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What’s the Deal with Phthalates?

We have been ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing phthalates since 1920. Phthalates, aka phthalate esters, are esters of phthalic acid. There are over 50 different phthalates. They have a lengthy history of use as plasticizers. Phthalates are used in the plastics industry to increase durability, flexibility and transparency. Most people’s first introduction to their existence was when either a mommy-blogger or celebrity (I hear it both ways) got them excited about all fragrances being bad. Phthalates are used in fragrance. Compared to how long they have been in our other products their use in fragrances is pretty recent and their usefulness in the fragrance industry seems to have been somewhat incidental to the discovery that phthalates increase scent throw and longevity. Fragrance accounts for a very small amount of the phthalate an individual is exposed to even though fragrance does seem to get a great deal of attention.

Much of the decision to remove phthalates in manufacturing processes stemmed from research into endocrine disruption. Phthalates are something that everyone in civilized society has been exposed to. The CDC discovered in 2009 that the majority of Americans who were tested had metabolites of up to 13 different phthalates in their urine.

Phthalates in everyday consumer goods

Phthalates are found in the coatings of pharmaceutical pills and supplements, adhesives, caulk, paint, plastic packaging, printing ink, children’s toys, jelly rubber products (shoes, fishing lures, caulk, sex toys), IV drip bags & tubing, carpeting, non-natural fabrics, wire & cable coating, all of the plastic parts in our automobiles, food cling film, eye shadow, nail polish, liquid soap, laundry detergent, and hair spray…to shorten a list of thousands of items down to but a few highlights. They have been in our products for a very long time and basically they’re everywhere. Phthalates have been found in dairy products, fish, oils, meat, baked goods, infant formula, processed food, and fast food. They have an affinity for and are eventually put into long term storage within the fat cells of the body.

Phthalates in fragrance have been the subject of warning via social media for nearly a decade while nearly all of the other phthalate containing items slipped notice for the most part. Up until around 2010 the market was dominated by high-phthalate plasticizers. Social consciousness, growing environmental awareness, and a movement against the increasing use of synthetics in healthcare and medical devices, cosmetic products, and ingestibles began creating an environment demanding that we (meaning our government) do something to create a focused effort to remove phthalates from manufacturing. Just the other day I saw a post telling people to stay away from anything that had the ingredient “perfume” or “fragrance”. It’s worth noting that the fragrance industry has provided phthalate free fragrances since before 2010 (yes, since before social media outrage demanded it.) Not every maker uses phthalate-free options as they are more expensive, but they’ve been available for over a decade now. I actually haven’t seen a non-phthalate-free fragrance for sale from anyone in my supply chain for about 5 years, but that could be indicative of sourcing quality ingredients from ethical suppliers, too.

I promise not to bore you with the chemistry in this post (even though it’s fascinating to me), but I will say this: because phthalates are not chemically bonded to the host plastic they are readily released by very gentle means. Heating (microwaving counts) and organic solvents (acetic acid, acetone, benzene, etc) remove phthalates readily. What this means to you is that food heated in a plastic container that contains phthalate is tainted with the released phthalate. Using a plastic bowl to marinate meat with vinegar…same thing. Removing phthalate containing nail polish with acetone releases the phthalate for inhalation and possible absorption into the skin (if for example there was a break in the cuticle).

Scaring isn’t my intent. Education is. The government has been working for over a decade now to remove phthalates from those things that we are exposed to in an intimate manner. Many nail polish companies are 10-free, 8-free, etc (meaning they do not use the top 10 or top 8 known to be harmful ingredients.) Plastic manufacturers are sourcing alternatives to do what phthalates were doing. Unfortunately it also means there are a great deal of un-recyclable plastics that were created for about 50 years that are not eligible for recycling and those items are now in landfills and oceans. Because they are so easily dissociated from their host plastics phthalates in general do not persist on the item. This volatility does make the presence of phthalate more prevalent in the air in urban areas than in rural. Thus most of the residual exposure is now through inhalation rather than consumption. Plastic containing phthalates is being controlled in Canada, the U.S., and the European Union and makes up for 36% of the manufactured plastic in the world. The other 64% of plastic manufacturing takes place in countries with no restrictions. The U.S. has banned just 3 phthalates of those known and used.

