What Makes Us Happy

The happiest people have clear goals that they want to achieve, have a personal and cultural context in which they have been successful, are motivated, and know their value to the larger world.– and the most miserable people have little more than themselves to rely on in the face of difficulty. They are the most insecure and unafraid . . . and the most vulnerable to loneliness.

If you’re like me, you’re already failing at most of your New Year’s resolutions (I’m still not making my bed every morning, and I haven’t been to a yoga class yet in January). One goal that I am tackling in earnest? Banishing phthalates from my home once and for all.

Why do we need phthalates in the first place?

Well, it’s safe to say that phthalates are used in a wide variety of personal care products (dandruff shampoo, aftershave, skin-care lotion, bath and body products, diaper cream, nail polish, shampoos, conditioners, and so on), so they have the potential to get into the food chain on a high enough scale, and they are toxic under some circumstances (this is why so many women have a persistent nagging discomfort when they see their bodies after taking a shower and are not sure why – their skin is being coated with the stuff).

They also have been shown to disrupt the endocrine system, and at high doses of phthalates they can suppress reproduction. These chemicals cause feminization at low amounts and masculinization at high doses. 

What is a normal amount of phthalate exposure?

There is no safe dose. 

In fact, the amounts needed to harm development are so tiny they make a person sick on the regular. 

And, we’ve already established that humans are extremely susceptible to toxic chemicals that have a wide range of effects (even from chemicals we don’t eat). Most of the chemicals we are exposed to will be safe for a long time. 

What about pregnant women? 

Although phthalates are used widely in many personal care products, pregnant women are typically exposed to much lower amounts of them than is the case for non-pregnant people. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends using a sunscreen with no more than an SPF of 15 while pregnant. However, the FDA cautions pregnant women against using any kind of sunscreen that contains an SPF.

As far as I can tell, the main source of exposure to phthalates in pregnant women is from their mothers. 

Why do we need to do anything about it?

There are multiple health concerns that come with phthalate exposure, and all of them are based on a single factor: the body’s sensitivity to one particular form of the chemical called di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP). 

According to a 2009 study :

DEHP is a common organic chemical found in some personal care products, including deodorant, skin-care products, toothpaste, toothbrushes, hair spray, mouthwash, cleaning solvents, nail polish, hair conditioners, antiperspirants, and plasticizers and adhesives, and it can adversely affect the health of children, infants, fetuses, and pregnant women.

To quote the study:

“DEHP is a persistent toxicant found in the air, water, food, and breast milk of women, infants, children, and infants. It is an endocrine disruptor that binds to and reverses hormone action, leading to a wide array of endocrine-disrupting and neoplastic effects.”

It’s also a potent carcinogen.

For example, even a single day of being exposed to 5 mg of DEHP can increase a child’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes by 17 percent.