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25 Sep 2016


It’s time for another post in my ‘Let’s talk about plastic!’ series. This week, I’m telling you everything you need to know about phthalates. If you’ve read my post about plastic bottles and BPA and you feel like you’re having a déjà vu, trust me, you’re not! :)
BPA and phthalates are two completely different things, starting with the fact that phthalates are much more common and, sadly, a lot harder to avoid.

Chances are you’ve already heard of phthalates before, but what exactly is this hard-to-spell-and-to-pronounce word? 
Well, if you’re into chemistry, phthalates are esters that are formed when phthalic anhydride reacts with an alcohol (at least that’s what Wikipedia says, I’m not an expert haha). Obviously, it’s not important that you understand what that means, just know that phthalates are mainly used as plasticizers (to make a hard plastic softer and more flexible) and as binders (in cosmetics for example). Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (or BEHP) represents roughly 10% of all phthalates and is mainly used to plasticize PVC.

Phthalates are in soooo many plastics. Unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid them completely. I’ve listed several products who are known to contain phthalates. (Obviously, there are exceptions. Not many though.)
  • shampoo
  • perfume
  • shower gel
  • hair spray
  • deodorant
  • shower curtains
  • air fresheners
  • laundry detergent
  • nail polish
  • carpeting
  • tubes and IV bags (used in hospitals)
  • plastic containers
  • vinyl floors
  • plastic coating on cables
  • toys
  • car interior
  • dairy products
  • water
  • pesticides
  • paint
  • printing ink

And the list goes on and on. Did you notice how we use pretty much all of these things on a daily basis? There are even food items on that list.
Water? That’s correct. Pipe linings often contain phthalates, who easily leach into our water.
Dairy products? Yep. When cows are milked, the milk is transported through plastic tubes. And sadly, phthalates do indeed leach into the milk when transported.

The health risks that phthalates bring are not pretty. They are known to be endocrine disruptors. But what does that mean?
Our endocrine system is basically everything that has to do with our hormones. Phthalates are found to disrupt our hormone levels, for example interfering with the production of testosterone in men’s bodies. Other effects linked to these chemicals are asthma, breast cancer, obesity, diabetes (type II), autism spectrum disorders, etc.
Pregnant women have to be even more careful. Babies from mothers who are more exposed to phthalates have a higher risk to be born with a dysfunction in their reproductive and endocrine system.

Babies and little kids are most vulnerable for these health risks. Luckily, Europe was the first one to implement a restriction on phthalates in children’s toys in 1999. The USA followed later, in 2008. Other than that, there’s no legislation on phthalates at all. Companies aren’t even obligated to mention these chemicals on the label of their products.
There are ways to recognise products with phthalates though. Many scented liquids (like shampoo, perfume etc.) contain phthalates, so look out for ‘parfum’ or ‘fragrance’ in the ingredients-list. You might want to avoid those.

As far as plastics go, you can often smell the plasticizers. Can you picture yourself stepping into a brand new car? Or the smell of new plastic pool toys? Well, you’re smelling phthalates.

If I can give you one main tip, I’d tell you to stay away from plastic as much as you can. Sadly, plastic is everywhere and it’s hard to find replacements. I suggest to buy as much glass containers as possible or to go bulk shopping (I mentioned this in my green life-post as well). It’ll also do the environment a huge favour.

When you do come into contact with plastic, look for a number that indicates the type of plastic. Numbers 3, 6 and 7 should be avoided! (Full explanation in this post.) And never ever heat food or water in a plastic container! When plastic is heated, chemicals leach quicker and more easily.

My final tip is to use as many natural products as you can. Opt for a natural soap instead of a bright coloured and scented shower gel. Use as few commercial cleaning products as possible. A natural soap with water often does the job. You could also try to make several beauty products (or any household product) yourself. That way, you’ll know what’s in them, you’ll save money and produce less waste. If you're interested, check out my DIY page for homemade natural products.

Sigh. I’m shocked. Even though I wrote this post myself, I still can’t believe some of the things I mentioned. I knew that phthalates were bad, my uni professor told me that before. But this bad? Who would’ve thought?

I’m glad that, as I’m growing as an adult, I’m able to do my own research and decide what’s best for my health and the environment. I’m glad that I can choose for a lifestyle that doesn’t contain (or at least limits) all these nasty things. I’m definitely going to continue to choose for natural lifestyle, meaning avoiding as much chemical substances as possible.

I feel like phthalates (and other bad chemicals like BPA) can be compared to smoking. Last century, no one even had a clue of how bad smoking was, and look at how ‘smoking kills’ is displayed on every single packet of cigarettes today. Are we going to see ‘plastic kills’ displayed everywhere in 50 years? Is that the direction this is taking? Let’s hope not.



  1. hoewel we het allemaal wel weten is het super dat jij die bel nog eens extra hard laat rinkelen !!
    Doet er ons aan herinneren dat we nog net ietsje meer zullen uitkijken bij het boodschappen doen.
    Super !!

    1. Das heel graag gedaan! Dat was ook mijn bedoeling voor deze blog natuurlijk.
      We moeten nu ook niet alle plastic mijden, maar het is wel belangrijk dat we voorzichtig zijn he!