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Ingredient Truths: Phthalates, Should You and Can You Avoid?

by kelly / March, 25 2015 01:30

Picture of plastic bottle with water

Ok I'm going to answer part of the question I pose in our title upfront.  It's probably going to be difficult to avoid phthalates all together.  Nevertheless there are ways to reduce your exposure to phthalates and we can help you with tips to do so.

Like all our Ingredient Truths articles, we want to present you with information on this topic so that you can make informed decisions.

Finally we want to note that here at Block Island Organics our products do not contain phthalates. 

What are Phthalates?

Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are used to soften plastics to make them more flexible and are used as solvents for other materials.  Phthalates can be found in:

  • Building materials, vinyl flooring, plumping pipes, wallpaper, wood finishes, medical devices and pesticides
  • Everyday household items can also include phthalates such as detergents, food packages, garden hoses and even toys  
  • Cosmetics and personal care products from nail polish to shampoos, soaps, lotions and other items that contain "fragrance"

There are 25 common phthalates used in products.  In cosmetics and personal care products the most common phthalates used, according to, are:

"The Phthalate that is most frequently used in cosmetics and personal care products is Diethyl Phthalate [DEP]. Dimethyl Phthalate [DMP] may also have some uses in cosmetics and personal care products. Dibutyl Phthalate [DBP] is an ingredient that has been found to be safe and effective for use in making nail polish flexible and resistant to chipping. However, since DBP has been banned in some countries, the use of the ingredient has been discontinued by most manufacturers. Diethylhexyl Phthalate [DEHP] is no longer used in the manufacturing of cosmetic and personal care including nail products."

Finally, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that "phthalate exposure is widespread in the U.S. population."  Needless to say phthalates are prevalent in our daily lives.

So Should I Be Concerned?

The US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) stance on phthalates as of today is that there is not a reason to regulate against their use in products.  There statement is the following:

"FDA reviewed the safety and toxicity data for phthalates, including the CDC data from 2001, as well as the CIR [Cosmetic Ingredient Review] conclusions based on reviews in 1985 and 2002. While the CDC report noted elevated levels of phthalates excreted by women of child-bearing age, neither this report nor the other data reviewed by FDA established 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."

The FDA also states that it will continue to monitor the level of these chemicals in personal care products.  In terms of the CDC, their stance is: 

"Human health effects from exposure to low levels of phthalates are unknown. Some types of phthalates have affected the reproductive system of laboratory animals. More research is needed to assess the human health effects of exposure to phthalates."

Nonetheless, there are governing bodies and organizations that have expressed greater concern and enacted regulation in regards to phthalates:

  • The European Union in 2004 banned the use of DBP and DEHP in cosmetic products.  
  • California in 2005 listed DBP and DEHP as chemicals known to cause developmental and reproductive toxicity.  In addition California requires companies to include warning on their label when the two chemicals are present at higher than allowed amounts.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviewed numerous studies and concluded that phthalates can cause increased incidences of eczema, asthma and rhinitis in children.  
  • The Environmental Working Group (EWG) also reviewed studies and found in their analysis that phthalates have the potential to disrupt the development and functioning of the female and male reproductive systems. 

In all it seems that there are two sides to the issues: one side believes phthalates are safe and effective while others have called out and regulated specific types of phthalates.

Does Block Island Organics Use Phthalates?

We always believe in airing on the side of caution even when concern is inconclusive.  Thus we do not use phthalates in our products.  

How Do I Reduce My Exposure to Phthalates?

If you also like being cautious, here are ways you can decrease your contact:

  • Look for products that call out that they are free of phthalates.
  • Watch out for "fragrance" as an ingredient in your products.  As we mentioned in one our Ingredient Truths post on "fragrance", phthalates can be hidden in this trade secret ingredient.  Look for products that are "artificial fragrance free".
  • Eat organic fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy.  I know we've mainly talked about phthalates in your personal care products but they can also be in food.  As we mentioned above, pesticides can also contain phthalates.  Pesticides are not allowed in the production of certified organic produce, meat and dairy. 
  • Drink filtered water.  Some water filtration system, especially a nano-filtration system, can remove the phthalates that are used in water pipes.
  • Avoid PVC plastic and use glass, stainless steel, silicon or porcelain containers for storage.  Phthalates are prone to leaching out when PVC plastics break down after use over time or with heat.

Hope that helps!  Let us know any thoughts below.

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