Phthalates. Easy for you to say!

Our products do not intentionally contain phthalates. When formulating a product, we look at the contents of our functional raw ingredients and include only those that don’t contain phthalates. In light of a rising tide of information, we’ve been through our stock of fragrances and removed any that are even suspected to contain phthalates or other endocrine disruptors.

Why did we remove fragrances?

In general, fragrances can potentially introduce phthalates to any formulation on the market. There are also no other ingredients that we use in our products that are liable to contain them.

For a manufacturer seeking to remove phthalates from their products, this is a concern because the exact make-up of fragrances are often well-protected intellectual property; manufacturers of fragrances tend only to declare those contents that they are required to in a safety data sheet. This generally doesn’t include phthalates unless they are a major component and carry a classifiable hazard to manufacturers when neat. While we can get certificates of analysis from some producers of fragrances about whether their products contain phthalates, this is the extent of the guarantees we can obtain.

Why are phthalates in some fragrances to begin with?

While phthalates fulfil a variety of purposes effectively (including as a plasticiser for PVC), some phthalate esters can be used as part of the solvent for fragrance compounds or to make scents last longer. Generally speaking, phthalates also have little or no odour, owing to their low volatility.

What is a phthalate ester?

An ester is a chemical containing an ester functional group as part of its structure. Many of the distinctive odours and tastes of common fruits in the UK such as apples, pears and strawberries are all due (either in whole or in part) to esters. While esters are not acids, their molecular structure can be thought of as a specific modification to an organic acid, like the acid in vinegar. In phthalates, the organic acid is called phthalic acid.

What’s bad about phthalates, anyway?

It has nothing to do with what they are good for: the fact that a particular phthalate ester is good as a plasticiser or solvent isn’t what makes it suspicious or bad. Water is a solvent, as is glycerine (classic cough syrup). In fact, glycerine is also useful in some paints and even some laundry products. While we would definitely advise against using any old solvent as cough syrup, the point is that a chemical should be judged based on what it actually does, not how we choose to use it.

In a relative sense, phthalates as a whole don’t have very much to offer in terms of toxicity, which is part of their appeal when it comes to industrial handling. It’s somewhat of an “in one end, out the other” kind of deal. The body doesn’t do much with phthalates except kick them to the proverbial curb, leaving them mostly if not completely unchanged.

Of the phthalates that are industrially available, a handful have been found to be weakly endocrine disrupting. This means that while in the body, if they bump into endocrine receptors, occasionally they might trigger it in our bodies in the same way that our hormones do. In turn, this means that for continuous exposure over long periods of time, cumulative effects might be seen. Or they might not.

Many of the 30 or so industrially relevant phthalates, however (even the ones not labelled as endocrine disruptors), have also been found to have negative effects on the reproductive system, though this hasn’t been tested on humans. This is so widespread throughout the common phthalate esters, that the whole class is starting to look quite suspicious. The question is: do all the phthalates have a similar effect, and does this apply to humans? In any case, as any long term effects likely require long term exposure, the safest option is to remove avenues for that exposure.

What Now?

To our knowledge, the contents of all our Ideal Laundry products do not contain phthalates; any phthalates that may exist in their fragrances have either not been declared to us or exist in trace amounts unintentionally. We can happily declare that our FILL products, whether fragrance-free or otherwise, do not contain phthalates!

Those who wish to be extra sure that they are avoiding phthalates may like to choose a fragrance-free product: this is generally also a good starting point in the wider market for the reasons above.