Phthalates: The Everywhere Chemical Harming Your Health

Phthalates (pronounced (tha·layts), is a family of industrial chemicals that are causing severe health problems around the world.

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the problematic nature of using products containing phthalates and to inform the public on how to avoid the life-threatening effects of these chemicals.

What are Phthalates?

Phthalates are synthetic chemicals pioneered by the U.S. chemical industry in the early 1920s. By 1931, the availability of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) led to the explosive growth of the industry and the widespread use of phthalates in consumer products. Today, they are among the most widely used chemicals in the world. Phthalates are used as plasticizers to make plastic strong, lightweight, and flexible.

They can also be used to dissolve other materials. Given that phthalates are odorless and colorless, they often avoid our detection as a significant health risk, yet they remain one of the most harmful synthetic chemicals ever created by humankind.

What Products Contain Phthalates?

Phthalates are called the “everywhere chemical” for a reason: they are in hundreds of products that people use every day. They are so ubiquitous in our lives that it is easier to ask what products do not contain these harmful plastics rather than ask which ones do contain them.

According to researchers Wang and Haifeng, “In the USA, more than 340 million pounds of phthalates are consumed every year and cause potential health and environmental risks.” Given the volume of Phthalate exposure, it is important to identify the many phthalate-containing products that may be causing harm to you and your family.

Kitchen Products:

1) Food packaging

2) Plastic containers

3) Plastic lids

4) Gloves used in food prep

5) Mac & cheese powder

6) Dishwasher detergent

7) Dish soap

Bathroom-related products:

1) Hand Soap

2) Shampoo

3) Conditioner

4) Toothbrush

5) Toothpaste

6) Shower curtains

7) Bath mats


1) Nail polish

2) Body sprays

3) Hair sprays

4) Perfumes/Colognes

5) Hand lotion

6) Body lotion

7) Aftershave lotion

8) Top-selling beauty products


1) Medical Equipment

2) Coatings on time-release


3) Medical tubing/catheters

4) IV bags

Home products

1) Plastic bottles

2) Vinyl flooring

3) Wall coverings

4) Industrial paints and solvents

5) Adhesives

6) House dust

7) Laundry detergent

8) Insecticides

9) Building materials

How Phthalate Exposure Happens

According to the non-profit Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, “Food is the leading source of exposure. Phthalates have been found in dairy products, meats, fish, oils & fats, baked goods, infant formula, processed foods, and fast foods. Phthalates are not intentionally added ingredients but rather ‘indirect’ food additives. They easily escape from food processing equipment, food packaging, and food preparation materials, and contaminate food at points all along the supply chain. This includes food-processing equipment,” such as PVC tubing used in milking and to transfer milk between farms and processing plants.”

These chemicals are found at many levels of the supply chain from the PVC gloves used in food preparation to the printing inks and adhesives on the packaging. Consuming beverages as well as tap water can also cause exposure to phthalates. Indeed, it is often the household wastewater that can contaminate the surface water with phthalates. As mentioned above, a myriad of household cleaners and furnishing can emit particles and vapors containing phthalates which can contaminate the body when they are inhaled. Additionally, personal care products like soap, shampoo, and lotion can cause phthalate exposure through skin absorption. Exposure to phthalates can also be caused by medical equipment.

The Harmful Effects of Phthalates

Exposure to phthalates can lead to many serious health issues and premature death. Numerous studies have connected phthalates to increased risk of cancer, childhood obesity, asthma, reproductive problems such as infertility, preterm births, worsening of allergy symptoms, impaired brain development (Lower IQ and ADHD), early onset puberty, insulin-resistance in adolescents, and interference with the natural functioning of hormones.

The interference with hormones is due to the fact that phthalates are endocrine disruptors. The endocrine system is the messenger system of the body that regulates organ function, metabolism and reproduction through the release of hormones by internal glands. Our mood, growth and development all depend on a healthy endocrine system. However, phthalates not only interfere with well-known hormones like estrogen and testosterone, but a range of other hormones as well, including thyroid and adrenal hormones. In N.M. Grindler’s article in Nature, he demonstrates that the endocrine disruption from phthalate exposure can lead to “decreased fecundity, pregnancy loss, and adverse obstetrical outcomes.”

Moreover, according to the study published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Pollution, “People with the highest levels of phthalates had a greater risk of death from any cause, especially cardiovascular mortality.” This study also estimated that the deaths from phthalate exposure may cost the United States approximately $40 to $47 billion each year due to lost economic productivity which comes with a host of additional negative effects on our country.