But what does it all mean to the individual, and what does phthalate do in the body? Being a low molecular weight compound phthalates enter the bloodstream and disrupt hormone production in adults and jump start it in children. Phthalates mimic estrogen (female hormone), which in turn inhibits the production of testosterone (male hormone). This is how they’ve gotten to become classified as endocrine disruptors. Remember when I mentioned children’s toys, and cosmetics earlier? These were one of the first indicators of phthalate endocrine disruption. Researchers found that phthalate exposure by everyday personal care products and toys led to precocious puberty in children. In some parts of the world where phthalates are still uncontrolled this precociousness is counted in years. Males experience phthalate endocrine disruption with both precocious puberty, and then with a decrease in sperm count, motility and viability. Females experience precocious puberty and then in adulthood can experience premature ovarian failure and anovulation. Remember when puberty started in the teens? Puberty now starts before a child reaches double digits in some areas. Research has also found a link between PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) pathogenesis and environmental phthalate exposure.

Individual states are stepping up to ban phthalates (Washington, Vermont, Maine, California.) The FDA says phthalates are safe. They have a whole page on their website dedicated to convincing readers they’re not in danger. They list a very small selection of products from 2010 that they tested and didn’t find any in. They also say that their role as an agency is to subject color additives to scrutiny, and that if they have dependable scientific evidence showing an ingredient, that’s not a color, is unsafe then they’ll look into it. Ok, that’s all I’m going to say about that…

As far as being able to phase out phthalates goes it’s interesting to take a look at another plastics component, Bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA was invented in 1891, was discovered to be toxic in the 1930’s and was recognized as an artificial estrogen. Still in use despite it’s toxic designation, BPA was discovered to be instrumental to developing hard plastic (polycarbonate) in the 1940’s, and was used in baby bottles and bicycle helmets (as well as many other items.) The government stated in 1982 that BPA toxicity held no regulatory weight. In other words, it’s really useful stuff so we’re going to ignore that it’s toxic…

In 1988 the EPA countered rising discontent with BPA being used in manufacturing with a safety standard for BPA that was 25 times higher than levels presented to be harmful to humans. The FDA assessed in 1996 that infant exposure was measurable at risks deemed safe while independent labs countered with conflicting studies. Studies went back and forth on both sides for nearly 10 more years before the U.S. Congress launched an investigation of governmental conflict of interest on BPA. People were fired, advisory panels created and disbanded, more people were fired, and in 2008 the government decided that BPA poses risks to humans deeming it a “dangerous substance.” I guess those studies from 80 years prior weren’t wrong all of a sudden?

BPA was banned in making baby bottles and manufacturers had to “promise” not to use it as of 2011. In 2012 the FDA decided not to ban BPA from food and beverage packaging. Some major corporations stepped up and chose independently to remove BPA from their packaging (thank you Campbells, Seneca Foods, and Libby’s). Other food companies are still using BPA in food packaging that is on shelves today. As of today the Facts about BPA website state “the USFDA recently reconfirmed the question “Is BPA Safe?” “Yes.”” BPA is still being used today. Manufacturers of food storage plastics began creating and marketing BPA-free items in 2011 and it became a major marketing push around 2016 for food storage items. There is an article on NCBI titled The Politics of Plastics: The Making and Unmaking of Bisphenol A “Safety” that is an interesting read for anyone so inclined.

My three-paragraph aside here is to example that we most likely will not have consensus on phthalates within our lifetimes. This is a battle that our children and perhaps theirs will continue to wage. Fortunately the phthalate industry hasn’t organized to the point of political lobbyists and a pretty website.

Glass & Metal Packaging at Cats Paw Farm Mercantile

While large corporations are being the most resistant to making the change to discontinue phthalate use and switch to albeit more expensive non-phthalate options, there are a lot of small, independent, reputable makers who only source non-phthalate and non-toxin containing fragrances, and who do not use plastic packaging. Cats Paw Farm is proud to be one of them. The list of things I won’t put in our products is far lengthier than those that I will. Our skincare, haircare, home, bath & body, soap, and culinary products are all free of phthalates, palm products, sulfates, petroleum products, and our packaging is 95% glass and metal. The plastic I use for pumps, sprayers and lip balm tubes are certified bpa and known phthalate free, btw. I’m still testing out paperboard and metal containers as alternatives to the lip balm tubes to cut down further on the plastic.

Some of our products come with a bit of seed paper that can grow a variety of wildflowers that are attractive to bees and butterflies. Not that they have anything to do with phthalates, but they’re in danger of disappearing and that’s a subject for a whole other post.

