Let's talk: Parabens and Phthalates

Most of us want to find personal care products that are better for our bodies.  Cruelty-free symbols often calm us down when switching over to cleaner products.  But should it?  While many of these companies may boast ingredients that weren't tested on animals, that doesn't necessarily mean they're using toxin free ingredients.  In reading countless cruelty-free product ingredient lists I've often  been quite astonished with how toxic they actually are.  Parabens and phthalates are not uncommon in these lists. 

So let's discuss these two toxins that often used in even cruelty free products.  

Let's start with parabens.  What are they?  Parabens are preservatives widely used in the personal care industry that prevent bacterial contamination.  Of course in theory this seems like a great protective measure, but in practice it starts to get messy.  Many studies prove that parabens are known hormone disruptors and have been linked to a number of serious health concerns including cancer - 99% of all breast cancer patients have high levels of parabens in their blood streams.  Unfortunately parabens are easily absorbed through the skin. They have lipophilic properties, which means they can accumulate in fatty tissue. This makes the use of parabens in deodorants, skin creams, and sunscreens a huge concern.  

Next, Phthalates. They're industrial chemicals used in plastic manufacturing in order to keep them more pliable and harder to break. They're found in building materials, food packaging, clothing and children's toys but also in an overwhelming number of conventional and even natural personal care products to help the product cling to the skin and nails and to give perfumes, hair gels, eyeshadow, moisturizer, liquid soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorants and nail polishes more staying power. One way you can tell if phthaltes have been used in the hair spray you're using is that at the end of the day the smell will still be present!  

Another use of phthalates is in the containers the product houses. This can cause leaching of the phthalates into the product adding to the toxic load.  

And if that's not enough, parabens and phthalates are part of the thousands of toxins that can be hidden under the word "fragrance".  Companies are protected from exposing their full ingredient list under the term "fragrance".  You can read more about this in my blog post "Fragrance, a dirty little secret."  

Unfortunately the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and have deemed both parabens and phthalates safe and pose no health risk.  Of course, for many of us, our exposure to phthalates may be low on any given day, but we absorb these small quantities of toxins frequently, over decades, and the accumulative effect eventually shows itself.  To top off the concerns, the CDC found that women of child bearing age had 20x's more phthalates in the blood stream than the rest of the population.  We have to do more to protect ourselves and our babies.  

So what can we do.  

1.  Read labels!  If you see the following on your ingredient list you may want to reconsider.   

  • butyl benzyl phthalate
  • dibutyl phthalate
  • diethyl phthalate
  • diethylhexyl phthalate
  • dimethyl phthalate
  • dioctyl phthalate
  • butylparaben
  • isobutylparaben
  • isopropylparaben
  • sodium methylparaben
  • sodium propylparaben
  • ethylparaben
  • methylparaben
  • propylparaben
  • benzylparaben
  •  

    Although these ingredients must be listed, they are also known by various names. To get more information consult the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database at ewg.org/skin/deep

    2.  Avoid plastics but if you can't find glass options for the products you want to buy look for plastic containers with the recyclable numbers 1,2 or 5 as these don't contain phthalates that can leach into the bloodstream like 3 and 7 which do.  

     3.  Watch for the word "fragrance" which can legally hide parabens without having to list them.  Shop from companies that have full disclosure ingredient lists! 

    Although watching for toxins in ingredients can be an overwhelming task, and I get that, even after all these years I still can get overwhelmed with information, but making changes slowly is the best way to have lasting ones.   

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