phthalates as a possible cause of T2 diabetes

Poisonous substances, warning sign D-W003 according to German standard DIN 4844-2 by Torsten Henning, on Wikimedia Commons
Poisonous substances, warning sign D-W003 according to German standard DIN 4844-2 by Torsten Henning, on Wikimedia Commons

Honestly, when I started hanging out on TF blogs and forums and read about people going without shampoo and making their own lip balm, I thought they were overreacting a bit. And I continued thinking that until I read Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Campbell-McBride, who made the point that pharmaceutical drugs are commonly delivered by patches. This should've been obvious to me as I had been supplementing magnesium for some time by adding epsom salts to my bath and spraying my skin with magnesium oil.

When I thought about the fact that drugs and magnesium can be delivered straight to the bloodstream via the skin, I realized that nothing ought to be placed on the skin unless it's edible. Luckily, I had learned that coconut oil was useful for almost everything, as a deodorant, as a moisturizer, as an antibacterial on wounds, as a leave-in hair product to reduce frizziness, as a treatment to reduce stretch marks, as a lip balm, heck, it even works as a personal lubricant (though I'd not use it as such if relying on condoms).

Up until now, my decisions about things like buying soap and shampoo were primarily based on getting the best deal for my money. I'm "frugal" if you're being nice, or "cheap" if you're a teenage daughter objecting to my choices.

Synchronistically, I happened to run across this article from Diabetes in Control: Chemicals in Nail Polish, Hair Sprays Tied to Increased Diabetes Risk


This is about a class of chemicals called phthalates. Phthalates are in a lot of personal care products and they found in a long-range study that those with higher concentrations of pthalates in their urine were twice as likely to develop T2 diabetes.

I did this research and I'm gonna blog it; those who don't want to read chemistry should skip it.

General structure of phthalates, created using BKchem by Bryan Derksen, on Wikimedia Commons
General structure of phthalates, created using BKchem by Bryan Derksen, on Wikimedia Commons

Above is a picture of the general structure of a member of the phthalates class of chemicals. I like this sort of thing because I'm a geek.

How you "read" this type of structure... it is implied that at every bend there is a carbon atom.

So the hexagon on the left contains 6 carbons. About half the bonds in that hexagon are double bonds. I say "about" because it is easier to understand single and double bonds, and harder to understand that it's really closer to 1 1/2 bonds each (that the 15 bonding electrons are kind of "spread out" around the whole hexagon). This type of 6-carbon structure with a "flow" of electrons adding up to about 1 1/2 bonds is called an aromatic ring.

The R in chemistry represents any hydrocarbon chain, so it could be a simple methyl group or a convoluted multibranched chaining thing. Using the R lets us talk about similar types of chemicals, even though they are not necessarily identical. Chemists call these functional groups.

The Os are oxygen atoms, and when we have a structure with a double-bonded oxygen and a single-bonded oxygen attached to the same carbon, it is either a carboxylic acid or an ester, depending on what's on the other side of the single-bonded oxygen; if it's a hydrogen atom, then it's the acid, otherwise it's an ester. So this structure has two ester functional groups.

Because chemists know that carbon makes 4 bonds and oxygen makes 2 bonds, we don't have to show hydrogen directly. In these types of stick structures, we assume hydrogens wherever we need them to make it turn out right.

So phthalates are a class of compounds that have an aromatic ring connected via ester functional groups to two hydrocarbon chains.

That is likely more than most of you wanted to know about chemical structures!

risks of phthalates

Why should you care about pthalates?

Cause pthalates are everywhere! They are in your baby's bottles and pacifiers, in your toddler's sippy cups, in your entire family's soap, shampoo, conditioner and cosmetics, in your clothing and they are even in some supplements and foods!

From Wikimedia:

Phthalates are used in a large variety of products, from enteric coatings of pharmaceutical pills and nutritional supplements to viscosity control agents, gelling agents, film formers, stabilizers, dispersants, lubricants, binders, emulsifying agents, and suspending agents. End-applications include adhesives and glues, electronics, agricultural adjuvants, building materials, personal care products, medical devices, detergents and surfactants, packaging, children's toys, modeling clay, waxes, paints, printing inks and coatings, pharmaceuticals, food products, and textiles.

If you are a health-conscious consumer, eating real, whole, organic foods, and very carefully avoiding BPA in plastics, apparently that isn't good enough, as plastic is full of pthalates and you're also slathering the stuff all over your body in personal care products.

And if you have none of the risk factors for T2 diabetes, you're not off the hook, cause it turns out there's evidence that phthalates are linked to:

what do I do now?

Now that we're learning about the health risks of pthalates, manufacturers may start making pthalate-free plastics to go with the BPA-free plastics. And that'll work until we discover something else. My thinking is I'm better off avoiding plastic as much as possible, but especially where it touches food and/or personal care products.

Personally, I think I ought not be using personal care products unless they're edible. So-called "nontoxic" or "hypoallergenic" is just not good enough. If I can't eat it, it's not going on my skin.

I ran across a forum a while back where they were discussing which nail polish was "safe" for toddlers. I mean, we're talking toddlers! They eat everything! So if they can't eat it, it's not "nontoxic" enough!

So for me, edible is the new criteria. As mentioned earlier, I use coconut oil for nearly everything anyways; I already have the stuff here since we eat so much of it.

As it happens, I quit coloring my hair and wearing makeup in my mid-thirties, so those aren't issues for me.

Getting rid of the shampoo & conditioner is the hard part for me. What I have decided to do is make my own products in Mason jars.

1/4 cup baking soda per quart water
use by rubbing into scalp (not hair), then rinse
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar per quart water
pour through hair, then rinse with cold water
if hair is oily
increase concentration and application time of baking soda solution
if hair is dry
increase concentration and application time of vinegar solution
continue using coconut oil after showering
as I've never found anything that reduces frizz and curls my hair so well
I have sufficient empirical evidence that chemists, as a group, are extremely good-looking, mind-bogglingly brilliant and surprisingly modest. But I have to admit, we have done our part to screw up the world.
Disclosure: Affiliate