s homes in house dust and indoor air and have also been measured in foods, milk and drinking water .



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