If you haven’t heard of this group of chemicals before, then you might be surprised to learn that they are present in hundreds of household, beauty and other plastic and manufactured goods that you come into contact with.
Phthalates (pronounced thal-ates) are used in plastics to soften them, but are also present in many artificially scented products we use, including shampoo.
There are many things you are told to avoid when choosing what you wash your hair with, so what is the particular reason for avoiding phthalates?
Phthalates are known to affect the endocrine system in the body, which is basically the system that controls hormones that affect fertility, growth and your metabolism.
Anything that has an effect on these vital systems could be extremely detrimental to your health as well as other animals, especially marine life if and when our waste products reach the sea.
The best way to avoid these phthalates is to buy scentless products from natural and organic brands.
Listed below are some of the best phthalate shampoos in the UK to get you started.
Best Phthalate-Free Shampoos in the UK
1. Green People Neutral Scent Free Shampoo
This Green People shampoo is suitable for the whole family to use and is beneficial for those with sensitive skin or or a sensitive scalp.
It only contains natural ingredients and is free of chemicals like phthalates, parabens and alcohol.
The active ingredients include organic Aloe Vera, green tea, yucca and pineapple and the other listed ingredients are quite recognisable as more natural than chemical which is good for those who are looking for an all-natural brand or often react badly to chemicals.
The downside to this product is definitely it being a little on the pricey side in terms of what you would pay normally for shampoo, but it should be no surprise that natural ingredients and quality come at a price.
2. Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Shampoo and Wash
This next brand, known for it’s natural moisturisers, have also created a natural baby shampoo that is phthalate-free.
Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Shampoo and Wash is available at a more reasonable price and has a natural scent.
Unlike the Green People shampoo, it is also tear-free for those who have sensitive eyes as well as skin.
It contains soy proteins for cleansing and is also free of parabens, petrolatum and SLS, with mainly natural ingredients listed.
Although the shampoo is non-irritant, it is not an anti-dandruff shampoo, so may have no effect on a badly affected scalp and despite being listed as a baby shampoo, it is obviously suitable for older children and grown-ups too!
Reducing children’s exposure to phthalates is particularly important, as phthalates have been shown to affect children’s development, so this is a good, safe shampoo for kids.
3. Green People Daily Aloe Shampoo
Another product from Green People, this shampoo is actually scented as well as having natural foaming properties, meaning there is also no SLS.
Daily Aloe Shampoo also comes with a rather large price tag, although the brand claim that it lasts up to 3 times longer than other shampoos.
The ingredients are both organic and fairly traded, making this an ethical buy as well as a healthy one.
The only complaints seem to be that it can leave your hair feeling dry, but Green People also offer hair serums on their website to combat this.
You may want to consider the product below if this is a particular problem for you.
4. Yes To Coconut Dry Hair Ultra Moisture Shampoo
This Yes To Coconut shampoo is specifically for people suffering from dry hair and restores damaged hair using a combination of different argan and coconut oils.
The shampoo is 98% natural and is free from parabens, SLS as well as phthalates and is also not tested on animals.
The brand offer other shampoos for other hair types, all with natural ingredients, and there is also a conditioner that can be used in combination with this.
The lovely summer scent from the coconut is natural and leaves you with lovely smelling hair as well as a happy scalp.
5. Jason Dandruff Relief Shampoo
This Jason shampoo is available on the high street in Holland and Barratt, but does not quite have your usual high street shampoo price.
This can largely be forgiven, however, due to its special qualities for tackling dandruff, mild psoriasis and scalp dermatitis as well as being phthalate-free.
The scent, which can only be described as a little unusual, comes from the natural oils it contains which include jojoba, rosemary and olive while the natural ingredients and addition of MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) prevent an irritated scalp and flakiness.
There are also no parabens or SLS, foaming due to natural ingredients instead.
What Are Phthalates?
Phthalates are chemical compounds which are used to make plastic more flexible and malleable.
They are used for a number of applications as they bind to the product and tend not to evaporate or move from where they have been placed. Some places you will find phthalates are:
- Cleaning products
- Building materials
- Wires & cables
- Medical devices
They are also found in many foods.
During a normal day, you will probably come into contact with phthalates more than once, due to their prevalence in so many products.