The Cats of Cats Paw Farm

I grew up with a plethora of officially unnamed felines that had lived outside in barns and outbuildings and while they had a very important job around the property (keeping the mice down) they were never considered part of the family proper. They were fed and watered as were the livestock and considered crucial and valued according to an unwritten list of skills they possessed. Good Mouser. Good Mother. Good Tom. That worked just fine for a lot of years for the people and the cats and then a tow headed girl child entered the picture with a single mission: to befriend all the kitties…

Yes that child was me and I apparently had a knack for it, which was a good thing. Even at a young age I thought like a cat. It didn’t dawn on me to be any other way. I could walk into a shed and immediately knew where mama kittie’s nest was, even when she moved it. I just pictured where I’d want to hide if I was a cat. I remember sitting in my grandpa’s home mechanic shop with a litter of wild kittens in my lap while mama lounged in a sliver of sunlight a few feet away assessing my worth to her. The mamas would leave me with babysitting duty once they deemed me fit for the job and I’d spend hours with a wriggling mass of kittens until she returned with a fat mouse to eat at the mouth of the shop and then come to gather her little ones and secrete them back into the corner nest she’d built amidst engine parts and boxes of who knows what. Outbuildings tend to collect a lot of things that simply become part of an indoor landscape.

I loved visiting friends and family’s homes and again made it a personal mission to befriend their cat, preferably all of their cats. Inside, outside, it didn’t matter. You could find me where the cats were. There were times I’d be warned to the effect that “that big Tom is mean and hates everyone so stay clear of him,” and by the end of the visit said Tom was sprawled on my lap in the grass in the backyard getting his “kitten” on.

And so it continued through my teens and into adulthood. Of course by then I’d learned the social moirés that ignoring the host for the cats was bad, but chances were there was a cat on my lap during our visit.

Currently we share our home with six kitties inside, and one outside. Joy came into our life about six years ago in the middle of the worst winter we’d had in years. We don’t know her backstory. She has a feral ear clip and had been spayed though it was fairy fresh when we noticed a small black cat in one of the loafing sheds. Upon further investigation I discovered she was making a culvert by the road her safe zone. I started taking food out to her and waited patiently as she developed trust and I learned her language. By the end of winter I’d gotten her to move to the hay shed and had set up an insulated box for her. Over the next year we worked on moving to the back patio and she was starting to brush against my leg when my back was turned.

Cats of Cats Paw Farm-Joy
Joy
Cats of Cats Paw Farm-Joy
Bubba

Joy still has the original insulated box, though now it is built into a heavy wooden frame with a balcony on the top with a squishy kitty bed. She greets me every morning and has even been inside the house to get to know the rest of the pride though she does not want to stay in. She blesses me freely with rubs, and headbutts my hand when I put her food dish down in the morning. She only allows me to pet her back, from shoulder to tail. No touching her head, and no reaching out towards her, petting is allowed if she initiates them. I imagine that hands reaching toward her probably triggers memories of the feral vet trip from before she found us.

Her besties inside are Bling and Bubba. These two are brother and sister Tabbies that have been with us for nine years. Their mama was a barn stray who happened into a pretty cushy life with a friend in another county. We met them when their eyes were still closed and have had them since they were weaned. They do not know a stranger and demand attention from everyone who walks through our doors. Both of them drool, and both of them want to sleep under the covers. They are large and in charge and think they are still kittens. We can’t have a holiday tree because Bubba climbs them and when a 22 pound cat tries to climb a six foot tree it doesn’t stay upright, even when bungee corded to a table!

Cats of Cats Paw Farm-Joy
Bling

Yoda and Rosie are brothers who are as opposite as can be. Both are long haired Gingers, Rosie is polydactyl with nearly double paws (7 toes on each front foot) while Yoda has no extra toes. They are six years old this year. Rosie runs and hides under the covers of our bed if he even thinks someone is coming to the house while Yoda runs to the front door with Bubba and Bling.

Cats of Cats Paw Farm-Yoda
Yoda
Cats of Cats Paw Farm-Rosie
Rosie

Our babies are now five! Rosalie and Juliette were named for characters on Grimm. They are long haired black and orange calico and both are polydactyl. These two girlies are also polar opposites in size (Julie is very svelt and Rosalie is an Amazon) and temperament. They both hide inside chairs when people come to the house, so it makes it a little awkward to have to tell those who don’t know about them, “No, don’t sit in that chair! There’s a kitty inside of it.” Julie will eventually come out though and as her fur is amazingly silky she immediately becomes the darling of the visit. Her personality is soft and loving, even though she has vampire-fangs. Rosalie on the other hand…well, she is the reason we now take all of the polys to the vet for nail clips. She channels her inner warrior princess and will pretty much try to take your face off when she sees nail clippers. The vet doesn’t believe us and makes a point of telling us what a good girl she is – there.

