Phthalates’ Harmful Effects
Phthlates are nasty ingredients: dangerous, toxic and endocrine disrupting. Plenty of harmful effects. It’s pretty amazing, when you think about it. All you want is for your house to be clean (or at least somewhat clean!) So off you go to your local grocery store to pick up some cleaning supplies: maybe some Comet, Fantastik, maybe some Windex. You’re all set, right? Well…until you learn about phthalates and phthalates harmful effects on the body.
So let’s pause for just one moment here. How do you know if your house cleaners contain dangerous chemicals, such as phthalates? And what are phthalates, anyway?
What are Phthalates?
Phthalates (aka Diethylhexylphthalate (DEMP), dibutlyphthalate (DBP), Dimethylphthalate and diethylphthalate) are esters of phthalic acid, and have historically been used to soften plastic and increase its flexibility. But more recently, phthalates have begun to be used in many other ways. They are used in cleaning products, personal care products and air fresheners as fragrance and labeled as such. “Fragrance” sounds so…harmless, right? When we think of fragrance, we think flowers, spring meadows and mountain rain. Fragrance as derived from phthalates, however, is seriously dangerous to our health.
Remember, phthalates (in all of its various forms and name) are RARELY if ever listed on ingredient labels. But if you see the word “fragrance” on a standard bottle of cleaning solution, laundry detergent or air freshener, you can be pretty darn sure it contains phthalates and will cause harmful effects on the body.
Phthalates are one of those chemical additives the average consumer has only begun to hear about recently. Which is pretty crazy, considering over 95% of the US population has detectable levels of phthalates in their urine. So what are phthalates’ harmful effects, exactly, and why should you care if they’re in the cleaning products you use?
–Phthalates are endocrine disruptors and have significant adverse effects on the reproductive system, particularly those of males and are closely linked to low sperm count. What are endocrine disruptors? Endocrine disruptors are those chemicals that actually attempt to mimic the effects of natural hormones, and thereby displace or “disrupt” hormones’ normal activity. Doesn’t sound so great, does it? It’s not.
-Phthalates have been shown to affect unborn children’s sexual development.
-Phthalates negatively affect thyroid hormone levels. Thyroid hormones play an important role in the body’s metabolism, energy and reproductive capabilities.
-There is a strong link between phthalates and breast cancer.
The single most important point in avoiding phthalates in household cleaning products is to AVOID USING PRODUCTS WITH “FRAGRANCE” AS AN INGREDIENT, unless the fragrance is specifically stated to be derived from essential oils such as lemon or lime. When it comes to other products, such as food, baby toys, shampoo and other personal care products, phthalates harmful effects are many and also pose significant dangers; those products will be covered in a separate post. I will also be talking about alternatives to phthalate-laden cleaning products and will link below when those posts are up.