Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist - Written by Rupali Goswami (Beauty Expert) on 29th Oct 2020
Why should you avoid phthalates in cosmetics?
If you are in the habit of reading product labels, then you must have come across the name of a chemical compound known as phthalates. It is pronounced as "the-late." Phthalates can be found everywhere, from packaged food to skincare products, hair care products, and even home furnishing products.
It is not a piece of cake to get rid of or avoid phthalates. They can be found in many things that we encounter daily, such as detergents, perfumes, shampoos, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, plastic toys, lubricant oils, and many other things.
Still, it will help know what phthalates are, where they can be found, and why they are dangerous.
What are Phthalates?
Phthalates, also known as plasticizers, are chemical compounds that are usually added to plastics to increase their longevity, durability, transparency, and flexibility. They also work as a solvent or binding agent in many cosmetic and skincare products. Phthalates are made up of phthalic acid in the form of oily liquid, odorless, and colorless. And are the most commonly used chemicals in the entire world.
Some of the common forms of phthalates that we are exposed to daily are:
- Diisononyl phthalate (DINP)
- Diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP)
- Di-2-ethyl-hexyl phthalate (DEHP)
Phthalates can enter into our bodies through various methods such as skin absorption, inhalation, and ingestion. They are added to substances instead of chemically binding them. It's not easy for phthalates to evaporate. Phthalates tend to connect, and that's how they create even more harmful effects when exposed.
In which product phthalates can be found?
Phthalates can be divided into two groups:
Where molecular weight is higher:
You can find these in -
- Housing materials like flooring, furniture, switchboards, and other things.
- The plastic used for foods
- Plastic for medical usage
- Car parts, toys, building materials, and electric wires
Where molecular weight is lower:
You can find these in -
- Cosmetics and personal care products, including skincare and haircare.
- Toothbrushes, toys, nail paints, fragrances, and printing ink
What is the purpose of using phthalates?
The 1920s was the first time when phthalates were developed to manufacture more flexible and stable plastics. They are also used in products to have a longer shelf life and preserve fragrances and colors. For the same reason, phthalates are commonly found in cosmetic products like nail polish, sunscreen, makeup, lotions, deodorants, and other things.
Phthalates are used in skincare, cosmetics, and hair care for:
- To create more flexibility to stop nail paints from cracking
- Preservation of the color
- To create more flexibility in hairsprays to be able to hold more rather than being stiff.
Phthalates and hair care
Phthalates are used in shampoos as a gelling agent. It can also be found in hairsprays, hair conditioners, and mouses. It helps soften and lubricate the other substances, enhance absorption, increases spreadability, and help the fragrance last longer.
In some studies, it has been found that the usage of phthalates on animals may result in the permanent damage of the male reproductive system. These are the same phthalates used in hair care products by some of the most famous brands. The only way to avoid it is to read your product labels carefully.
Why should you avoid phthalates?
They are commonly associated with abnormalities related to reproductive and hormonal issues. Phthalates have such a structure that lets the chemicals from the product release into the environment rather than staying bound inside the product, which can be proved very harmful as humans are continuously exposed to them.
- Phthalates like DEHP that are most common have been associated with Endocrine disruption that is known to create a terrible effect on hormonal balance in humans.
- Higher levels of phthalates (DEP, DBP, DINP, DEHP) are associated with decreased sperm count and male infertility.
- Women may be exposed to the risk of recurrent miscarriages due to phthalates' exposure like DEHP and DBP in the reproductive age.
- Phthalates can lead to allergies and obesity in children, deformities in male genitals, early puberty, ADHD, lower IQ, eczema, and asthma.
Some steps to help you get started:
1. Careful while reading the labels:
Make it a habit to read the product labels regularly, whenever you buy them or before using them. Read your skincare, haircare, and cosmetic brands just like you would read your food labels.
2. Difference between names:
It can be misleading in many ways, the names of the long and intimidating chemicals, especially when there are so many. This can create massive confusion in your mind.
Research your way through and know that not all long words of chemicals are the bad ones. It will help you identify which chemicals are harmful to you and which are the good ones.
3. Say no to fragrance:
You don't always need to see the word "phthalates" written on your cosmetic products; instead, you will see terms like "perfume" or "fragrance" on the labels that always means the product contains phthalates.
You would want your products to be labeled as "no synthetic fragrance," "scented using only essential oils," and "phthalates-free."
4. Whenever possible, avoid plastic:
A personal care product tends to lose all its qualities if wrapped around in plastic or inside a plastic jar or bottle. All plastic things contain phthalates in them, and they are prone to leaching if the product has high oil content like a hair conditioner.
The same goes for foods that are higher in fats. Always opt for plastics that have recycling codes 1, 2, or 5 and avoid regulations 3 and 7 as they contain an increased risk of phthalates in them.
5. Make use of artisan personal care manufacturers:
The market for personal care products is increasing rapidly. As more and more products are coming out, artisanal personal care products are also popping up, from moisturizers to deodorants to makeup and hair care products.
These manufacturers produce small batches of these products by handcrafting them with the ingredients readily available in your kitchen because they do not contain any harmful ingredients like parabens or phthalates. No chemical can beat what nature can do for our bodies.
6. Figure out the pseudonyms:
Ingredients in personal care products include "ethyl," "butyl," "methyl," and "propyl" belongs to the family of parabens, even if you don't see the word "parabens" on the product. Phthalates would always have the word "phthalates," "parfum," or "fragrance" in work.
Where are phthalates not found?
Not necessarily all soft plastic contains phthalates. There are many plastic products like water bottles, food containers, wraps that are phthalates-free. This is tricky, while plastic wraps have DEHA (di(2-Ethylhexyl) adipate), which is not technically a phthalate, but it is very close to the DEHP, which can result in liver tumors, according to some studies.
How do phthalates enter our bodies?
Consumption of food wrapped around in plastic film or a single-use plastic container can increase the risk of ingesting phthalates, especially when your food is high in fats and oils.
Little kids are more exposed to phthalates due to their habit of chewing on toys or eating food from plastic containers.
Phthalates are odorless, colorless, and semi-volatile in nature, which means that the chemical compounds presented in phthalates can escape in the environment from the product that contains them.
Phthalates are popular in the area of fragrance, and you inhale them while using perfumes, deodorants, and other products that may contain fragrance.
3. Skin absorption:
Phthalates also directly enter your body through skin absorption when you use cosmetics, skincare, and hair care products or toiletries that have these chemicals in them.
Clothing, shoes, or bags that contain PVC can also be the source of direct absorption of phthalates through the skin.
4. Into the bloodstream:
Medical conditions that need special requirements of dialysis or blood transfusion may result in the entering of phthalates directly into the bloodstream due to plastic tubes and transfusion bags.
For how long phthalates stay inside your body?
Many forms of phthalates are readily absorbed by the body and may break down into metabolites; they are then passed through urine, sweat, or feces. For example, metabolites in DEP may pass through your body in the form of urine within two days, leaving behind a little in the tissues.
But the human body is not just exposed to phthalates from one product, but many products in only one day contain multiple phthalates and its forms. The effects of phthalates can amplify as it becomes dangerous when they interact with one another and to their metabolites.
There have been significant concerns over phthalates among the scientific community about the side effects and usage. Multiple studies and researches have been done to determine the entire process, working, and forms of phthalates.
Many companies have now started replacing phthalates with safer alternatives. As a consumer, you can make better choices about the products to include in your daily life routine