Saturday, April 12, 2008

Phthalates--Good, Bad or Indifferent?

Depends on who you ask, what data you see and how you interpret it.

Being a Libra can be an amusing life experience. The scales of justice, that's our symbol, and we're always striving for truth, justice, balance. So here's the kicker: Ms. Libra cannot seem to take a stand on practically anything without instantly seeing the value in the opposite point of view. Either / or? No way. For Libras it's always more about seeing what's useful in Both.

Okay, so recently I printed a blog about toxic chemicals in popular perfumes. One of the most common ingredients of concern are phthalates, a chemical used in the plastics industry that is added to synthetic-based fragrances as a fixative to increase a perfume's longevity. The smell of synthetic perfumes last longer than naturals; the plasticizer holds it in place.

Problem is that these chemicals have been proven to cause reproductive birth defects in rats, and human males with high levels in their bodies seem to be more likely to have low sperm counts and enlarged prostates. ( There's also great concern that because phthalates accumulate in the body over time that over the course of one's life they could be leading to significant health concerns and damage to the environment. But the cosmetics industry wants to continue using these substances and has posted some interesting counter information about phthalates on the web. (

That's the Libra instinct in me. Print the opposing point of view. But do be aware of who is sponsoring this "information." They say who on the front page—people who want to be allowed to keep using these chemicals in the wide range of products they create—including children's toys and teethers. These chemicals can and do leach out over time and babies are sleeping with these things in their mouths all the time.

So who's right? Well, probably a little Libran balance might hold the clue. Would I want my infant sucking on a teether made with a chemical that causes testicular damage and other reproductive problems over time? Bound up in the product itself, under normal conditions (not left in a hot car for days at a time), it might not actually have damaging effects. But, if a great alternative was available—my mom used to give me arrowroot biscuits and washcloths to suck on—I'd probably use that just to make sure.

What about plasticizers in cosmetics I use? That's where I'm more concerned because that can be absorbed into my skin. And despite what the plasticizer industry wants people to believe, studies do show that these chemicals can cause damage, we know they accumulate in a person's body over time, they have no beneficial effects we know of on a person's health that might warrant their use in moderation (as essential oils and other botanical substances do), and from a personal safety point of view it's really hard to justify their long term use.

That's my Libra opinion. And until I see compelling evidence to believe otherwise, I'm sticking to it.

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