The Sneeze


Hate for Phthalates - is it Justified?

October 5, 2023

Written By:

Andy Dang, MD, FAAAAI


Phthalates are chemicals most known for increasing durability of plastics and can be found in  tubing, food wraps, food packaging, vinyl flooring/shower curtains, and some toys.  Phthalates also help dissolve other materials, so they are used in a variety of other applications such as cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, lubricating oils, and hair spray.

Exposure to phthalates most commonly occurs from eating/drinking foods that have been in contact with phthalates (e.g. plastic containers or packaging), but exposure can also occur from breathing in phthalates from the air, or through the skin from topical products. Fragrance oils have been reported to contain phthalates, and these oils can be found in some perfumes and candles. Inside the body, phthalates are broken down into metabolites that leaves the body via urine. Research has found that adult women have higher phthalate metabolites measured in urine than adult men because of overall increased use of body washes, shampoos, cosmetics, and personal care products. 1 Children can also have increase phthalate exposure because of increased hand-to-mouth activity and faster breathing rate than adults.2

Food In Contact With Phthalates

Impact on Health:

 Experimental animal studies have shown decreased reproductive health with in utero exposure to phthalates, with rodent studies finding fewer babies as well as impaired reproductive development.  Of note, these studies exposed animals to much higher levels of phthalates than what humans are normally exposed to, and findings in animals are not always translatable to humans.



There is limited data on phthalates and their effects in humans, and the data available is not strong enough to conclude that there is definite harm from phthalate exposure in humans.  There were reports of possible increased asthma from phthalate exposure, but this has been controversial.3  We do not know if there is a certain threshold or limit of exposure where side effects could occur.  Based on what we do know, a reasonable recommendation is to limit exposure to phthalates particularly around the time of conception and pregnancy as well as when taking care of children--this can be done by minimizing ingestion of processed/packaged/canned foods, using glass/metal/wood food storage instead of plastic, and minimizing use of cosmetics and personal care products (or find phthalate free products if possible).