You have probably heard the term Pap test and know that you should be getting it regularly. Pap tests are important because they allow us to detect abnormalities in the uterine cervix before they turn into cancer. Thus, Pap tests have saved millions of women’s lives for more than 70 years now.

Nevertheless, as valuable as this test has been for so many years, new technology has come to improve even further our ability to find pre-cancer or early cancer of the cervix. This novel exam is called the HPV test.

In this article you will find all the information you need to know regarding this new technique, which is becoming a routine exam in most countries.


  • Cervical cancer is the second-most-common cancer affecting women worldwide. It is a type of cancer that can easily be prevented, as its cause is known: the human papillomavirus (HPV, read more here).
  • Not all types of HPV are responsible for the development of cancer of the uterine cervix. Approximately 15 types of HPV are related to cancer, these are known as high-risk types or oncogenic viruses.
  • While most HPV infections resolve without treatment, infections with high-risk HPV strains that persist over time can cause precancerous changes in the cervix.
  • Precancerous conditions are not cancer, but if these abnormal changes are not treated, they may become cervical cancer. It may take 10 years or more for precancerous conditions to turn into cancer, but eventually this happens within a shorter time period.
  • Pre-cancer lesions of the cervix do not cause any symptoms. Symptoms only appear in advanced cancer. That is why all healthy women should undergo preventive exams.
  • The mainstay of cervical cancer screening for the last 70 years has been the Pap test (also called Pap smear or Test Papanicolaou). During the procedure, cells from the cervix are gently scraped away with a brush and then examined for abnormal growth, usually called cervical dysplasia,  CIN (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia), or SIL (squamous intraepithelial lesions).
  • More recently, newer technologies have become available to test for the cancer-causing types of HPV and determine if you may be at risk. This test is called the HPV test.

What is the HPV test?

  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) test detects the presence of the types of HPV virus that can lead to the development of cervical cancer.
  • The HPV test is available only to women. Although men can be infected with HPV and pass the virus along to their sex partners, no HPV test yet exists to detect the virus in men.

Why test for HPV?

  • The Pap test is a simple test that has saved uncountable women lives. However, it is not 100% accurate. The Pap test detects certain cervical abnormalities that will never progress to cancer; on the other hand, it may miss abnormal cells even when they are there.
  • Thus, knowing whether you have a type of HPV that puts you at high risk of cervical cancer will provide valuable information on the next steps in your health care, such as follow-up monitoring, further testing, or treatment of precancerous cells.
  • Recent studies have shown that HPV testing is more effective than Pap smears at detecting precancerous lesions.
  • A Pap test plus an HPV test (called co-testing) is the most effective way to find pre-cancer or early cervical cancer in women 30 and older.

Who should do the HPV test?

The HPV test is recommended if:

  • You are age 30 or older. The HPV test may be done alone or in combination with a Pap smear.
  • Your Pap test showed atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS). ASCUS is a common finding in a Pap test; it may be a sign of HPV infection, although many times it is just related to benign cervical polyps, a bacterial infection, or low hormone levels (menopause).
  • You had a surgical removal of a precancerous lesions, usually 6 months after the treatment. This is called “test of cure”.

Although recommendations vary in different countries, all women aged 30 to 65 years old should have the HPV test every 3 to 5 years.

Routine use of the HPV test in women under age 30 is not recommended, nor is it very helpful. HPV spreads through sexual contact and is very common in young women. Most of the times, HPV infections clear on their own within a year or two. Since cervical changes that lead to cancer take several years — often 10 years or more, younger women are usually advised to follow a watchful waiting instead of undergoing treatment for cervical changes resulting from an HPV infection.

What are the risks of HPV testing?

Although the HPV test is very accurate, it carries (like any other test) the risk of false-positive or false-negative results.

• False-positive. This means that the test showed a high-risk HPV when you really don’t have it. A false-positive result could lead to an unnecessary follow-up procedure, such as colposcopy or biopsy, and undue anxiety over the test results.

