Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Demystifying household chemicals: Phthalates

Phthalates can be found in shaving cream
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos
"Demystifying household chemicals" is a series that aims to inform people on the types of chemicals found in and around our homes. The series will be featured every Wednesday where a different chemical, and its everyday uses, will be discussed.

It’s not really news that pretty much everything around us contains some kind of harmful chemical. Many chemicals are actually difficult to avoid. Car fumes, smokers on the street and even barbecues all contain harmful chemicals, yet we can rarely control our exposure to them.

What is conscious, however, is the morning or evening ritual of applying toners, creams, lotions, acne medication, shampoos, shaving creams, perfumes…  Many of these products contain phthalates (pronounced tha-layts).

Phthalates are most commonly used in plastics to make them more transparent, durable, flexible and lasting. These chemicals are therefore often referred to as plasticizers.

Providing a list of the multitude of alternate names for phthalates would consist of writing a novel, so instead, find a list on Wikipedia as well as a complementary one on Environmental Working Group.

In 2009, Author Rick Smith published Slow Death by Rubber Duck. In that book, he experimented with skin-care products by applying them regularly and then testing his blood. The number of phthalate byproducts found in his blood spiked after just three days, indicating how present this chemical is in our everyday lives.

What can phthalates do to you?

Phthalates can be blamed for several health issues, including decreased sperm count, male genital birth defects, damage to the DNA, as well as negative impacts on the nervous and immune systems. Recent studies have now revealed that phthalates may very well be linked to the development of diabetes. After following 1000 senior women, researchers noted that the women with diabetes also had higher levels of phthalates in their system.

What other products contain phthalates?

Apart from skin-care products, you can find phthalates in certain children’s toys as well as PVC, though many manufacturers have now stopped using this chemical in kid’s products.

Phthalates can also be found in:

  • Waxes
  • Paints
  • Pharmaceuticals (including diabetes medication!)
  • Some food products
  • Textiles
  • Sex toys (made of ‘jelly rubber’)
  • Hair sprays
  • Shower curtains
  • Cleaning products
  • Liquid soap
  • Eye shadow
  • Insect repellant

It is often difficult to tell what ingredients go into our skin care products because many companies don’t state every ingredient. If they do, chemicals, herbs and fragrances are often hidden in scientific jargon, which can be difficult to decipher. That is why websites, such as SkinDeep and GoodGuide, are useful. They can help you discover what chemicals are found in your current products, as well as choose the best and greenest products on the market.

How many of you actually read the list of ingredients on the back of your skin-care products? Does this information surprise you? Share your comments with us!

Minimizing phthalate exposure

AllerAir's 5000 DX Vocarb
The first thing you can do to reduce the number of phthalates in your home and your body is to replace your skin-care and household products with safer alternatives. This will help you naturally improve your indoor air quality and minimize air pollution.

Using an air purifier is also a great way to remove odors and chemicals from the air, particularly if you place one in the bathroom where most of these harmful products are used.  

AllerAir’s 5000 DX Vocarb is made for areas that have a heavy concentration of chemicals and odors. The deep-bed activated carbon filter will help remove toxins from the air through adsorption, while the micro HEPA will take particles as small as 0.1 microns out of the air. With this heavy-duty air purifier, you and your family will enjoy a much healthier living environment..

For more information on AllerAir’s air purifiers, speak to one of our IAQ experts at 1-888-852-8247 or contact us through our website.

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