Steps Toward a Cleaner Nest: Phthalates – The Bad Actors

Steps Toward a Cleaner Nest. This is the second post in a series examining everyday products and their effects on our health.


Let me introduce myself, again, as Chris – the husband of the wonderful and talented Tristan who is the author of this blog.  I am doing a guest series on common harmful chemicals/environmental toxins that are found in everyday items.  Using my medical student investigative skills, I dig in to examine what these chemicals are, how they work in our bodies, the downstream effects of exposure to them and tips on how to protect yourself from them.

In the first post here we examined BPA, the preposterous imposter, and how it exists in many of the everyday items we use including baby bottles, water bottles, canned foods, and soda cans.  BPA mimics our natural hormone, estrogen, and stimulates estrogen receptors even when they are not supposed to be stimulated causing many HARMFUL EFFECTS.  I also gave some (hopefully) helpful tips about how to protect yourselves and your little ones by knowing what products BPA is in and limiting exposure to those things.

**Please note that as you read these posts, I don’t know all the answers and, as a family, we have recently started this journey, so if I sound preachy, I don’t mean to.  I have just been shocked and motivated by the evidence I have found.

Phthalates – The Bad Actors

The Actor(s) – What are phthalates and where are they found?

We will now attempt to give the biographies for the cast of phthalates (pronounced Thal-ates).  Phthalate is the name for the chemical family of a group of substances that is used in many everyday products.  Per the FDA/other authoritative sources, phthalates are found in:

  • *Toys (some phthalates are banned here)
  • Vinyl flooring
  • Garden Hoses
  • Wall covering
  • *Detergents
  • Lubricating oils
  • *Food packaging
  • Pharmaceuticals/Medications
  • Blood bags
  • Tubing (medical and otherwise)
  • *Plastic Clothes/Raincoats
  • *Plastic Wrap
  • *Personal Care Products:
    • Nail polish
    • Hair sprays
    • Aftershave lotions
    • Soaps
    • Shampoos
    • Perfumes
    • Other fragrance preparations

* Signifies it’s easily avoidable!


In plastics, phthalates are used to make #3 PVC plastics both flexible and strong.  As mentioned above, kids’ toys have been known to have phthalates in them, although some phthalates are now banned for used in kids’ toys.

In personal care products, they are used as solvents to dissolve things and to make the products stick to your skin.  You may see them on product labels by their individual names or acronyms such as: DEP, DMP, DEP, DEHP, DINP, DIDP and DPHP and many more. DEHP is one of the worst actors in this cast.

The Setting and Plot – What’s the big deal about phthalates?

The total weight (18 billion lbs.) of phthalates used by manufacturers IS MORE THAN DOUBLE that the amount of BPA used in manufacturing each year.

There’s no doubt that phthalates are toxic at high levels, we’ve known that since the 1950’s.  The problem has been identifying the blood/urine levels which are safe for humans, which, as you will see (in my humble opinion) should be ZERO.  Here is what we know so far:

  1. Reproductive System Effects – Different phthalates have different effects. Some have anti-testosterone effects and some act like estrogen in the body (much like BPA but possibly weaker).

Men – Studies shown that phthalates are toxic to the cells that produce testosterone (in both animals and human cells).  Testosterone is particularly important, especially for males, in many processes including reproductive system development.

This = physical changes in boys genitals. We are already seeing too much of this!

In the case of phthalates in boys, this damage occurs during weeks 4-10 of pregnancy

Women –  There is agreement in studies that phthalates are toxic to the ovaries.  I could talk about infertility, PCOS and other hormonal and ovarian problems, but there isn’t enough evidence to link phthalates to those problems (yet).  Its affects, however, have been noted on both mom and baby in womb during pregnancy and enters breast milk relatively easily (some of the phthalates that is) after birth.

Is anyone getting the idea that this is a plot to really bad movie?

  1. CancerHigh levels of phthalates (well above the FDA recommended level of exposure) have been known to be potentially toxic to the liver, possibly involved in the development of liver cancer because they cause “oxidative stress” = production of free radicals. Free radicals are basically the trouble causers in cells, leading to unintended effects downstream such as organ damage and cancer

Can this movie get any worse?