• False-negative. A false-negative test result means you really do have an HPV infection, but the test indicates that you don’t. This might cause a delay in appropriate follow-up tests or procedures.

How should I prepare for an HPV test?

The HPV test is usually done at the same time as the Pap test. You can take these measures to make both tests as accurate as possible:

  • Avoid intercourse, douching, or using any vaginal medicines or spermicidal foams, creams or jellies for two days before the test.
  • Try not to schedule the test during your menstrual period. The test can be done, but a better sample of cells can be collected at another time in your cycle.

How is the HPV test done?

  • The HPV test, alone or in combination with the Pap test, is performed at the doctor’s office and takes only a few minutes.
  • While you lie on your back with your knees bent, your doctor will gently insert an instrument called a speculum into the vagina.
  • The speculum allows the visualisation of the cervix. Samples of the cervical cells are taken using a soft brush.
  • Usually this doesn’t hurt, sometimes it may cause a mild discomfort.
  • After the procedure, you can do your normal daily activities without any restrictions.
  • Ask your doctor about when you can expect to receive your test results.

What do the results mean?

Results from your HPV test will come back as either positive or negative.

  • Positive HPV test. This means that you have a type of high-risk HPV that is linked to cervical cancer. While most women who are infected with HPV will never develop cervical cancer, it’s a warning sign that cervical cancer could develop in the future.
  • Negative HPV test. A negative test result means that you don’t have any of the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer, and you will continue with normal monitoring.

Depending on your test results, your doctor may recommend one of the following as a next step:

  • Normal monitoring. If you’re over age 30, your HPV test is negative and your Pap test is normal, you will follow the generally recommended schedule (differences apply for each country).
  • Colposcopy. In this follow-up procedure, your doctor uses a special magnifying lens (colposcope) to more closely examine your cervix.
  • Biopsy. Done in conjunction with colposcopy, a sample of cervical cells (biopsy) is taken to be examined more closely under a microscope.
  • Removal of abnormal cervical cells. To prevent abnormal cells from developing into cancerous cells, your doctor may suggest a procedure to remove the areas of tissue that contain the abnormal cells.

The bottom line…

It is true that a visit to the gynaecologist may sound frightening. You may be too busy, and feel that you don’t have the time. You may believe that you are not at risk for cancer. While all this may be true, you should know that every sexually active woman is at risk for cervical cancer, the HPV test is a simple, painless test that takes 5 minutes to be done, and will prevent some serious issues in the long run. Have your HPV test! Five minutes of your time can save your life!


  1. The HPV DNA test – American Cancer Society
  2. Gynecological Cancers – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  3. Cervical Cancer Screening: Pap and HPV tests – National Cervical Cancer Coalition
  4. Cervical Screening – National Health System UK

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Η Ημέρα της Γυναίκας πέρασε, αλλά κάθε μέρα είναι μια καλή ευκαιρία να γιορτάσουμε ότι είμαστε γυναίκες! Και τι θα μπορούσε να είναι καλύτερο από το να δούμε μερικές καλές ταινίες;

Για αυτό το post επέλεξα 10 ταινίες βασισμένες σε αληθινά γεγονότα, οι οποίες μιλάνε για γυναίκες που κατάφεραν να κάνουν κάτι ξεχωριστό… Είναι όλες τους πηγή έμπνευσης και μας υπενθυμίζουν ότι, για μια γυναίκα, τίποτα δεν είναι αδύνατο!


Το να είσαι γυναίκα ποτέ δεν ήταν εύκολο. Φανταστείτε όμως να είσαι μια έγχρωμη γυναίκα εργαζόμενη στη NASA το 1961! Η ταινία Αφανείς Ηρωίδες αφηγείται την ιστορία τριών Αφροαμερικανίδων, των Κάθριν Τζόνσον, Ντόροθι Βον και Μαίρη Τζάκσον, ευφυέστατες επιστήμονες που κατάφεραν να ξεπεράσουν όλα τα εμπόδια και τις προκαταλήψεις εκείνης της εποχής και συνέβαλαν, με τα λαμπρά τους μυαλά, στην επιτυχία του διαστημικού προγράμματος των ΗΠΑ.

