Are your health and fertility being affected by something invisible, something that you may not even know how to pronounce? While some of us have heard about BPA, phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) have been discussed less often. Unfortunately what you don’t know about phthalates may, in fact, be hurting you.

So what are phthalates?

Phthalates are a group of chemicals added to plastics for a variety of reasons. Some phthalates are added to make the plastic more pliant and malleable, while others help scented products to retain their fragrance for a longer period of time. Still others help bright colors retain their vibrancy. Because of the variety of phthalate usages, you may have heard them called “the everywhere chemicals.” Phthalates can be found in a wide variety of items you encounter everyday, from shampoo to nail polish, from vinyl flooring to detergents and fabric softeners.

Just like these “everywhere chemicals” are added to products for various reasons, they can each act on the human body in a variety of ways. All phthalates, however, disrupt the endocrine system, which affects hormone production.

How might phthalates affect fertility?

Research indicates that women tend to have more side effects from phthalate exposure, possibly because they tend to use more phthalate-containing products on a daily basis. In fact, the average American woman uses 10-12 beauty and personal care products throughout the course of her day! Some sources have estimated that the average woman is exposed to over 150 hormone disrupting chemicals over the course of one day! Several studies have also shown that women living with endometriosis have higher levels of certain phthalates in their bloodstream than their peers without this condition. Other phthalates are known to interfere with egg development and cause genital malformations in fetuses of women who have exposure.

Although males may experience less exposure to phthalates through personal care products, they are still exposed to these chemicals many times over the course of a day. These exposures are not without their negative effects on men either: higher phthalate levels have been linked to diminished sperm count, poor sperm quality, and even an increase in the incidence of prostate cancer.

Phthalate exposure during conception and pregnancy

One convincing argument for decreasing your exposure to phthalates, particularly while trying to conceive, is the association between high levels of phthalate and pregnancy loss and preterm births. Phthalate exposure seems to be most risky for male fetuses, who cazz4n be born with malformations in the genital tract after in-utero exposure to phthalates. Children exposed to these high levels in the womb may also be more likely to experience congenital defects, slow growth, and a late onset of puberty.

How to reduce phthalate exposure

With all these risks and very little benefit to the consumer, you may find yourself wanting to decrease your phthalate exposure but feeling a little overwhelmed by all the changes you’d need to make. It’s usually not feasible (or financially prudent!) to replace every product at once. Baby steps are the way to go.

Get in the habit of reading labels on the products before you buy them. Phthalates can be listed as an abbreviation like DnOP or BBzP, or the ingredients may simply list “parfum” or “fragrance.” The easiest way to identify whether a product uses phthalates or not is to look it up on the Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” database. The EWG is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that helps consumers make informed decisions about a product’s ingredients before purchase. You can easily search the Skin Deep database by ingredient, brand, or product, and they even have apps for iPhone and Android for clean shopping on the go! 

Another baby step you can take is reducing the phthalates in your period products, like pads and tampons. The vagina and vulva are extremely permeable, and using chemical-laden products in this area of the body means phthalates are absorbed more quickly and easily. When looking for feminine hygiene products, then, it’s important to avoid any scented products on this sensitive part of the body. You can also spring for a menstrual cup, cloth pads, or “period panties,” which require more of an investment up front but can be reused cycle after cycle.

One very easy way to avoid unnecessary phthalate exposure is to stop using vaginal washes or douches. The vagina is a self-cleaning body part, and there is no need to wash it with soap or any other product. In fact, women who use these rinses just twice a month were found to have 152 percent higher levels of certain phthalates present in their urine!

Another area to examine is the health and beauty products you use that are applied to a very large portion of the body, such as lotions. Products like these also are not rinsed off of the skin after use, so there is more of an opportunity for phthalates to continue accumulating in the body throughout the day. Examining your hairspray ingredients might also be a small change with a big payoff, since this product is absorbed through the skin but also inhaled in fairly large quantities while it is being applied.

Replacing your scented household cleaning products can be cost effective too: you can use inexpensive castile soap, vinegar, baking soda, water, and a little elbow grease in place of those pricey, heavily scented cleaners.

Avoiding fast food and eating primarily whole foods can cut phthalate intake significantly, as well as adding many other benefits for your fertility! Dairy and meat are known to contain high levels of phthalates, so try to choose other sources of nutrition when possible. When preparing meals at home, focus on using glass or stainless steel food storage containers, particularly when dealing with foods with high fat or high oil content. You can also swap out your plastic water bottle for stainless steel while you’re at it!

Attempting to make all these changes at once can very quickly lead to overwhelm and burnout, but if you can replace items with phthalate-free alternatives when you need to replace them anyway, cleaning up your routine can be simple!

Do you have more questions about how phthalates and other environmental toxins might be affecting your health and fertility? Get in touch with us today!