What You Can Do to Get Rid of Hormone Disrupting Phthalates in Your Household

pregnant womanIf you have been paying attention to the news reports on buying safe toys this holiday season, you’ve probably heard about phthalates.

Pronounced tha-lates (or sometimes thay-lates), this group of chemicals has been shown to disrupt hormones in laboratory animals. Fetal exposure to phthalates has also been linked to reproductive diseases later in life in baby girls. Fetal exposure has also been associated with decreased ano-genital distance in baby boys, leading the lead researcher to charge phthalates with causing the “feminization” of baby boys (this research has been challenged by other scientists).

A recent study found occupational exposure to hairspray by pregnant hairdressers and others doubled their risk of having baby boys born with the genital defect hypospadias (where the opening for the urinary tract is not located at the tip of the penis). As a result of this study, some environmental health advocates and scientists are encouraging pregnant women to avoid endocrine disruptors such as phthalates found in personal care and beauty products.

Endrocrine disrupting chemicals include phthalates, but also triclosan (found in almost all antibacterial products), parabens (commonly used as preservatives in beauty products) and musks. Within the European Union there is also a growing demand for clear labeling on products warning pregnant women of the risks associated with the aforementioned chemical additives.

Sometimes it is hard to sort out what you need to pay attention to, with regard to chemical additives and the potential harmful side effects of those additions. And if you have young children, shouldn’t they also avoid hormone disrupting chemicals?  Should you care about phthalates?

Laboratory animal research makes it fairly clear that phthalates disrupt the hormone system. Fetal exposure seems to lead to increased risks for various genital defects, and also is associated with increased risks for reproductive diseases later in life. A growing group of scientists believe that the increasing exposure to phthalates and other hormone disrupting chemicals over the last 40 years may be linked to the growing number of men experiencing hypospadies, decreased sperm quality and quantity, and other male reproductive type problems. So, it seems prudent to at least try to limit your exposure to phthalates.

How can you avoid phthalates?

Phthalates are primarily found in polyvinyl chloride plastic (also known as PVC or vinyl). They are used to make PVC soft and flexible. So, you find phthalates in products such as vinyl shower curtains, fake leather clothing, lunch box and ice chest linings, and children’s toys such as vinyl baby dolls or dinosaurs. A wide variety of consumer products incorporate vinyl, and vinyl usually contains phthalates. (And, just a note, vinyl can also have lead or cadmium since both are used to stabilize vinyl.)

Vinyl toys have been a particular concern, especially since mouthing can result in exposure. The friction of mouthing, combined with saliva and the warmth of the mouth can all mobilize phthalates and cause them to seep out of the toys. Certain phthalates have been banned in children’s toys on a national level by legislation signed by President Bush in August. The ban goes into effect in February 2009, but manufacturers and retailers can sell through their existing products according to a statement from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

You will also find phthalates in household cleaners and beauty products. Phthalates may be identified on the ingredient lists of such products, or they may hide in fragrance (or parfum). Unless a product’s scent comes directly from essential oils, almost all fragrances contain phthalates as it is the phthalates which sustain the scent. In beauty products phthalates also help the scent penetrate the skin so it lingers longer on the body after being applied.

So, if you want to avoid phthalates, you will have to avoid those vinyl products and all household and beauty products containing synthetic fragrance. For most household goods, vinyl-free options exist. Vinyl-free options even exist for the aforementioned vinyl baby dolls and soft dinosaur and animal toys.

For beauty products it can be a little tougher, because you really have to read those ingredient lists carefully. But it can be done. When my children were younger, we relied almost exclusively upon products from Earth Mama Angel Baby (which I love), but lots of products are available now that are free of phthalates and parabens. To avoid phthalates, just remember to look for “fragrance” on the ingredient list. If you need help, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetic safety database.

For household products, reading lables can become even more frustrating because most products do NOT list all of their ingredients. Just keep in mind that if its advertised as smelling “Mountain Fresh” or like a “Tropical Breeze” it probably contains phthalates.

An original 5 Minutes for Going Green post written by Jennifer Taggart.  Jennifer has more healthy, green living tips at her personal blog, The Smart Mama.

Hey, Moms, running a household can be tougher than running a business, so why not use that experience to get an online MBA from Marylhurst University in the comfort of your own home?

4 Responses to What You Can Do to Get Rid of Hormone Disrupting Phthalates in Your Household
  1. diana
    December 4, 2008 | 9:59 pm

    I’ve been avoiding these substances for quite a while after seeing a presentation many years ago by Theo Coleman authir of Our Stolen Future.

    So, the latest thing to worry about is radon in granite counter tops! You would assume that something made out of rock would be safe but even that has some risk associated with it.

  2. Jessica
    December 5, 2008 | 3:59 pm

    Great post with a lot of important information. During my two pregnancies I was especially careful to try to avoid phthalates. Luckily I found Garden Girl. They have face and body care products that don’t contain phthalates, petroleum, parabens or unnecessary chemicals. Plus they smell great and the packaging is really adorable. You can find them online at http://www.gardengirlskincare.com. Here’s to a safer skin care routine!

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