Το φιλμ είναι ένα εξαιρετικό αφιέρωμα σε τρεις “ανθρώπινους υπολογιστές”, όπως τους αποκαλούσαν τότε, με πολύ καλές ερμηνείες των Ταράτζι Π. Χένσον, Οκτάβια Σπένσερ και Τζανέλ Μόνα.

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Η ταινία αφηγείται την ιστορία της Μαρίας Άλτμαν, Εβραίας από την Βιέννη που εκπατρίστηκε στις ΗΠΑ τον Β’ Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο, η οποία είχε το θάρρος να κάνει κάτι που φαινόταν αδύνατο: διεκδίκησε από την αυστριακή κυβέρνηση έναν πίνακα ζωγραφικής, πορτραίτο της θείας της, που είχε κλαπεί από τους Ναζί. Ο πίνακας όμως δεν ήταν κάποιο ασήμαντο έργο τέχνης: ήταν το Πορτραίτο της Αντέλε Μπλοχ-Μπάουερ Ι, του περίφημου ζωγράφου Γκούσταφ Κλιμτ, που εθεωρείτο “Η Μονα Λίζα της Αυστρίας”.

Μου άρεσε πολύ η Γυναίκα από χρυσό επειδή είναι διασκεδαστική αλλά και ταυτόχρονα έντονα συναισθηματική. Η Helen Mirren είναι εξαιρετική στο ρόλο της Μαρίας Άλτμαν, και ο Ryan Reynolds είναι πολύ καλός ως ο νεαρός δικηγόρος της, Randy Schoenberg.

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3) JACKIE, 2016

Με το άψογο στυλ και την κομψότητα της, η Ζακλίν Κένεντι Ωνάση είναι αναμφισβήτητα μια από της πιο δημοφιλείς Πρώτες Κυρίες που έχουν περάσει από το Λευκό Οίκο της Αμερικής. Αλλά θα ήταν άδικο να την θυμόμαστε μόνο ως ένα fashion icon: η συμβολή της Jackie στις τέχνες και στη διατήρηση της ιστορικής αμερικάνικης αρχιτεκτονικής, η παρουσία της κατά τη διάρκεια της πολιτικής ζωής -και του θανάτου- του John F. Kennedy έπαιξαν καθοριστικό ρόλο στη δημιουργία ενός μύθου που εξακολουθεί να υφίσταται ακόμη και σήμερα.

Η ταινία του Pablo Larrain επικεντρώνεται στις μέρες που ακολούθησαν τη δολοφονία του JFK και παρουσιάζει ένα ενδιαφέρον ψυχολογικό πορτρέτο της Jackie, η οποία, όσο θρηνεί, οργανώνει την μεγαλοπρεπή κηδεία του συζύγου της. Η Natalie Portman είναι καταπληκτική στο ρόλο της Jackie Kennedy.

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Η Έριν Μπρόκοβιτς ήταν μία άνεργη, ανύπαντρη μητέρα η οποία βρίσκει επιτέλους δουλειά σαν υπάλληλο σε ένα δικηγορικό γραφείο. Η Erin αρχίζει να διερευνά την ύποπτη περίπτωση μιας ενεργειακής εταιρείας, της Pacific Gas and Electric Company, η οποία κατηγορείται ότι δηλητηριάζει την ύδρευση μιας πόλης και προκαλεί προβλήματα υγείας στους κατοίκους της. Μετά από πολύ ψάξιμο, αποφασίζει να φέρει την υπόθεση στα δικαστήρια, η οποία θα γίνει μία από τις μεγαλύτερες δίκες στην αμερικανική ιστορία ενάντια σε μια πολυ-δισεκατομμυρίων δολαρίων εταιρεία.

