Flexibility and strength are desirable qualities for diapers, tampons, panty liners and pads. But a synthetic class of chemicals called phthalates (the “ph” is silent; it’s pronounced “tha” – as in “that” – “lates” ) in these products and dozens of others may be harmful to your health. Some studies link these chemicals to serious health problems such as breast cancer, diabetes and obesity.
What are Phthalates?
They are man-made chemicals used in plastic products, hence their descriptive action: plasticizers. Hundreds of products contain these synthetic bonded compounds. Polypropylene and polyester are examples of two synthetic materials that contain phthalates.
What Products Contain Phtlatates?
These controversial synthetic chemicals are prevalent in cosmetics, feminine hygiene products, cosmetics, toys, vinyl flooring and lots of other products.
Different Types of Phthalates & Their Purposes
Cosmetic products contain different types of phthalates. For instance, DBP, which stands for dibutyl phthalate, prevents nail polish from cracking. DMP (dimethyl phthalate) forms a flexible film on hair spray, preventing hair fibers from feeling stiff after being sprayed. Then there’s DEP (diethyl phthalate), which is the most common type of phthalate, ubiquitous in cosmetics with synthetic fragrances.
Why Are They Bad?
Phthalates disrupt the endocrine system. That means they adversely affect hormone function. One hormone that may not work as well because of these chemicals is insulin, which controls blood glucose levels. For this reason, phthalates may be a contributing factor in type 2 diabetes.
Children are especially vulnerable to the deleterious effects of these synthetic compounds. The Print, an online news service from India references research from
Toxics Link, an Indian environmental and advocacy organisation, which showed that most diapers available in the Indian market contain harmful phthalates, which “can lead to “irreversible impact” on children’s health.”
The research on diapers was conducted on 20 samples from 19 brands including popular ones such as Pampers and Huggies. A study published in Reproductive Toxicology from last year found most diapers surveyed contained both volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and the following phthalates: DBP, DEHP, DEP, and BBP.
The study in Reproductive Toxicology suggests phthalates might disrupt menstrual cycles. Researchers suggest that because of the physical location of the exposure site, the high absorption rate of the genitalia for chemicals, and the long-term exposure period—most women use sanitary pads during their menstrual periods for an average of 1800 days in their lifetime—a thorough investigation on the potential impact of the exposure to VOCs and phthalates is warranted.
Phthalate exposure may also contribute to early onset puberty and cause reproductive and genital defects.
What Does the FDA Think About Phthalates?
The FDA website cites a CDC report that notes that elevated levels of phthalates excreted by women of child-bearing age represents an association between the use of phthalates in cosmetic products and a health risk. “Based on this information, FDA determined that there wasn’t a sound, scientific basis to support taking regulatory action against cosmetics containing phthalates.”
Are There Alternatives?
The aforementioned Indian online news outlet, The Print, says that plant-based phthalates such as adipates, benzoates and other bio-based plasticisers exist.
Despite a lack of an outright federal ban, many companies have voluntarily removed phthalates from their products. Look for labels that say “phthalate-free”. Recycling icons #1 and #2 are phthalate-free (usually, so, too are #’s 4 &5). Avoid plastic products with the #3 recycling “PVC” or “V” labels.
If you have the budget, buy organic or all-natural cosmetic and feminine hygiene products and wooden kid’s toys.