Finally, phthalate exposure has been linked to the pre-mature deaths of over 100,000 Americans per year. This mortality rate is comparable to Diabetes, which is the 8th leading cause of death in the U.S. The brutal dictator Joseph Stalin stated, “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic.” Therefore, we have to remember that there is a face and a name behind every number and we need to take action now to preserve the sanctity of human life.

Who is at Risk from Pthalate Exposure?

You, your loved ones and everyone on the planet are at risk. Pregnant women and children are at the highest risk from phthalate exposure. Phthalates have been associated with pregnancy loss and exposure is considered harmful at every stage of pregnancy. Negative effects can be identified as early as the embryonic stage of 5–8 gestational weeks. Children are particularly vulnerable to phthalates because they are constantly touching many objects and putting their hands in their mouths. However, every one of us is potentially at risk, especially people with pre-existing conditions.

How to Avoid Exposure to Phthalates

While phthalate exposure is difficult to quantitatively measure with exact precision, the overwhelming evidence of its negative effects is enough for us to take action against this health hazard. What makes the situation so difficult is the widespread acceptance and use of phthalates that has led the “everywhere chemical” to earn its nickname.

Consequently, the first step in addressing the situation is to educate the public on how to avoid phthalate exposure. Additionally, the public must change its perception of phthalates from seeing it as an unavoidable part of modern life to a danger that can be eradicated.

Here are some useful recommendations:

  • Avoid plastic use altogether, especially plastics labeled as No. 3 (PVC), No. 6 (PS) and No. 7 (Other/BPA). Many alternatives are listed in this article!

  • If you have to use plastic containers, never put them in the microwave or dishwasher, as the heat can break down the linings which causes the release of phthalate particles.

  • Wash your hands frequently to remove chemicals that you have come into contact with.

  • Cook more plant-based fresh meals at home to reduce your use of processed foods which may have come into contact with phthalates.

  • Buy fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned and processed versions to limit your contact with phthalate-containing food packaging.

  • Do not use air freshners that contain phthalates (Ex. Glade plug-in).

  • Look for “phthalate-free” on the label of products you buy. If it is unclear whether or not the product is phthalate-free, call the manufacturer or consider its likelihood of exposure through the supply chain. You can also recognize the phthalates “hidden” on labels with their abbreviations. As a rule of thumb, they start with “D” and end with “P”

Here is the list:

DCP (dibutyl phthalates)

DMP (dimethyl phthalate)

DEP (diethyl phthalate)

DEHP (Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate)

BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate)

DBP (dibutyl phthalate)

DNOP (di-n-octylphthalate)

DiNP (diisononyl phthalate)

DiDP (diisodecyl phthalate)

DnHP (di-n-hexyl phthalate)

Educate Your Family, Friends and Community about Phthalates

Please educate your loved ones about the harmful effects of phthalates so they can limit their exposure with the strategies and products listed above. Educating schoolchildren and the public is also a crucial component to raising awareness and collectively responding to this issue.

To learn more, check out the Ocean Blue Project’s blue schools which provide excellent educational content and environmental cleanup programs.

On a larger scale, we can keep removing phthalates from our environment ever day, but it will not do much good if we do not stop the production of phthalates at its source. Supporting larger political action against phthalates can potentially be a viable solution.

Regardless of your political affiliation, please contact your representatives and urge them to vote in support of the Preventing Harmful Exposure to Phthalates Act (H.R. 4963). Too much is on the line for us to sit idly while megacorporations profit over something that is killing us and the planet. We certainly can expect the chemical lobbyists to fight on behalf of the people so we have to fight for ourselves and our families. We need to be the change we hope to see in the world!

Boycott Companies that Produce Phthalates

Making Phthalates makes money. The plasticizer market is poised to reach nearly 100 billion dollars by 2025 and shows no sign of letting up as over 8 million tons of phthalates are produced globally every year. Boycotts do not necessarily have a significant impact on revenue, but they can tarnish a company’s image.

A good example of this is the #KleanUpKraft campaign which calls for the removal of phthalates from Kraft’s macaroni & cheese powders. The takeaway is that phthalate production can be decreased if more people raise awareness about its harmful effects. There is a long way to go to mitigate phthalate exposure, so please share this article to educate your friends and family on this issue today!

Fund Projects to Remove Phthalates from Our Water Supply & Oceans

Phthalates can bioaccumulate in fish which leads to harmful consumption of these chemicals at the top of the food chain. This is just one of many reasons why we need to work together to rid the ocean of phthalates.

People can also consider not eating fish but that is a topic for another time! The Ocean Blue Project is one of many non-profits that works tirelessly to remove plastic from our oceans. Please consider donating to the Ocean Blue Project to support this worthwhile goal that benefits us all.