Ο Στίβεν Σόντερμπεργκ σκηνοθέτησε την ταινία με πρωταγωνίστρια την Τζούλια Ρόμπερτς ως Erin Brockovich. Το φιλμ έλαβε διθυραμβικές κριτικές και κέρδισε πολλά βραβεία.

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Η ταινία βασίζεται στην αληθινή ιστορία της Λι Αν Τουόχι, μια συμπονετική γυναίκα που αναλαμβάνει τη φροντίδα ενός αστέγου εφήβου, του Μάικλ Όχερ. Η Λι Αν όχι μόνο θα τον κάνει μέλος της οικογένειάς της, αλλά, όταν αυτός εκφράζει το ενδιαφέρον του για το ποδόσφαιρο, θα κάνει ότι περνάει από το χέρι της να τον βοηθήσει να πετύχει. Και τα καταφέρνει! Ο Michael Oher γίνεται ένας διάσημος ποδοσφαιριστής, ο οποίος έχει παίξει για αρκετές ομάδες της Εθνικής Ομοσπονδίας Αμερικανικού Ποδοσφαίρου (NFL) των Ηνωμένων Πολιτειών.

Στην ταινία παίζει η Σάντρα Μπούλοκ, η οποία κέρδισε ένα Όσκαρ για την ερμηνεία της ως Λι Αν Τουόχι.

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Η Μάργκαρετ Θάτσερ ήταν η πρώτη γυναίκα που έγινε πρωθυπουργός της Μεγάλης Βρετανίας. “Η Σιδηρά Κυρία” όπως την αποκαλούσαν λόγω της αδιάλλακτης πολιτικής της και του ισχυρού της χαρακτήρα, κατάφερε να γίνει ο μακροβιότερος Βρετανός πρωθυπουργός του 20ού αιώνα. Και παρότι αμφιλεγόμενη, θεωρείται σήμερα ένας από τους μεγαλύτερους πολιτικούς στην ιστορία του Ηνωμένου βασιλείου.

Η ταινία, αν και ενδιαφέρουσα, δεν κατάφερε να εντυπωσιάσει ούτε τους κριτικούς, ούτε το ευρύ κοινό. Αντιθέτως, η ερμηνεία της Μέριλ Στριπ  στο ρόλο της Θάτσερ είναι εντυπωσιακή, ίσως μια από τις καλύτερες της καριέρας της.

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Η ταινία αυτή βασίζεται στην ιστορία της Ντάιαν Φόσεϊ, μιας Αμερικανίδας ζωολόγου η οποία αφιέρωσε τη ζωή της στη μελέτη των γοριλών. Αφού εγκαταστάθηκε στην Αφρική, η Φόσεϊ αφοσιώθηκε στην μελέτη του ορεινό γορίλα, ένα είδος που βρισκόταν υπό εξαφάνιση, και αφού κέρδισε την εμπιστοσύνη των γοριλών, ανέπτυξε ακόμα και μέσο επικοινωνίας μαζί τους. Επιπλέον, η Φόσεϊ πάλεψε ενεργά ενάντια στη λαθροθηρία, βοήθησε στη διατήρηση του φυσικού περιβάλλοντος των γοριλών και συνέβαλε στη διάσωση τους από την εξαφάνιση.

Η “Γορίλες στην Ομίχλη” βραβεύτηκε με 5 Όσκαρ, μεταξύ των οποίων και για την ενσάρκωση της Ντάιαν Φόσεϊ από τη εξαιρετική Σιγκούρνεϊ Γουίβερ.

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Η Εντίτ Πιάφ, με τις διαχρονικές της μελωδίες και τη μοναδική της φωνή, θεωρείται όχι μόνο η εθνική τραγουδίστρια  της Γαλλίας, αλλά και ένας από τους μεγαλύτερους καλλιτέχνες του 20ού αιώνα (διαβάστε περισσότερα εδώ).

