What are Phthalates?
Phthalates, (pronounced thah-lates) are plasticizers most commonly used to soften plastics and make them bendy.
Phthalates are found in a huge range of household products including wallpaper, toys, shower curtains, food packaging and cleaning products.
They are also used in beauty products – most commonly to ‘hold’ fragrance in products so aromas stay vibrant for longer.
Why are phthalates a health concern?
Phthalates do not chemically ‘bind’ to the plastics or base they’re added to, meaning that they’re continually released into the air, food or liquid they surround.
Some phthalates have been linked to reproductive and developmental issues in male foetuses in the uterus – as well as neurological problems and certain cancers
A US study in 2000 found that 100% of people tested had DBP present in their bodies. Pretty incredible!
Is there any restriction on their use in cosmetics?
Some but arguably not enough.
DBP and DEHP were banned for use in cosmetics in the EU in 2004.
In the USA no regulatory action has been taken against these specific phthalates.
However, in the state of California there are some restrictions on its use – only low levels are permitted and all products containing it must feature a label warning.
DEP is still freely allowed in most countries (though not all) and has been declared safe.
Which cosmetic products most commonly contain phthalates?
Perfume, nail varnish, hairspray and moisturisers.
Look for ‘phthalate’, ‘DEP’, ‘DBP’, ‘DMP’, ‘DEHP’ on the label. DBP is most commonly found in nail varnish and DEP in perfume.
However, be aware that phthalates are not always disclosed on ingredient lists. Phthalates are a constituent ingredient in fragrance so the term ‘fragrance’ on a label can mean they are present. It’s a big fat labelling loophole that I’ve written about before.
Many global personal-care and fragrance brands are expecting a paraben-like reaction to phthalates, and experts are predicting we’ll soon be seeing ‘phthalate-free’ being advertised as widely as paraben-free.
Johnson & Johnson for example, have stated that they will remove all DEP (diethyl phthalate) from their adult product range worldwide by 2015.
Should I avoid phthalates?
As with all questionable ingredients, we prefer to err on the side of caution so you’ll never find any phthalates in Pai products.
Personally, I try to steer clear of them in the home as much as is feasibly possible.
Making simple changes like switching a plastic shower curtain to a fabric one, storing food in glass rather than plastic containers and avoiding mainstream perfumes (I’m allergic to them anyway!) are simple steps to reducing your exposure.