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Phthuffering phthuccotash! What’s a phthalate?

Besides being hard to spell and pronounce (tha-late), a phthalate is a synthetic chemical that helps the scent of a product last a long time.  It also helps a liquid, lotion, or cream spread and absorb easily.  Have you ever noticed that synthetic fragrances, once sprayed on your clothes, last until you wash them again?  That staying power is thanks to phthalates.  You won’t see the word ‘phthalates’ on any product labels because they aren’t legally required to be listed, but if you see the word ‘fragrance’, or ‘perfume’, you can bet that phthalates are present.

So why have they made the list of the big bad nasties?  Phthalates have been linked to birth defects, metabolic interference (obesity), and breast cancer.  Groups such as the Environmental Working Group, and the Campaign for Safe Cosmeticshave red-flagged phthalates as endocrine disruptors.  A 2008 study showed that children that live in homes with higher concentrations of phthalates also suffered from more allergies and asthma.  Children are at higher risk to health problems because of their lower body weight, and phthalates are found in many baby lotions, powders, and creams.

This is a controversial chemical, like many others, and our take is:  it’s just not worth the risk.  There’s been a lot of questions raised, and some pretty substantial back-up to take this bad boy down.  Anything with ‘perfume’ or ‘fragrance’ listed on the ingredients won’t make it into my reusable bag.  I’d rather save room for chocolate.

Orginally Published November 13, 2009