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New study reveals concerning link between common household products and breast cancer: 'Consumers can tell'

On top of causing health problems, phthalates pose a problem for the environment.

Phthalates products study

Photo Credit: iStock

A recent study has linked a decrease in exposure to daily-use phthalate products to a decrease in breast cancer cases. 

What are phthalates?

Phthalates are a group of chemicals often used to make plastics more durable, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains. They are also used as solvents. These chemicals are found in plastics, pesticides, and personal care products, among other materials

There are two major groups of phthalates, categorized by their high or low molecular weight. The first group of phthalates are used in plastic tubing, food packaging, vinyl toys, and building products. The second group of phthalates are used in such things as cosmetic products, fragrances in perfumes, nail polish, and hair sprays. 

Why are phthalates a problem? 

Phthalates are a part of a group of substances called endocrine disruptors, which mess with the body's hormones, produced by the endocrine system. 

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Services (NIEHS), these chemicals have also been linked to developmental, reproductive, brain, and immune diseases, among other health problems.

Phthalate exposure can be tied to an estrogen "overstimulation," explains a recent study published in Chemosphere, a journal focused on the effects of chemicals on the environment. Excess estrogen has been linked to breast cancer.

"Personal care products (PCPs) commonly contain xenoestrogens (XE), such as parabens and phthalates," the study says.

Specific phthalates also have direct ties to breast cancer and other health problems. Benzyl butyl phthalate (BzBP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) are known to increase cell production, which can lead to tumor formation and breast cancer cells, according to Breast Cancer Prevention Partners. High levels of diethyl phthalate (DEP) are also linked to infertility in men, while DEP and DBP can lead to infertility in women. 

On top of causing such health problems, phthalates pose a problem when released into the environment, since they are slow to break down, making them potentially hazardous over time.

What's being done about phthalates?

While some have sought to ban phthalates in products, especially those intended for children, many companies continue to use them in products. 

To decrease your phthalate contact, try to avoid buying fragrance and perfume products, as well as air fresheners. If a personal product contains fragrances, the chances it has phthalates are decently high. A list of select products that contain phthalates is available from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

According to the FDA, companies must include an ingredient declaration on cosmetic products sold at the retail level to consumers, in alignment with the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.

"Consumers can tell whether some products contain phthalates by reading the ingredient declaration on the labels of such products," the FDA website advises.

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