Exposure to Phthalates

Intervention #19 Exposure to Phthalates
Fact Check

  • Phthalates are endocrine disruptors (bind to hormonal receptors and interfere with the function of reproductive hormones).
  • Some evidence suggests phthalate exposure may be linked with endometriosis, longer time to pregnancy, pregnancy loss, poor egg parameters.
  • Avoid exposure to phthalates if possible.
Phthalates were developed in the 1920s as plasticizers – chemicals used to make plastics more flexible. They are water-insoluble, synthetic chemicals that are added to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, and they have widespread use in many plastic household items like flooring, furniture, toys, shower curtains, PVC pipes, and more. They stabilize artificial scents and are added to many scented products like perfume, cosmetics, shampoos, lotions, candles, nail polish, and hair spray. Since phthalates are not chemically bound to the plastics and products in which they are used, they can leach into the environment easily.

Impact on Fertility

Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, which means they bind to hormonal receptors and interfere with the function of reproductive hormones like oestrogen and testosterone. Higher levels of phthalates have been associated with disruption in menstruation, ovulation dysfunction, increased risk of endometriosis, longer times to conception, poor egg quality, poor sperm quality.


Endometriosis is an oestrogen-dependent disease. The central role of oestrogens in the pathophysiology of endometriosis has led several investigators to postulate a potential relationship between phthalate exposure and endometriosis; however, the results have been ambiguous. Some evidence suggests that endocrine disrupting chemicals may be involved in the development and severity of disease.

Time-to-Pregnancy and Pregnancy Loss

The literature examining the relationship between early and late pregnancy loss and phthalate exposure is also sparse. In a cohort study involving 6302 women, increased time to pregnancy after probable occupational exposure to phthalates was observed. Phthalate exposure has been associated with increased risk of early pregnancy loss.

Pregnancy Outcomes

May impair early IVF outcomes, specifically oocyte parameters: fewer total, mature, and fertilized oocytes.

Ways to Limit Phthalates Exposure

  • Avoid plastic – phthalates can leak from plastic containers (like water bottles and food containers) exposed to heat and detergent (dishwashers, microwaves).
  • Exchange your phthalate-containing beauty products for safer ones (fragrance free is a good start since fragrance is considered a trade secret and companies do not have to list ingredients that are used for scent in cosmetic products).
  • Choose phthalate-free nail polish.
  • Choose cleaning products and detergents that are fragrance free or scented with essential oils.
  • Avoid synthetic air fresheners and candles.
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