You probably use everyday products like shampoo, hair spray, and moisturizer without thinking about it. In fact, you probably use these products thinking they are doing you good. After all, they make you look good, right? Well, these very products have been linked to several different problems including cancer, autism, and infertility.
What are Phthalates?
Phthalates is the name for a family of chemicals that are found in plastics and vinyl. Most commonly, phthalates are used in polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, to make it soft and pliable. Plastics are used in so many everyday products because they are cheap and relatively easy to make. Phthalates are in so much more than just plastic though. The cosmetics industry uses them in abundance in hair spray, shampoo, perfume, moisturizers, and nail polish. Household products like wallpaper, plastic wrap, and shower curtains also contain phthalates. Even construction products are not exempt – phthalates are also found in wood finishes, plastic plumbing, and vinyl flooring.
The Possible Consequences of Phthalate Exposure
Unfortunately, the possible effects of phthalate exposure are still being researched. What is currently known is disturbing for those of us who use plastic products regularly. Most of us blindly trust that the products we purchase are safe. However, recent research found that boys born to mothers who were exposed to abnormally high levels of phthalates had smaller penises, and their testicles were not fully descended.
What is disturbing is that until recently, phthalates were widely used in infant products. Baby lotions, powders, and shampoos all had detectable levels of monoethyl phthalate. Babies have immature immune systems and could be considered more vulnerable to potential toxic effects of phthalates. Among the potential consequences of exposure to this particular form of phthalates are reproductive problems. Although regulations have been put in place for such baby products, the regulations might not apply to the packaging in which the product is placed. If you have concerns about the baby products you use, call the company that makes the product and ask them about their phthalate usage.
More recently, studies have shown a link between phthalates and obesity. Research presented to the Endocrine Society’s Annual Meeting in 2012 showed that the specific chemical di-ethylhexyl phthalate (or DEHP) is suspected of altering hormones. Children with the highest levels of DEHP were reportedly five times more likely to be obese when compared with children with the lowest levels of the chemical. Children are exposed to phthalates by ingesting them (eating from plastic containers), breathing in the chemicals, or absorbing them through the skin.
Another study at Mount Sinai looked at the levels of phthalates in the urine of nearly 400 New York City children. The study found that nearly all children had been exposed to the chemical. Those with the highest levels of phthalates had the highest body mass index (BMI) and waist circumferences. What this suggests is that phthalates may, at least in part, be responsible for the obesity epidemic in the western world. The phthalates appear to disrupt hormones – particularly those that are integral in fat tissue development. Why this happens is not completely understood, but the link between the chemical and health problems is gaining increasing attention. More research is needed at this point.
The Obesity-Diabetes Link
Of course, with the onset of obesity, comes an increased incidence of diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic state of insulin instability. Insulin is used to transport glucose (sugar) from the blood to various parts of the body where it can be used as energy. People with diabetes cannot do this effectively because their pancreas (the organ that makes insulin) either does not make enough insulin or does not respond to insulin properly. Diabetes can cause further health concerns including vision problems, diabetic sores that could lead to infection and even amputation, nerve damage, coma and even death.
Obesity leads to type II diabetes for a number of different reasons. One such theory is that insulin starts to fail due to the sustained demand on blood glucose. The demand is caused by an abundance of fat within the blood and muscle. In healthy people, glucose production only occurs when fasting. In the obese, glucose production is elevated to the point where glucose is produce at a more steady state.
It’s easy to blame the obesity epidemic on North America’s obsession with fast food and convenience foods. You can find a McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or Burger King in every major city. Grocery stores are packed with processed foods that are chock full of saturated fats, preservatives, sugar, and trans fats. However, not all researchers are so quick to point fingers at lifestyle. While being sedentary and eating too many calories is inevitably going to have dire health consequences, there may be other factors – such as environmental toxin exposure – at play.
Where do Phthalates Hide?
Phthalates are literally everywhere. Search your home for foods, toys, and household products, and you will start to notice just how much you come into contact with these chemicals. Read the label of your skin creams and shampoo. The very products that you buy to make you look good or improve your way of life may in fact be killing you slowly.
Some phthalates are disguised by words such as “fragrance”. Look for sneaky acronyms such as DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate), DEP (diethyl phthalate), DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl)), BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate), and DMP (dimethyl phthalate). DBP and DEP are most likely used in personal care products such as nail polish and perfume. DEHP is often used in PVC – which is found in clothing, electrical cables, and plastic wrap. BzBP can be found in the plastic within your car, some cosmetics, and flooring. DMP is found in insect repellent. Your plastic drinking bottles might not explicitly tell you that they are made with phthalates, but if you look at the recycling label, there will be a numeric code inside it. Codes 3 and 7 are the most likely to contain phthalates. Codes 1, 2 and 5 are your best choices.
Your best bet is to avoid plastics when you can. Choose glass bottles over plastic. Read all ingredients in your cosmetics and choose or stick with a brand that is natural (try Garden Girl Skin Care, Greenridge Organics, or Tom’s of Maine). While most children’s products are regimented, it is still prudent to avoid items that are made of plastic. Weleda Baby, Earth Mama Angel Baby and Burt’s Bees all have phthalate-free products. Instead of using a plastic shower curtain, opt for a glass door, or choose a cloth curtain instead.
What is Being Done About Restricting the Use of Phthalates
Luckily, science and policy are beginning to see eye-to-eye on the issue of chemicals in consumer products. In 2008 three types of phthalates were banned for use in children’s products in the U.S. In January of 2011, Canadian Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced a restriction of six forms (DEHP, DINP, DBP, DNOP, BBP and DIDP) of phthalates in children’s products. In 2009 California has already restricted the use of phthalates in children’s products to no more than one-tenth of one percent of the overall product. This allows for only residual amounts.
The EU has followed suit and also limits the use of six different phthalates in children’s products. Toys for children under the age of three must have less than or equal to 0.1% concentration of the chemicals DEHP, DBP and BBP. Toys that can be placed in a child’s mouth must have less than or equal to 0.1% of the chemicals DINP, DIDP and DNOP. Japan has banned the use of DEHP for all synthetic resin toys. Argentina and Brazil have enacted similar rules as the EU.
Your best course of action is to recognize where phthalates hide and avoid them. Keep yourself afloat of the research as it emerges. Undoubtedly, this topic will not be put to rest any time soon, as consumer groups, scientists and health advocates demand further research into the catastrophic effects of exposure to these seemingly common chemicals. While it is tempting to purchase the cheapest cosmetic products, especially when you are on a budget, be aware that these products are most likely laced with phthalates. There are plenty of great alternatives available, so always look for phthalate-free cosmetics.
©2012 Off the Grid News