Σε αυτή την αυτοβιογραφική ταινία (La Môme σημαίνει Το σπουργίτακι) ξεδιπλώνεται η ζωή της θρυλικής Πιάφ, μια ζωή γεμάτη δόξα, επιτυχία, αλλά και πόνο και ερωτική απογοήτευση. Η Μαριόν Κοτιγιάρ είναι μαγευτική ως Piaf, ρόλο για τον οποίο κέρδισε ένα Όσκαρ.

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9) EVITA, 1996

Αναμφισβήτητα η πιο λατρεμένη – αλλά και η πιο μισητή -γυναίκα στην ιστορία της Αργεντινής, η Eva Duarte de Perón (γνωστή και ως “Εβίτα”) έχει γίνει ένας θρύλος που ξεπέρασε τα σύνορα της πατρίδας της. Παρότι προερχόμενη από ένα χαμηλό κοινωνικό περιβάλλον, η Εβίτα παντρεύεται τον Χουάν Ντομίνγκο Περόν και γίνεται η Πρώτη Κυρία της Αργεντινής μέχρι το θάνατό της από καρκίνο σε ηλικία 33 ετών. Η τεράστια πολιτική της επιρροή της και το συνεχές φιλανθρωπικό της έργο καταπλήσσουν την εργατική τάξη, αλλά εξαγριώνουν τις στρατιωτικές και ανώτερες τάξεις. Παρότι άκρως αμφιλεγόμενη, η Εβίτα ήταν, αναμφίβολα, ένθερμη υποστηρίκτρια των δικαιωμάτων των γυναικών: ξεκίνησε εκστρατεία για το δικαίωμα ψήφου των γυναικών της Αργεντινής και ίδρυσε το πρώτο γυναικείο πολιτικό κόμμα.

Αυτή η ταινία είναι η μεταφορά στην μεγάλη οθόνη του επιτυχημένου μιούζικαλ του Andrew Lloyd Weber και Tim Rice “Evita”.  Πρωταγωνιστεί η Μαντόνα ως Εβίτα Περόν και περιλαμβάνει το εμβληματικό τραγούδι “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.

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Η Γαλλίδα couturière Κοκό Σανέλ θεωρείται ένας από τους πιο καινοτόμους σχεδιαστές μόδας και ένας από τους πιο σημαντικούς ανθρώπους του 20ου αιώνα. Η ιδέες της ήταν επαναστατικές, καθώς απελευθέρωσε τις γυναίκες από τα πολύπλοκα φορέματα με κορσέ που υπαγόρευε η μόδα εκείνης της εποχής και έκανε δημοφιλές ένα πιο σπορ, casual στυλ. Οι διαχρονικές της δημιουργίες παραμένουν επίκαιρες ακόμα και σήμερα: τα εμβληματικά της ταγέρ, το μικρό μαύρο φόρεμα, η καπιτονέ τσάντα, και το εικονική άρωμα Chanel Νο. 5 την έχουν καθιερώσει ως “σύμβολο της γαλλικής κομψότητας”.

Η ταινία εστιάζει στη ζωή της Coco Chanel πριν γίνει διάσημη ως σχεδιάστρια μόδας. Ο ρόλος της Chanel ερμηνεύει θαυμάσια η Γαλλίδα ηθοποιός Audrey Tautou.

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Ποια είναι η αγαπημένη σας ταινία; Θα προσθέσατε κάποια άλλη ταινία σε αυτή τη λίστα;



The International Women’s Day is over, but every day is a good opportunity to celebrate being a woman! And what could be better than watching a few inspiring movies?
For this post I chose 10 true story films about extraordinary women who were able to make a difference… They are all a source of inspiration and remind us that, for a woman, nothing is impossible!


Being a woman has never been easy. Imagine being a colored woman working at NASA in 1961! Hidden Figures tells the story of three bold African-American women, Katherine JohnsonDorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, outstanding mathematicians who surpassed race, gender and professional barriers and helped, with their bright minds, to achieve what has never been accomplished before by the human race, during the early years of USA’s space program.

