Phthalates in Cosmetics: Why You Want to Avoid Them

Phthalates in Cosmetics: Why You Want to Avoid Them

One of the remarkable things about skincare products is how shocking it is that certain ingredients, for example, formaldehyde or parabens, are ever even allowed in them. One category of those types of ingredients is phthalates. Used in skincare, they are total no-nos for us for a multitude of reasons. That’s why, in the article below, we discuss what are phthalates in cosmetics, why they’re used, and why they should be avoided. We think by the time you finish reading this, you’ll want to go home and make sure these dangerous ingredients aren’t lurking in your skin care products — or anything else!


Ingredient Category: Strengtheners, preservatives

Main Benefit: Phthalates help products last longer and make them stronger.

Find It In: Shampoos, makeup, skincare, toys, plastic containers among many other things.

Recommended Products: All Fleur & Bee products are phthalate free.


Looking for a clean skincare routine? Look no further.

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What Are Phthalates?

Phthalates are actually a group of chemicals that are esters of phthalic acid. They are used primarily as preservatives, but they also make things strong. And by things, we mean actual, literal things like the packaging your food comes in (not the food — the actual package!), kids’ products like toys, nail polish, perfumes, and hold onto your hats — even vinyl flooring! Yes, the same group of ingredients often used to make your floor may also be in your cosmetics!

And get this — while phthalates are still used in the U.S. in skincare and other cosmetics, many are banned in the E.U. If that doesn’t give you pause, we’re not sure what would!

Just so you can look out for them in your skincare, here is a whole list of phthalates:

  • DBP (dibutyl phthalate)
  • DINP (diisononyl phthalate)
  • DEP (diethyl phthalate)
  • DEHP (di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate)
  • DMP (dimethyl phthalate)
  • BBP (benzyl butyl phthalate)
  • DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate)
  • DIDP (diisodecyl phthalate)

Why Are Phthalates Used in Skin Care?

Phthalates are used for a lot of different reasons in skincare and makeup. Here are just a few of them:

Phthalates are used as preservatives - When used in skin care phthalates can make products last much longer than they would without them.

Phthalates make color last longer - Phthalates also help preserve the color in cosmetics as well which is why you need to look out for them in makeup.

Phthalates make fragrances last longer - Fragrances frequently have phthalates in them because they make them last longer.

Phthalates make products stronger - Phthalates are also used to make products stronger and more flexible which is why they’re used in products like nail polish.

Phthalates make products less stiff - It seems counterintuitive to think that something that makes products stronger can also make them less stiff, but it’s true! It’s one of the main reasons they’re used in hairspray. Without phthalates, hairspray would be so stiff your hair wouldn’t move.

Phthalates make products more flexible - You know how you can take a vinyl tile and make it bend a bit? That might be due to phthalates, which make products much more flexible.

Although phthalates clearly have some benefits in skincare and makeup, they are absolutely not worth it, especially since other, safer ingredients can do the same things just as well.

Why Phthalates Should Be Avoided!

Kind of seems like there are a lot of advantages to phthalates, doesn’t it? So why are they so dangerous! Read on to find out!

Phthalates cause endocrine disruption - Of all the reasons not to use phthalates, this is usually cited as the most common one. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors which can cause a whole host of problems. For that reason, phthalates are thought to cause cancers such as breast cancer.

This can also cause birth defects for children born of women who were exposed to phthalates during pregnancy. It can also cause low sperm count for males born from women who were exposed to phthalates during pregnancy. Not only that, it’s thought to cause lower I.Q. and developmental delays in children.

Phthalates are thought to cause other kinds of cancer - Cancers like liver cancer have been associated with phthalates.

Phthalates cause obesity - Some studies suggest that the more children are exposed to phthalates, the more likely they are to develop obesity.

Phthalates are thought to contribute to infertility - In addition to causing low sperm count for males, phthalates are thought to also cause infertility in women as well.

Phthalates are thought to cause major problems regarding birth - The list of issues caused by phthalates regarding birth is not only long but very serious. Exposure to phthalates is thought to cause everything from preterm birth to preeclampsia and even miscarriage and those are just the major issues.

Phthalates can interfere with the thyroid - Phthalates can cause issues with thyroid hormone levels and are thought to contribute to thyroid cancer.

Phthalates are thought to cause asthma - Phthalates are thought to cause inflammation of the body’s airways, especially in children.

Phthalates are thought to cause heart issues - Phthalates are thought to cause everything from increased blood pressure to heart cell and artery wall damage.

While this may seem like a very scary list, believe it or not, this isn’t even everything!

What Kinds of Products Use Phthalates?

Part of the reason it’s so hard to avoid phthalates is that they’re in so many products. Here are just a few of the products in which you might find phthalates:

  1. Shampoos - Phthalates are used as a softening agent in many shampoos and conditioners.
  2. Soap - For much the same reasons, phthalates are found in soap.
  3. Fragrances - Phthalates are used in perfumes quite frequently. They are also used in scented candles and other scented products like lotions and body washes in large part because they help these products retain their scents longer.
  4. Makeup - As we mentioned above, phthalates help products retain color longer, thus they are frequently found in makeup.
  5. Nail polish - Phthalates are often found in nail polish in order to keep it strong yet flexible.
  6. Food packaging - There is a lot of plastic packaging out there just full of phthalates and guess what? Food can actually absorb phthalates from that packaging.

Again, this is just a partial list of products that could have phthalates in them!

How To Avoid Phthalates in Skincare Products

By now you’re probably thinking that you’re going to do everything within your power to avoid phthalates and we want to help you do that! Here are some fairly easy tips to help you avoid phthalates!

  1. Check labels on skincare products - This is probably the lowest-hanging fruit as far as avoiding phthalates. Checking the labels on your skincare will almost certainly help eliminate a lot of phthalates from your beauty routine.
  2. Ask to check labels at the salon - We know, it seems a little crazy to ask this of your hairdresser but given the serious consequences of phthalates, it’s really not unreasonable, especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding!
  3. Commit to brands and products that don’t contain phthalates - Instead of checking every label of every product you buy, it’s a lot easier to commit to brands that simply won’t include it in their products. Not to brag, but part of the Fleur & Bee ethos is that we absolutely, positively won’t use phthalates or frankly, any “baddies” that could cause harm to your skin or your general health.

We hope this article is not only enlightening but that it dissuades you from using any products with phthalates! If ever there were a total no-brainer, it’s getting these horrible ingredients out of your home!