What are phthalates and why are phthalates dangerous?

What are phthalates and why are phthalates dangerous?

Here at Utama Spice, we know and respect that our skin is the biggest organ, which is why we never use any synthetic chemicals or fragrances, and all our products are free from phthalates and are scented with natural essential oils.

Phthalates are endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals that are commonly added to plastics, household goods, cleaners and personal care products to make them fragrant, flexible and durable.

Phthalates easily escape from these products as particles or vapours, and can been found in the urine of nearly every American, as well as in blood, sweat, breast milk, semen and ovarian fluids.

Scientists have known for decades that phthalates can alter the activity and levels of hormones in the body. Phthlates are now officially recognised by the E.U. as a reproductive toxin, affecting fertility, and have been banned in variety of products such as children's products and cosmetics. However, the FDA in the U.S. has unfortunately yet to follow suit (so be mindful that many cosmetics produced by American brands or sold in the U.S. contain phthalates that are banned in the E.U). 

What are phthalates
Phthalates (pronounced as THAL-lates) were developed in the 1920s as 'plasticizers' – chemicals used to make plastics more flexible. 

Plasticizers soften polymers by lowering their glass transition temperature, the point at which a material changes to its flexible ‘rubbery’ state from its rigid ‘glassy’ state. If you think about a cushiony material like yoga mats, you can guess why this property is important.

Phthalates are also often found in personal care and household items under the umbrella term of "fragrance" as they are used as chemical carriers to help make the scent linger, and can be found in nail polish, hairsprays, aftershave lotions, soaps, shampoos, perfumes, and other fragrance preparations.

Why are phthalates found in cosmetics
Consumer regulations usually do not require the listing of the individual 'fragrance' ingredients; therefore, the consumer will not be able to determine from the ingredient declaration if phthalates are present in a fragrance.

Phthalates are commonly found in household products like plastic, vinyl, cleaning products, nail polish (to reduce cracking by making them less brittle), hair spray (to help avoid stiffness by allowing them to form a flexible film on the hair) and fragrances (as a solvent and fixant).

As explained above, phthalates are used as chemical carriers to make aromas linger and companies are able to avoid disclosing these harmful chemicals by citing proprietary claims and simply listing them under “fragrance.”

How phthlates affect reproductive health
Phthalates act as endocrine disruptors, binding to hormonal receptors and interfering with the function of reproductive hormones like estrogen and testosterone.

There is a growing body of evidence showing that phthalates disrupt our endocrine and reproductive systems, and that these chemicals can negatively impact fertility rates and a growing foetus. Studies have linked lower levels of successful IVF outcomes and increased miscarriage risk with and without IVF to higher phthalate levels

Higher levels of phthalates have been associated with disruption in menstruation, ovulation dysfunction, and increased risk of endometriosis. Studies have shown that higher levels of phthalates in both men and women trying to conceive are associated with longer times to conception and eventual diagnosis of infertility (inability to conceive for one year). Studies have shown that phthalate exposure has been associated with poor egg quality and poor sperm quality.

Avoiding phthalates is therefore not only important while you are trying to conceive but during pregnancy as well since phthalate exposure has been associated with higher risk of miscarriage

Infants and children are especially vulnerable to environmental toxins, and early exposure to phthalates has been associated with early puberty, obesity, and other health issues later in life.

Avoiding phthalates 

  • When it comes to cosmetics, the word "fragrance" or "parfum" on a label almost always means phthalates. Read the labels on your products and avoid products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient to prevent possible exposure to phthalates. Choose products that have natural aromas, that are scented with essential oils. Always only use natural air fresheners. 
  • Where possible, avoid plastic food containers. Bring your own glass or metal food container, especially for containing liquids. Never heat your food in plastic containers.

  • Plastic products with recycling codes 3 and 7 may contain phthalates or BPA. Look for plastic with recycling codes 1, 2, or 5.