What Are Phthalates, Where Are They Used, and Can They Be Avoided?

Phthalates are present in a lot of objects that surround us, and sometimes it might seem impossible to get rid of them. Although not many people are aware of it, phthalates are pretty toxic. They can have serious effects on your health, affecting the reproductive system, kidneys, or thyroid. To know how to protect yourself against them, you need to answer a few questions: what are phthalates, where do you find them, and how do they affect you?

What Are Phthalates?

Phthalates are some chemicals that make up certain plastic materials. Usually, manufacturers use phthalates to make these materials softer to the touch, less fragile, and more flexible. However, these chemicals are not part of the plastics, which makes them dangerous.

This means that, chemically, phthalates are not bound to the plastic by a stable chemical link. This makes it incredibly easy for them to get out. The process is called leaching and, through it, phthalates constantly end up in the air, or in the items around them. So, what are phthalates? Some toxic chemicals that surround us.

Types of Phthalates

Since the substances are used to make plastics more flexible and smooth, they are called plasticizers. They are of different types, depending on the product they are present in. One category would be one of the high phthalates. Usually, these are present in fabrics, synthetic leather, cables, wires, or floors.

The second type is one of the low phthalates. These have fewer carbon atoms and are more common in cosmetics, adhesives, objects for medical use, or regular types of PVC.

Where Are Phthalates Used?

Basically, any object or material that contains flexible plastic most likely has phthalates in it. However, there are certain products and objects where their use is extremely common. It’s important to know where you can find them so that you can limit your exposure to these objects.

The toxic chemicals are widely used in constructions and industrial materials. More precisely, you are sure to find them in wires, cables, adhesives, vinyl floors, oils used for lubricating, or detergents. Also, different machines and automotive materials often have phthalates as their components.

Tomatoes in a plastic food packaging

Your home is also full of plastics that contain products. Be on the lookout for shower curtains, plastic wrappings, inks, hoses, vinyl materials, or maybe sports objects. Some clothes might have phthalates as well, such as raincoats, rubber boots, or synthetic leather products. Pay attention to what your kid is playing with, as some toys make this list as well. Before buying cosmetics, always check the labels for phthalates.

One last field where the chemicals are really common is the medical one. Tubes, catheters, blood, and storage bags have phthalates. Even performing a dialysis can be dangerous, as the necessary equipment is rich in toxic chemicals.

How Do We Get Exposed to Phthalates and How Do We Avoid Them?

Since phthalates are everywhere around us, there are different ways they can reach our bodies. Usually, young children are more prone to get the chemicals in their bodies, since they often get everything in their mouths. However, they can easily affect all of us. Here are a few ways you can be exposed to the chemicals.


This type of exposure is most common among babies. If they chew their toys or other plastic objects, the phthalates easily get in their mouths. Sometimes, even touching the dangerous object and then sucking their fingers can have the same effect. Instead of stopping your child from putting things in their mouth, you can do something else. Make sure their toys are phthalate-free and keep other dangerous objects far from their reach.

However, babies are not the only ones that can ingest phthalates. If we eat foods previously wrapped in plastic, we get the chemicals in our bodies. Even drinking from plastic bottles can have the same effect. In this case, try to go as green as possible and avoid using too much plastic in your kitchen. In case you cannot avoid plastic completely, make sure you pay attention to what you are buying.

Applying body lotion on the skin


This happens via cosmetic products that we apply to our skin. What are phthalates good for in such products? They can preserve the fragrance for a longer period, make it easier for the skin to absorb them, and make the products easier to spread.

Before buying any cream, nail polish, perfume, or even hairspray, check the labels carefully. Phthalates can also be present in baby powder or other lotions you might use for your kids. In this case, the chemicals are really dangerous, as your blood absorbs them directly.

Phthalates can easily be absorbed into liquids held in hospital bags, and there’s not much you can do about it. The FDA released some recommendations that hospitals and other healthcare providers should avoid using equipment and materials that contain the chemicals.


This is more likely to happen if you work in an industrial environment, but it can happen in your home as well. If you have vinyl floors or wallpapers, the dust on them can easily carry phthalate particle. Any kind of fuming they might produce is toxic for you. Even your car seats are an inhalation hazard. In this case, what you can do is avoid using vinyl in your home, and use proper protection equipment at work.

How Dangerous Are Phthalates?

While they can be toxic, phthalates are not poisonous. Some visible results might not always appear immediately, but the chemicals pose a certain risk. They can affect the reproductive system, but also organs like the thyroid or kidneys.

However, they are more dangerous for the vulnerable ones. This is why they are a greater hazard to children or pregnant women. If women get exposed to phthalates before giving birth, they risk transmitting the chemicals to their unborn children.

Summing Up

So, what are phthalates? They are chemicals that are widespread in households and other facilities and are toxic. While getting in contact with them can cause you some serious health issues, it’s not always a rule that you’ll get sick. However, if you want you and your loved ones to be safe, it’s better to limit your exposure to the chemicals as much as possible.

Image sources: 1, 2, 3.

Show Your Friends!
William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 0 comments