Phthalate-free is the way to be!

by Sarah Blackwell on February 21, 2014

Plastic is arguably one of the most impactful inventions of the 20th century. Its unique properties allow it to be used for a staggering array of products, ranging from food storage to medical devices, construction to clothing, and transportation to communication. Think about your typical day and all the plastic products you come into contact with – you wake up to your alarm clock, use your toothbrush and hairbrush, buy iced coffee with your debit card at Dunkin Donuts, drive to class, record lectures in your notebook, drink water out of your reusable water bottle… the list is endless!  The latest scientific research, however, has given us reason to pause and think about the chemicals that go into our plastic and how they impact our health. Phthalates, a plastic additive, has recently garnered media attention over its negative health effects.

What are phthalates?

Phthalates (pronounced “thal-ates”) are a man-made chemical compound typically used in the manufacture of plastic. They are colorless, odorless, oily liquids and do not chemically bind to the material to which they are added. They therefore tend to leach from products over time.

Where are phthalates found?

The most common phthalate-containing products are PVC products and personal care products. PVC, polyvinyl chloride, is the third-most widely produced plastic. The addition of phthalates makes PVC softer and more flexible. Most medical devices – blood bags, IV and NG tubing, catheters, etc. – are made from PVC. PVC is also used for children’s toys, clothing, and in building materials. Phthalates are added to personal care products to make their fragrance last longer, increase spreadability, and enhance absorption. Some examples include nail polish, perfumes, deodorants, hair gels, shampoos, hair spray, and body lotion. Through contact with PVC plastic and personal care products phthalates can enter our body via ingestion, inhalation, skin absorption, and intravenous injection.

What are the health risks associated with phthalate exposure?

Minimal testing has been done to examine the health effects of phthalates on humans; however, lab testing has exposed multiple reproductive and development health problems for animals exposed to phthalates, creating cause for concern. These problems include interference with natural hormone levels and the endocrine system, reproductive and genital defects, lower sperm count in adult males and early onset puberty.

Who is at risk from phthalate exposure?

Patients are exposed to potentially harmful levels of phthalates in hospitals or other healthcare settings due to the use of PVC in medical devices, but adults quickly metabolize and excrete these chemicals. Some patients, however, are at a higher risk for health problems due to exposure. Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health have found that sick infants treated in the NICU, in particular, are subject to high exposure. In 2002, the FDA recommended that hospitals and other healthcare providers avoid using IV bags, tubing, and other devices that contain PVC in the NICU. Many hospitals are now replacing these devices with alternative plastics not containing phthalates. In 2012, France passed a law banning the use of phthalate containing medical devices in pediatrics, maternity and neonatal wards in hospitals. While phthalates are primarily a health risk for infants, adults must be wary of exposure as well. Pregnant or nursing mothers should limit their contact with phthalates to avoid transmission.

How can I avoid phthalates?

Reading labels is key to avoiding phthalate-containing products. Many companies are aware of the health concerns surrounding phthalates and have voluntarily removed them from their products; so many products will be labeled “phthalate-free”. Plastic containing the number 3 within the recycling symbol as well as the letters “V” or “PVC” underneath tend to contain phthalates. Avoid those products to reduce your phthalate exposure.

With plastics impacting our daily lives, it is important for us to step back and examine the chemicals within that we are exposing ourselves to. Phthalates – no big deal, or harmful toxins? You decide.








{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Amir Ali March 4, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Interesting article! I’ve never before heard of phthalates, let alone the potential danger they pose…this certainly makes me think twice about the plastic products I come into contact daily, especially medical devices. Thanks for opening my eyes and increasing my awareness.


Cancel reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: