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What are phthalates?

phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more durable. Studies have shown high accumulations of phthalates can lead to serious health issues in pregnancy and childhood development if consumed faster than excreted.

According to the CDC, phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more durable. They are chemical compounds developed in the last century and used to make plastic more flexible and harder to break. Some phthalates are used to help dissolve other materials like perfumes and other fragrance preparations. You can find phthalates in many common products such as vinyl flooring, shower curtains, plastic food packaging, PVC plastic, wallpaper, vinyl crib mattress covers, lubrication oils, shampoo, soaps, hair sprays, cosmetics, perfumes, aftershave lotions, cleansers, nail polish, and more. 

Note: Diethyl phthalates (DEP) appear to be the only group of phthalates still commonly used in cosmetics. Additionally, the government has started cracking down on phthalates in some products intended for babies, but they are still widely used in many day to day products.

You can tell if a product contains phthalates by reading the ingredients label. Phthalates are usually listed under one of the many acronyms: 

DBP (dibutyl phthalate)

DINP (diisononyl phthalate)

BBP (benzyl butyl phthalate)

DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate)

DEHP (di-2-Ethylhexyl phthalate)

DMP (dimethyl phthalate)

DIDP (dodecyl phthalate)

DEP (diethyl phthalates)

The FDA does NOT require the listing of ingredients in fragrances or flavors. Fragrance or flavor may be listed as such. As a result, a consumer may not be able to determine from the ingredient list if phthalates are present in a fragrance or a flavor used in the product.

how are we exposed?

Back in 2003, researchers at the US Center for Disease Control reported on the widespread exposure to phthalates across the general American public.

People are exposed to phthalates by eating and drinking foods that have been in contact with contains and products that contain phthalates and by applying products (ie: lipsticks and nail polish) that contain phthalates. To a lesser extent exposure can occur from breathing in air that contains phthalate vapors or dust contaminated with phthalate particles.

Young children are at the greatest risk of phthalate particles in dust because of their hand-to-mouth behaviors.

Potential health impacts and studies

In 2003, CDC researchers found measurable levels of many phthalate metabolites in the general population, via urine testing. According to the CDC, finding a detectable amount of phthalate metabolites in urine does not mean that the levels of one or more will cause an adverse health effect, however they say that more testing and monitoring need to be done.

Much of the information we have on phthalates is from animal studies however, some human studies exist and the results show negative health impacts. 

Studies have shown high accumulations of phthalates can lead to serious health issues in pregnancy and childhood development if consumed faster than excreted.


Experts link some phthalates to being endocrine disruptors, including altered thyroid function in women and obesity in rats.

In one study, researchers found prenatal exposure to phthalates is correlated with greater social deficits, social cognition, social communication, and social awareness in children aged seven to nine.

A study done with children, aged 8 to 11, in South Korea, found that higher levels of some phthalate metabolites in urine correlated with higher displayed symptoms of ADHD.

Several studies have reported a link between some phthalates and asthma and rhinitis.

According to a study published in 2020, the available data demonstrates that phthalate exposure is associated with male reproductive disorders, such as TDS, the modulation of pubertal onset, and the manifestation of pubertal symptoms. Additionally, phthalate exposure in females can lead to reproductive disorders, such as POF, decreased fecundity, adverse pregnancy outcomes, gynecological cancer, or the modulation of pubertal onset and pubertal symptoms in girls.

Additionally, the results of a review suggest that phthalate exposure is associated with reproductive disorders with potential transgenerational or multigenerational effects. The increased use of phthalates and other EDs in the plastic products industry in the last 70 years can explain the worldwide higher prevalence of reproductive disorders.

How to Avoid Phthalates?

As awareness continues to grow, the amount of phthalates found in everyday products is declining; however, we still need to be aware of this chemical ingredient and work to actively avoid it.

The best way to avoid phthalates is to read the ingredients on all products. If you see one of the above 8 chemical acronyms, it contains phthalates. Additionally, if you see a recycle symbol with the number 3, 6 or 7 in the middle of it, at the bottom of any product, it contains phthalates. Rather, look for the number 2, 4 or 5.

Additionally, studies show that children get exposed to the highest concentrations of phthalates from common packaged goods. Choose to avoid processed foods as much as possible and cook at home when you can.

Studies show that organic food tends to contain less phthalates so buy organic when you can.

Phthalates are in high concentrations in plastic water bottles so use a stainless steel water bottle. Also store your food in glass or stainless steel containers.

Look for words like “phthalate-free” and “synthetic fragrance” on your products.

We at My Superhero foods are committed to following the best possible evidence and will reevaluate our opinions as the information changes.