Phthalates are actually a large family of chemicals which range from high to low in grade.
High phthalates have more carbon atoms in their chemical makeup than low phthalates. These different types are used for various applications:
- High Phthalates: PVC products, wires, cables, floor, wall and roof coverings, coated fabrics and synthetic leather.
- Low Phthalates: General-purpose PVC products, cosmetics, medical devices, adhesives and inks.
Phthalates can be a very-cost effective material to use and can actually produce pretty high-quality finishes.
Each type of phthalate is chosen based on its suitability to be used for the product in question; they are picked due to their size, shape, strength or colour.
Are Phthalates Dangerous?
Studies on animals have found that phthalates can damage the lungs, kidneys, liver and reproductive system.
In particular, the developing male reproductive system is at risk, so pregnant women and male children should avoid phthalates as much as possible.
Studies on rats have found that exposure to di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) reduces fertility, particularly in males.
Di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) is often used in the production of medical tubing; used for medicating and even assisting a child’s breathing.
However, studies tend to look at the results of excessive exposure to the phthalates, rather than the low levels of exposure you’d get from using a shampoo that contained phthalates.
Most people aren’t exposed to a very high level of phthalates in their everyday lives.
However, there are certain situations which may pose a risk of overexposure. In particular, receiving medical care such as undergoing any sort of blood transfusions (the pipes are often made using phthalates) puts you at greater risk.
Infants in neonatal intensive care units that use PVC medical devices were found to be exposed to high levels of phthalates in a 2005 study by the Harvard School of Public Health.
Babies and children are also at greater risk of overexposure to phthalates from sucking on plastic toys, bottles and dummies, which can contain phthalates.
Other things that are speculated to be affected by exposure to phthalates include:
- Breast cancer
- ADHD & other behavioural problems
One phthalate, diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) is carcinogenic to rats and mice, and is therefore considered a potential carcinogen in humans (source).
There are many phthalate-free products cropping up as consumers are looking to remove them from their daily routines where possible.
If you are worried about the possible effects that phthalates can have on your health, then there is definitely no harm in choosing to buy phthalate-free products over your normal choices.
Why are phthalates used in shampoo?
Phthalates are often found in shampoos as carriers for fragrances, as they help the scent linger for longer. They can also be used as gelling agents or to improve the texture of shampoo.
How do you identify phthalates in products?
Product labels aren’t required to say “contains phthalates”, so it can be hard to make sure that a shampoo is phthalate free.
Sometimes phthalates will be hidden within fragrances, so choose a fragrance-free shampoo or one with natural fragrances such as pure essential oils.
Some phthalates you may find listed on your shampoo’s label include:
- BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate)
- DBP (dibutyl phthalate)
- DCP (dibutyl phthalates)
- DEHP (Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate)
- DEP (diethyl phthalate)
- DiDP (diisodecyl phthalate)
- DiNP (diisononyl phthalate)
- DMP (dimethyl phthalate)
- DnHP (di-n-hexyl phthalate)
- DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate)
How can you avoid phthalates in shampoo?
Here are some ways to make sure your shampoo doesn’t contain phthalates:
- Choose a phthalate-free brand – These include Green People, Dr Bronner’s, Shea Moisture, Madara, A’kin, PHB Ethical Beauty, Lavera and Benecos.
- Choose fragrance-free shampoo – Phthalates are often found hidden within fragrances, so going fragrance-free is a good way to avoid phthalates.
- Check the ingredients list – See the list of phthalates to avoid above. Also check for ‘Fragrance’, ‘Fragrances’ or ‘Parfum’, unless the label says that fragrances are natural.
Are phthalates sulphates?
The word ‘phthalate’ ends in ‘ate’, like many sulphates. However, phthalates aren’t sulphates (sulfates in US English).
In chemical terms, phthalates are esters of phthalic acid, whereas sulphates are salts of sulphuric acid.
If we had to pick just one phthalate-free shampoo to recommend it would be Green People’s Neutral Scent Free Shampoo. Not only is it free from phthalates, it’s also free from SLS, SLES, parabens and other potentially harmful chemicals. It’s made primarily from organic ingredients, and is gentle on sensitive scalps.
For some more suggestions, read our guide to the best natural shampoos.