Have you ever read the “BPA free” label and wondered what it could mean? Or considered what a phthalate was (and even how to say it)? Find out what these plasticizers mean from OB-GYN Jennifer Griffin Miller, MD, MPH, and how to avoid them.
What are phthalates and BPA? Explain plasticizers
Phthalates, pronounced ph-tha-lates, and bisphenol A or BPA, are both plasticizers. Manufacturers add plasticizers to a material to make it softer, more flexible, more durable, or for some other improvement.
“These plasticizers are found in things we use every day, like water bottles, baby toys, or take-out boxes,” says Dr. Griffin Miller. “Your beauty products, like shampoo bottles or face creams, may also contain phthalates or BPA.”
Potential names for common plasticizers include:
- Butyl Benzyl Phthalate (BBP)
- Di-isodecyl phthalate (DiDP)
- Di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP)
- Di-n-hexyl phthalate (DnHP)
- Diethyl phthalate (DEP)
How Phthalates and BPA Affect the Endocrine System
Phthalates and BPA are endocrine disruptors. This means that they can interact with our body in the same way as normal hormones.
“Every hormone in our body is part of the endocrine system,” says Dr. Griffin Miller. “Estrogen, testosterone and other hormones are chemical messengers that regulate specific body functions.”
Your body has estrogen and progesterone receptors, as part of your normal endocrine system. Your body makes and sends hormones, like estrogen or progesterone, to interact with these receptors. When hormones interact with their receptor, this is how they send messages and change the body. But plasticizers can also send messages.
“Phthalates are chemicals that have the potential to interact with a hormone receptor,” says Dr. Griffin Miller. The receptor is only supposed to respond to its hormone, but the phthalate can also interact with it. This is how phthalates disrupt essential body functions – by sending signals that aren’t supposed to be there.
How BPA affects the body
The documented effects of BPA include:
- Affecting the development of the prostate and uterus
- Reduce sperm count
- Early puberty
- Tumor proliferation
- Reduced immune response
- Altering brain chemistry and behavior
How phthalates affect the body
Research has linked phthalates to these health problems:
- Breast cancer
- Development issues
- Decreased fertility
How to Avoid Phthalates and BPA
“BPA is found more in can liners and water bottles,” says Dr. Griffin Miller. “Phthalates are used more in food packaging, beauty or skincare bottles and anything vinyl.”
They can also be hidden in food packaging. For example, phthalates often line the inside of aluminum cans to prevent metallic aluminum from leaching into food. “They will line the box with a plastic to prevent the product from bleaching the metal, but then there is the risk of the plasticizer leaching into the food instead,” says Dr Griffin Miller. “More acidic canned foods have a higher risk of plasticizer leaching.”
Plasticizers like phthalates and BPA are the most likely to be found in plastic products. “In general, the less plastic you can use, the better,” says Dr. Griffin Miller.
Products containing phthalates and BPA
Children three and under are at higher risk from plasticizers due to their small size and developing bodies. Babies also tend to explore their environment by putting objects in their mouths. Look on the packaging of a container for words like “BPA-free” or “phthalate-free.”
- Bottle teats
- Plastic pacifiers
- teething rings
Personal care items
Avoid personal care products that contain “fragrances” or “fragrances”. The word fragrance is considered a trade secret and the FDA does not regulate its meaning. Perfume or fragrance can mean added phthalates as they can help a scent last longer. Choose labeled packaging
“No DBP” or “No Toxic Trio” on the following items:
- nail polish
- Shampoo bottles
- skin care products
Food and drink holders
Avoid microwaving food in plastic containers and do not drink hot liquids from plastic containers. Phthalates leach more with heat. Microwavable steam bags are specifically designed for microwave use and should be BPA and phthalates free.
Also avoid packaging with the recycling number “1” or “3” on the bottom – this means that a plasticizer has been used.
Plasticizers are most commonly found in these products:
- Plastic containers for storing food
- Microwavable food containers
- Hard plastic water bottles
- Canned vegetables and fruits, especially acidic foods
- take away boxes
To avoid mixing plastic, completely change your plastic food containers. Try glass, steel or porcelain, which do not contain phthalates or BPA.
Read the labels of these household products to see if plasticizers are present.
- transparent food packaging
- PVC products