These phthalates are found in a wide range of household products including shampoos, perfumes and hairspray. Research strongly suggests increased pre-natal phthalate exposure could even lead to delayed language development.
This developmental condition is known to be associated with poorer school performance and a greater need for special educational support.
"Decreasing the amount of plastic in our lives is not only good for the environment… it may also help children develop language skills,” said Gino Pecoraro, associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Queensland
“Phthalates have previously been shown to be ‘endocrine disruptors’ which have antagonistic effects on male-type hormones that in animal studies have led to male genital abnormalities. [Other] studies have also suggested an association between phthalate exposure and delayed psychomotor development in affected children.”
While it is too early to definitively suggest exposure leads to language delay, however, the emerging evidence does provide another reason to try to decrease the amount of flexible plastics like those found in personal hygiene products, he added.
Some low-molecular-weight phthalates, such as dibutyl phthalate are widely used in cosmetics and personal care products, where they stabilise fragrances.
Better safe than sorry
Previous research has found that women tend to have higher concentrations of certain phthalate metabolites in their urine and this is suspected to be from higher use of cosmetics and personal care products, compared to men.
“They are a difficult group of chemicals to avoid completely. Almost everyone is exposed to phthalates at low concentrations,” said Anna Callan, a biomedical sciences researcher at Edith Cowan University.
“Although further research is required… it is well worth pregnant women and also those hoping to conceive considering reducing their use of cosmetics and personal care products, particularly the highly scented ones and trying to use un-fragranced alternatives as this will help to reduce their exposure.”
Phthalates are not only found in personal care packaging, but also in countless forms of food containers and carriers. Melanie McGrice, a prenatal dietitian, recommends mothers-to-be to use glass containers in the microwave and dishwasher instead of plastic containers and covering them with a lid instead of a plastic wrap.
“Most importantly, don’t worry, but do remember that small changes all make a difference,” she added.