  1. To be determined – Phthalates act on multiple receptors within the body – estrogen receptors, cell growth receptors and cell destruction receptors leading to…? We don’t know.

So, can we just get to the end of this horrible movie? Is there an alternate ending?

Yes, the ending to this thing is good!

As I thoughtfully and prayerfully consider the words I write above, I do not want to evoke fear.  My intent here is to detail the problem and how big it is. I want to hopefully help empower change through knowledge. Because when you don’t know, you don’t know.

But when you do know, change is absolutely possible!


We have a generation coming after us who is the FIRST generation that may not live as long as their parents’ generations. This includes my beautiful daughter Evelyn. This is due to many things outside the scope of this post and outside of our control. However, many of the problems can be traced back to a lack of knowledge and our poor choices (our family included) in a consumer market that is driven by profits without much regulation.  We must be our own advocates  in this arena because very few people are speaking for us and our families.

So what can WE do about it?

As mentioned in the BPA post, change is coming! Change has come to some degree with limiting what types of chemicals may be included in certain plastics and everyday items like toys and personal care products, but they’re not safe yet…

Let’s look at simple, everyday ways that can significantly decrease our exposure to phthalates:

  1. Don’t buy or use #3 PVC Plastics if you can help it. Don’t use #6 (contains harmful chemical styrene) or #7 plastics (contains BPA) either if you can help it. Buy from companies who are trying to do it right like Thinkbaby, Wean Green, Collapse-it, Wash with Water, and U-Konserve.
  2. Don’t ever microwave food in plastic, regardless of the plastic number or ingredients in the plastic.
  3. Check your child’s toys for plastic number or ingredient list. There are some safe, responsible toy makers out there: Hape, Melissa and Doug, and others.
  4. Use personal care products that don’t contain phthalates. Use the Environmental Working Group’s Personal Care product registry to check your products’ safety profile: If you can’t find your specific product, you can look up each ingredient on the registry.

*If phthalates aren’t on the list check for the ingredients: flavor, parfum/perfume or fragrance– this single ingredient can indicate any number (up to hundreds) of ingredients that are toxic or harmful including BPA, phthalates, and others.  They are considered “trade secrets” and are protected from ingredient transparency. It is an unchecked and unregulated source of very harmful ingredients.


Throw away anything with fragrance or perfume!

One amazing company that is changing the face of the personal care industry that Tristan serves as a consultant for is Beautycounter. They pledge to never use any of the products on their never list which include things like BPA, phthalates, parabens, etc. They even offer a business card size of this list so you can have it on you to help you make better decisions when purchasing products. Click the link below to get your copy!

The Never List

  1. Eat less processed foods that are pre-packed in plastic as they can potentially contain BPA, phthalates or other harmful chemicals (and lets be real, they’re not very nutritious anyway!)
  2. Question your purchases. As consumers, it’s our job to know what is in the products and foods we buy. CONSUMER CHOICE EMPOWERS CHANGE IN THE MARKET.   Choose wisely!!
  3. Do your own digging – Below are links to sites I used for some of my information. These are the resources intended for consumers like us to stay informed.

Using tips like these, a producer on NBC Dateline was able to eliminate BPA, phthalates and other harmful chemicals in her bloodstream (verified by urine testing) by just making informed choices.  AMAZING!  Here are the links to part I and II of that series:

Part I –

Part II –

You are invaluable.  Your child is priceless.  My genuine hope here is that you know you were fearfully and wonderfully made and that what you put in and on your body IS important.  Small choices can lead to great results and maybe change will come faster than we know it.

Join the journey with us as we move forward making the best decisions we can when it comes to eliminating harmful chemicals from our home.

If you have questions or comments about this or other topics you would like to discuss, please comment below.  We would love to start a conversation with you.  And know also, we are on the journey too!


Be aware and take care,




Resources (Environmental Working Group (EWG) Dirty Dozen Toxin List) (EPA fact sheet on phthalates) (CDC phthalate fact sheet) (FDA facts on phthalates) (ACC fact sheet on phthalates – be careful with this resource because the ACC lobbies in state governments and Washington D.C. for phthalates to continue to be used in our products)

I have a list of peer-reviewed journal articles I used for this post which are available upon request.







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