What Are Phthalates–and Are They Bad for Your Health?

“The good news is that phthalates don’t stay in your body for long," Barrett says. "The problem is that because they’re everywhere and we’re continuously exposed to them, our bodies carry around continuously high levels."

So how can you protect yourself? For starters, focus on eating fresh fruit and veggies and meat from humanely raised animals. Choose organic when you can. You’ll limit your exposure to phthalates and chip away at the store in your body. “This can drop your levels by 50% in a matter of days," Barrett says.

You can also cut back on how many personal care products you use. “We see a strong association between the number of products you use and phthalate levels,” Barrett says. That doesn’t mean you spend a life makeup-free and without shampoo, but you can ditch what you don’t need. “When I was pregnant, I stopped wearing perfume, since it’s a main source of phthalates,” says Barrett.

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The chemicals are not usually listed on ingredients labels, so the only way to know if a product is phthalate-free is if a manufacturer specifically calls it out on the label. Choosing unscented products or “natural” picks isn’t a sure bet, but those products may be more likely to be sans phthalates.

Finally, never put plastic containers in the microwave or dishwasher, as chemicals like phthalates have a greater chance of leaching into your food under heat. Once plastic containers are old and scratched up, replace them.

As alarmed as you might be right now, take a deep breath. “You’ll never get your level down to zero, and you can drive yourself crazy with worry, but that’s not good for you either," Barrett says. “Take simple steps and do what you can.”

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