Cats of Cats Paw Farm-Juliette
Juliette
Rosalie

I’ve shared my life with a multitude of furry friends. There are so many more who have touched me in ways I never dreamed any living being could touch another. Each one who is missing from the family still weighs heavily on my heart. The cats we share our lives with are so much more than simply cats to me.

Oh! So why Cats Paw Farm then? I get a lot of people stopping by that think we’re a pet store, so here’s the story…when I left my job to manage the farm and take my formulations into full blown business mode it took a leap of faith. A big one. Cats are fabled to land on their feet and so Cats Paw Farm felt very appropriate.

Hey if you’re still reading, thanks for hanging out and enjoying a cup of coffee and a kitty story with me this morning (or whatever time it is for you)! I’d love to hear about your kitties, too so feel free to leave me a comment.

Hey – Hi – Hello!

I have a shirt that says that and I just feel so amazingly cheery when I wear it. People see it a lot at vendor events because of that. It feels like the right tone for my first post...

I’m R’Chel. My husband Cole and I run a small farm. Cats Paw Farm. I left a ridiculously well paying job in healthcare to come manage our little farm and go back to doing what I’m passionate about: helping people one on one with solutions to skin care, hair care, natural remedies and more.

I spent a lot of years letting corporations make money off my knowledge, and they still did it with ingredients and procedures I just couldn’t ethically continue to support. So here I am, in my little corner of the world, on my little farm, with about 45 years of knowledge and experience and a little store on the property that I share all of my products through.

Why this blog and why this blog now? It’s been my intention for years to blog about the farm, and products, and life. Our website has a built in blog and it’s very cumbersome. It became a chore I simply ignored instead of a creative outlet I was excited to share through. I have another WP blog (My Inky Paws) and my husband has one also (Goats Ate My Book) and we discovered that the WP setup is really intuitive, so I spent this morning setting up this one then interfacing it back to the Cats Paw Farm online store. And so here I am.

I’ve never been one to keep a personal journal. The things I want to share shouldn’t be kept in a closed book anyhow. I already know my own thoughts and stories so to keep them in a book hasn’t ever really appealed to me. Plus, I learned a lot of things from grandparents that are still relevant, perhaps more so now even than they were when they were the only way to do things. Those are the things I want to share. Then there is the simple fact that I don’t get to spend much time with people in a social setting any longer. Extroverted introvert is a thing. I love being social. I just need to recharge when I am. The farm and my creations give me the perfect backdrop for the recharge. Big box social media is practically a necessity anymore, but it’s noisy there. This feels like sitting down one on one with a friend (whether I know you or not really isn’t the point) and just having a heart to heart or expressing my day. I already feel the difference in tone between what is posted there vs what is here in the blogscape.

I tend to free associate, and take side trips when I think, write, and especially when I chat. There’s not enough time on other social platforms for that. Everything needs to be concise and abridged. So I promise I’ll get back to the main topic of the post here, but I may take a few asides (they’ll be fun) while I’m getting there!

Our farm was established as a property that my husband and I could have our horses on. The horses are with 4-H kids now so that they can become their best equine selves, and I built a store in their pasture which is my primary retail outlet for all of the Cats Paw Farm products I create here. There are about 800 of them:

Haircare
Skincare
Mama/Baby care
Men’s Skincare
Lotion & Lip Balm
Bath Products
Plantcrafted Remedies
Handcrafted Goat Milk Soap in over 250 varieties
Jewelry
Hand Knits
Pygora Spinning Fiber
Hand Dyed Yarn
Handcrafted Journals
Herbal Tea/Tisanes & Accessories
Gourmet Mustard
Shrub Syrup Concentrates
Jams & Fruit Butters
Raw Local Honey
Jars & Bottles
Fresh Farm Eggs (Chicken, Duck, Turkey, Goose)
Meat Chickens
Meat Turkeys
Succulents

to list a few…..

My days are long. My days are varied. Oftentimes what I think I’m doing today gets superceded for a completely different task. It’s all about juggling priorities and serving the animals and gardens. Things are crazy. Things get weird. They’re often dirty and sometimes downright disgusting. And, at the end of the day they’re rewarding, and satisfying, and beautiful.

Welcome to Cats Paw Farm…I hope you’ll pull up a chair and settle in to join us.