• are used as a plasticiser  used to make a material like PVC softer and more flexible.
  • But they are also used in a wide range of other products.
  • They are small molecules that can dissolve into liquids that come into contact with them.
  • they  are endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Phthalate plasticizers are colorless liquids like vegetable oil with a faint odor, and they are insoluble in water. They are however, miscible in mineral oil, hexane, and most organic solvents. This makes them readily soluble in bodily fluids, such as plasma and saliva (1).

Two good examples of phthalate plasticizers are DEHP ( Di-Ethylhexyl Phthalate), and DINP (Di-Isononyl Phthalate).DEHP has been the most commonly used, and is still the plasticizer of choice for all PVC medical and surgical products.However due to evidence of the toxicity of DEHP in laboratory animal studies it was replaced in childrens products with DINP.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and potential EDCs are mostly man-made, found in various materials such as pesticides, metals, additives or contaminants in food, and personal care products. EDCs have been suspected to be associated with altered reproductive function in males and females; increased incidence of breast cancer, abnormal growth patterns and neurodevelopmental delays in children, as well as changes in immune function. World Health Organisation

Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate is widely used as a plasticizer in flexible vinyl products. Plastics may contain from 1 to 40% di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate by weight and are used in consumer products such as
  • imitation leather,
  • rainwear,
  • footwear,
  • upholstery,
  • flooring,
  • wire and cabels,
  • tablecloths,
  • shower curtains,
  • food packaging materials,
  • children’toys.
  • tubing and containers for blood products and transfusions.
It is also found in
  • rubbing alcohol,
  • liquid detergents,
  • decorative inks,
  • munitions,
  • industrial and lubricating oils and defoaming agents during paper and paperboard manufacture (Environmental Protection Agency, 1998)
  • hydraulic fluid and as a dielectric fluid (a non-conductor of electric current) in electrical capacitors (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 1989).

Phthalates & Cosmetics.

Non-classified phthalates, DMP and DEP are the most widely used in cosmetics in the EU. They have not been classified or restricted because they do not pose any risks for our health or the environment.

Classified low orthophthalates such as  DBP and DIBP are no longer found in products manufactured and sold in the European Union due to provisions of the European Cosmetics legislation, which prohibits the use of substances classified for carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic (CMR) hazards.

This EU legislation does not apply in other regions of the world, such as the US, where classified low orthophthalates are still permitted, although some companies have voluntarily stopped using them.

Historically, the phthalates used in cosmetic products have been dibutyl phthalate (DBP), used as a plasticizer in products such as nail polishes to reduce cracking by making them less brittle; dimethyl phthalate (DMP), used in hair sprays to help avoid stiffness by allowing them to form a flexible film on the hair; and diethyl phthalate (DEP), used as a solvent and fixative in fragrances. DEP can also function as an alcohol denaturant , rendering alcoholic products unfit for oral consumption.    DEP is the only phthalate still periodically used in cosmetics

Phthalates Leaching From Plastic.

Because phthalate plasticizers are not chemically bound to PVC, they can easily leach and evaporate into food or the atmosphere. Phthalate exposure can be through direct use or by indirect means through leaching and general environmental contamination. Diet is believed to be the main source of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and other phthalates in the general population. Fatty foods such as milk, butter, and meats are a major source.  Wikkipedia

“ A 2011 study demonstrated that just a three-day period of limiting intake of packaged foods decreased by half the concentrations of DEHP found in urine (Rudel, 2011)”

Some studies also claim that phthalates are readily absorbed through the skin (Janjua, 2008) and can also enter the body through inhalation or medical injection procedures (Schettler, 2005).

When plastic toys are chewed by a child the plasticiser may be dissolved by the saliva of the child and possibly ingested.

Phthalates have been found in indoor air and dust (Rudel, 2001) and in human urine and blood samples from children, adolescents and adults (Calafat, 2011; Frederiksen, 2011; Kato, 2003; Rudel, 2011).

They are also found in breast milk.

Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate released into air can be carried for long distances in the troposphere and it has been detected over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; wash-out by rain appears to be a significant removal process (Atlas & Giam, 1981; Giam

Are they dangerous?

In a National Institutes of Health (NIH) report published in 2000, di-2-ehtylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), commonly found in PVC plastics, was found reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.

The breast cancer fund have no doubts that it causes cancer and the reports they quote all reinforce that view

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified DEHP as non-carcinogenic to humans.

How much is out there?

Production of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate in the United States increased during the 1980s, from approximately 114 000 tonnes in 1982 to over 130 000 tonnes in 1986 (Environmental Protection Agency, 1998).
In 1994, production of di(2- ethylhexyl) phthalate in the United States was 117 500 tonnes; production in Japan in 1995 was 298 000 tonnes; production in Taiwan in 1995 was 207 000 tonnes, down from 241 000 tonnes in 1994 (Anon., 1996).

Most Common Phthalates In Use

Name Abbreviation Structural formula Molecular weight (g/mol) CAS No.
Dimethyl phthalate DMP C6H4(COOCH3)2 194.18 131-11-3
Diethyl phthalate DEP C6H4(COOC2H5)2 222.24 84-66-2
Diallyl phthalate DAP C6H4(COOCH2CH=CH2)2 246.26 131-17-9
Di-n-propyl phthalate DPP C6H4[COO(CH2)2CH3]2 250.29 131-16-8
Di-n-butyl phthalate DBP C6H4[COO(CH2)3CH3]2 278.34 84-74-2
Diisobutyl phthalate DIBP C6H4[COOCH2CH(CH3)2]2 278.34 84-69-5
Butyl cyclohexyl phthalate BCP CH3(CH2)3OOCC6H4COOC6H11 304.38 84-64-0
Di-n-pentyl phthalate DNPP C6H4[COO(CH2)4CH3]2 306.40 131-18-0
Dicyclohexyl phthalate DCP C6H4[COOC6H11]2 330.42 84-61-7
Butyl benzyl phthalate BBP CH3(CH2)3OOCC6H4COOCH2C6H5 312.36 85-68-7
Di-n-hexyl phthalate DNHP C6H4[COO(CH2)5CH3]2 334.45 84-75-3
Diisohexyl phthalate DIHxP C6H4[COO(CH2)3CH(CH3)2]2 334.45 146-50-9
Diisoheptyl phthalate DIHpP C6H4[COO(CH2)4CH(CH3)2]2 362.50 41451-28-9
Butyl decyl phthalate BDP CH3(CH2)3OOCC6H4COO(CH2)9CH3 362.50 89-19-0
Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate DEHP, DOP C6H4[COOCH2CH(C2H5)(CH2)3CH3]2 390.56 117-81-7
Di(n-octyl) phthalate DNOP C6H4[COO(CH2)7CH3]2 390.56 117-84-0
Diisooctyl phthalate DIOP C6H4[COO(CH2)5CH(CH3)2]2 390.56 27554-26-3
n-Octyl n-decyl phthalate ODP CH3(CH2)7OOCC6H4COO(CH2)9CH3 418.61 119-07-3
Diisononyl phthalate DINP C6H4[COO(CH2)6CH(CH3)2]2 418.61 28553-12-0
Di(2-propylheptyl) phthalate DPHP C6H4[COOCH2CH(CH2CH2CH3)(CH2)4CH3]2 446.66 53306-54-0
Diisodecyl phthalate DIDP C6H4[COO(CH2)7CH(CH3)2]2 446.66 26761-40-0
Diundecyl phthalate DUP C6H4[COO(CH2)10CH3]2 474.72 3648-20-2
Diisoundecyl phthalate DIUP C6H4[COO(CH2)8CH(CH3)2]2 474.72 85507-79-5
Ditridecyl phthalate DTDP C6H4[COO(CH2)12CH3]2 530.82 119-06-2
Diisotridecyl phthalate DIUP C6H4[COO(CH2)10CH(CH3)2]2 530.82 68515-47-9
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