Are There Phthalates in Your Personal Care Products? July 26 2015, 8 Comments

Adult Smelling FlowerI think it's fair to say that walking into the Artisan Soap shop is a sensual experience. Visitors comment that they can smell the soap before they even get halfway down the sidewalk. Once they come in, I love watching them take a deep breath, exhale, drop their shoulders and soak in all of the delicious fragrances that greet them at the door. 

Being able to smell is one of our five primary senses; it's a delightful experiential gift that comes with being human. Not all fragrances are as safe as those that you'll find in the Artisan Soap Shop, however, and it's up to you as a consumer to be watchful and aware.

In 2009, I took many hours of training to become a Green Irene Eco-Consultant; our motto was: Greening the World, One Home and Office at a Time. We covered many topics including light bulbs, energy and water efficiency, air and water purity, toxins, packaging, recycling, composting and more. One of the toxins we discussed quite a bit were phthalates (tha-lates). Phthalates are industrial chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. There are many different kinds of phthalates, and they are also used as solvents (dissolving agents) for other materials, and as a mechanism to hold scent and color. It's in these last forms, especially, that phthalates appear in personal care products such as soap, shampoos, hair sprays, nail polishes and other cosmetics.

In fact, the use of phthalates in personal care products may help to explain why researchers have found significantly higher concentrations of these phthalates in women. In their Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals (Fourth Report), scientists from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that measurable levels of many phthalate metabolites had entered peoples bodies, and that women have higher levels than men for those phthalates that are used in soaps, body washes, shampoos, cosmetics and similar personal care products. 

The debate about the adverse health effects of phthalates in the human body continues. On one hand, a CDC Phthalate Fact Sheet states that, "finding a detectable amount of phthalate metabolites in urine does not imply that the levels of one or more will cause an adverse health effect." On the other hand, several studies and writers are pointing to a link between phthalates and birth defects in the male reproductive system. Earl Gray, a phthalate researcher with the US Environmental Protection Agency refers to hundreds of animals studies that show that phthalates can block male hormones, leading to a host of problems. In 2005, Shanna Swan PhD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester, confirmed the subtle effects of phthalates on male reproductive development with the first human study: 

"[There was] a significant relationship" between the levels of phthalates in the mothers' bodies during pregnancy and changes in the genitals of their baby boys. The pregnant women with the highest phthalate levels---equivalent to the levels currently found in about a quarter of US women---were more likely to have baby sons with smaller penises and incompletely descended testicles. The boys were also more likely to have a shorter distance from their anus to their penis (called anogenital distance, or AGD), which is an indicator of masculinity."

Additional human studies have begun to emerge showing connections between phthalate levels and lower sperm quality, sperm motility, and DNA damage in men's sperm that can lead to infertility or miscarriage.

Monitoring your exposure to phthalates isn't easy because you aren't going to find the word "phthalate" in the ingredient list. Still, there are some things you can do to reduce your exposure:

  • Specifically look for toys, and other products (including personal-care products) that are labeled "PVC-free", "Fragrance-free", or "Phthalate-free". If it has a fragrance, or lists fragrance in the product ingredient list, be suspicious unless the product has been specifically labeled as a phthalate-free product.
  • Avoid products made of PVC plastic (#3), or that have that potent "shower curtain smell." I generally tell people that if it's a flexible plastic (vinyl shower curtains, rain coats, shower mat, etc), or if it has a potent plastic smell (vinyl shower curtains, new cars, wall paper, etc), be suspicious!
  • Don't microwave food in plastic containers; use microwave-safe glass.

Here at Artisan Soaps, environmental responsibility and sustainability, and the quality and purity of what you purchase matters to me. For example, Artisan Soaps are made without palm oil, and we use as much recycled packaging as possible in order to protect and care for the earth and its inhabitants. Similarly, all Artisan Soaps and Candles are currently made with phthalate-free fragrances so that you can be assured of the purest and safest product for yourself, and your family and friends.

Nature is full of delicious (haha . . . and some not-so-delicious) smells, and we've been gifted with noses and an ability to take in all of those fragrant aromas. Just be aware, however, and know what you are sniffing! If you have questions, concerns, or more to add, please leave a comment below.