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Parabens & Phthalates: Reduce Your Exposure to Xenoestrogens (Part 2 of 2)

In a previous blog article, I talked about what xenoestrogens are and where you find them, and I highlighted one of the most prevalent xenoestrogen in our daily lives – Bisphenol A (BPA). Now let’s learn about two more common xenoestrogens: phthalates and parabens, plus easily adoptable suggestions for reducing your exposure.

Where Do Phthalates Come From? 

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible or resilient. Phthalates are found in:

• Children’s items, such as plastic/squishy toys, infant chew rings and teethers

• Food packaging

• Hoses and PVC pipe

• Raincoats, shower curtains and vinyl flooring

• Faux leather handbags

• Detergents

• Nail polish and nail polish remover

• Hair spray, shampoo and cosmetics

• IV bags and tubing

• Adhesives and lubricants

Who wants their baby chewing on a squishy, phthalate-laden toy? I sure don’t! 

Phthalates and Health

The potential for phthalates to alter thyroid hormones and signaling has recently gained increased attention in research. For example, recent studies have reported declines in measures of brain development in relation to phthalates and thyroid signaling has been hypothesized as one potential mechanism involved in this association (1, 2, 3).

Parabens and Your Health

A third xenoestrogen called parabens are the BPA of the beauty industry. Parabens are commonly used as antimicrobial preservatives in makeup, lip balms, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, shaving creams, and facial and shower cleansers and scrubs. They can be found in the ingredients section of your beauty products under the names: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, butylparaben and benzylparaben.

Parabens are absorbed through your skin, blood, and digestive system (4).  

A 2004 UK study detected traces of five different types of parabens in the breast cancer tumors of 19 out of 20 women studied (5). This small study does not prove a causal relationship between parabens and breast cancer, but it is important because it detected the presence of intact parabens – unaltered by the body’s metabolism – which is an indication of the chemicals' ability to penetrate skin and remain in breast tissue. Check out the Environmental Working Groups Skin Deep Database for safety and toxicity data for thousands of products.  

Reduce Your Exposure To Xenoestrogens 

Learning this information for the first time may be quite overwhelming, so where can you begin to reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens? Start small--every little change will make a difference in your health.

1.  Examine the ingredients in the products you use on a daily basis. Look for “BPA free,” “Phthalate free,” and “Paraben free” on products you purchase.

2.  Limit your use of plastics. Avoid drinking from plastic water bottles and don’t refill plastic water bottles. If a plastic water bottle has heated up significantly, throw it away—do not drink the water. Do not heat your food or drinks in plastic containers. Instead, use glass, porcelain, silicon or stainless steel containers. Check out Klean Kanteen’s, which is a great alternative to a plastic bottle!

3.  Avoid all pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Whenever possible, buy organic produce. Check out this website to see a list of the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen” fruits and vegetables.

4.  Minimize your exposure to nail polish and nail polish removers.

5.  Use chemical free, biodegradable laundry and household cleaning products whenever possible.

6.  Use chemical free soaps and toothpaste.

7.  Purchase paraben-free lotion, lip balms, shampoo, conditioner, and makeup.    

8.  If you have infants or children, buy phthalate free toys, especially those that will be put in mouths. 

Check out Part 1 about another common xenoestrogen called BPA, including what and where they're found.

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods



1. Cho SC, Bhang SY.  Relationship between environmental phthalate exposure and the intelligence of school-age children.  Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Jul;118(7):1027-32. 

2.  Engel SM, Zhu C.  Prenatal phthalate exposure and performance on the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale in a multiethnic birth cohort.  Neurotoxicology. 2009 Jul;30(4):522-8. 

3.  Kim BN.  Phthalates exposure and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in school-age children.  Biol Psychiatry. 2009 Nov 15;66(10):958-63.

4.  Gray, J (2010). State of the Evidence: The Connection between Breast Cancer and the Environment. San Francisco, CA: The Breast Cancer Fund.

5.  Darbre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, Coldham NG, Sauer MJ, Pope GS (2004). Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumors. Journal of Applied Toxicology 24:5-13.


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