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Are Phthalates Bad For You?

Also Known As: phthalate esters



Short answer

Phthalates are toxic substances used mainly as “plasticizers” that are incorporated into plastics and vinyl to make them more flexible and more durable. But phthalates are showing up everywhere and the growing research on these toxins is shedding more light on a tidal wave of potential detrimental heath issues.



Long answer

Phthalates are a group of chemical compounds that are derived from petroleum and were invented in the 1920’s. This group of a few dozen compounds includes names such as diethyl phthalate (DEP), dimethyl phthalate (DMP) and di-isononyl phthalate (DINP). They are primarily used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or vinyl flexible and pliant. Because they are used to soften vinyl and plastic they are most commonly known as “plasticizers.”

Phthalates are used in hundreds of products in our homes, hospitals, cars and businesses. Phthalates increase the longevity of cosmetics. Phthalates in body lotion allow the lotion to cling better to the skin, and in hair products it allows the product to cling better and keep the hair stiffer in the case of hairspray. Phthalates are also used as solvents (dissolving agents) for other materials.

Some of the most popular items that contain phthalates include:

-Plastic bottles

-Plastic containers and plastic wrap

-Plastic gloves

-Baby toys

-Medical IV tubing

-Vinyl flooring


-Automotive plastics


-Air Fresheners



-Chip resistant nail polish

-Plastic Shower curtains

Phthalates have become such an enormous part of our environment and as a society, we are exposed to these toxins that are now found to be significant endocrine disruptors or endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC’s).  Another prevalent detrimental endocrine disruptor is bisphenol-A (BPA). 

The Centers for Disease Control announced that the majority of the general population in the US (as high as 95%) have metabolites of phthalates in their urine and blood.  Although the CDC and FDA state that phthalates are probably safe for our health, research studies suggest otherwise.

Researchers have documented that when pregnant women have a high amount of phthalates in their system they are at higher risk of miscarriage.  One study involved a group of 256 women at Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center from 2004 to 2014 who were undergoing medically assisted reproduction, such as in-vitro fertilization. The researchers measured concentrations of 11 phthalate metabolites in the women’s urine around the time of conception. Women with the highest concentrations of a type of phthalate called di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, were 60% more likely to miscarry prior to 20 weeks than those with the lowest concentrations.  The results were alarming.

Other studies demonstrate that women with high phthalate levels in their system during pregnancy run a higher risk for excessive weight gain and gestational diabetes.  Additional studies indicate that high levels of phthalates in the wombs of women carrying a male fetus led to the baby having lower testosterone levels and lower sex drive later in life and the possibility of genital malformation at birth.

Studies out of Mexico show a correlation between high phthalate levels and increased risk for breast cancer.

Phthalates are also associated with lower levels of Vitamin D.  It is not entirely clear why this association exists-but it does pose a significant health risk because adequate Vitamin D levels are necessary for bone health as well as brain and heart health.  

Additional research confirms that the correlation between high levels of phthalates in the body coincides with individuals that eat a substantial amount of fast foods.  It is felt that the packaging and handling of these foods (with plastic wrappers/containers and plastic gloves) allow for more leeching of the phthalates into the foods.  Higher fat foods like meat and cheeses are more susceptible to these contaminants.  Phthalates can also enter into the body by inhaling contaminated air from phthalate particles.

Animal studies indicate high phthalates levels are associated with increased incidence of testicular cancer, decreased sperm count, genital malformations and infertility.  

What to do to decrease your exposure to Phthalates

-Avoid fast food and processed food

-Read labels and use phthalate-free cosmetics, perfumes and toiletries

-Read labels and use phthalate-free cleaning products

-Avoid plastic wrap/containers and bottles

-Use glass containers and bottles and purchase products that come in glass containers instead of plastic.

-Replace plastic shower curtain with fabric one

-If you have kids make sure all toys are phthalate free

Possible long-term side effects

  • endocrine disruptors
  • lower testosterone levels and lower sex drive
  • higher risk of testicular and breast cancer
  • lower vitamin d levels
  • depression and decreased cognitive function
  • migraines
  • higher risk of miscarriage before 20 weeks
  • higher risk of gestational diabetes

Commonly found in

  • plastic bottles
  • plastic containers and plastic wrap
  • plastic gloves
  • baby toys
  • medical iv tubing
  • vinyl flooring
  • wires/cables
  • automotive plastics
  • perfumes/cosmetics/hairspray/detergents
  • air fresheners
  • shampoo
  • deodorant
  • chip resistant nail polish
  • plastic shower curtains


  • none from a health standpoint

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 11-14-2023
Last updated: 11-28-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 11-14-2023
Last updated: 11-28-2023

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