This is powerful, awe-inspiring tribute to three “human computers”, as they were called at that time, played beautifully by Taraji P. Henson,  Octavia Spencer and  Janelle Monáe.

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2) WOMAN IN GOLD, 2015

This film tells the story of Maria Altmann, a courageous Jewish woman living in the USA, who had the strength to do what seemed impossible: she took to court the government of Austria, reclaiming a painting that had been stolen from her family by the Nazis. But this was not “any” painting: it was Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, considered at the time “the Mona Lisa of Austria”.

I loved Woman in Gold, it’s entertaining without never losing its emotional weight. Helen Mirren delivers an  exceptional performance as Maria Altmann, Ryan Reynolds is also great as her young lawyer, Randy Schoenberg.

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3) JACKIE, 2016

Remembered for her impeccable style and elegance, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is arguably one of America’s most popular First Ladies. But it would be unfair to think of her just as a fashion icon: Jackie’s contribution to the arts and preservation of historic architecture, her presence during John F. Kennedy’s political life -and death- were instrumental in creating a myth that persists nowadays.

Pablo Larrain’s film focuses on the days right after JFK’s assassination and presents a careful psychological portrait of Jackie, following her while she grieves, comforts her children and organizes her husband’s grandiose funeral. Natalie Portman is amazing in the role of Jackie Kennedy.

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She was an unemployed, single mother who finally takes a job as a legal assistant. But when Erin Brockovich starts investigating the suspicious case of energy corporation Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), accused of polluting a city’s water supply, she would involve her law firm in one of the biggest class action lawsuits in American history against a multi-billion dollar corporation.

Steven Soderbergh directed the film starring Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich; the film was critically acclaimed and received numerous awards.

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The film is based on the true story of Leigh Anne Tuohy, a caring woman who takes in a homeless teenage African-American, Michael Oher. Leigh Anne not only treats him like another member of her family but, when he expresses his interest in football, she does everything in her power to help him succeed. And she makes it: Michael Oher becomes a renowned football player, who has been playing for several teams of the US National Football League.

The movie features Sandra Bullock, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Tuohy.

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6) THE IRON LADY, 2011

Margaret Thatcher was the first woman to become Prime Minister of Great Britain. Dubbed The Iron Lady due to her uncompromising politics and strong character, she managed to become the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century. In spite of being a highly controversial personality, she has been retrospectively described as one of the greatest politicians in British history.

The film, although interesting, did not impress the critics; nevertheless, Meryl Streep performance as Margaret Thatcher is outstanding, maybe one of her career’s finest.

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This movie is based on the story of Dian Fossey a naturalist who devoted her life to the study of primates. Travelling into deepest Africa, she becomes fascinated with rare mountain gorillas of the Rwandan jungle, and through close study, she developed a means of communicating with them. Moreover, she fought fiercely against poaching, helped preserve the gorilla’s natural habitat and was instrumental in saving them from extinction.

Gorillas in the mist was critically acclaimed, as well as Sigourney Weaver’s impersonation of Dian Fossey.

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Édith Piaf is widely regarded not only as France’s national chanteuse, but also as one of the greatest performers of the 20th century. Her timeless music and unique voice are, till today, continuously celebrated (read more here).

This autobiographical film (in French La môme -The little sparrow) depicts wonderfully her great success as well as her tormented personal life. Marion Cotillard is magnificent as Piaf, a role that granted her international fame.

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9) EVITA, 1996

Arguably the most worshiped -and most hated- woman in Argentina’s history, Eva Duarte de Perón (affectionally named “Evita”) has certainly become a legend that transcended the country’s borders. Although rising from a low social environment, she marries Juan Domingo Perón and becomes the First Lady of Argentina until her death from cancer at 33 years old. Her huge political influence and constant charity works dazzled the working class but infuriated the military and upper classes. In spite of the controversy surrounding her, Evita was, undoubtedly, a fervent advocate of women’s rights: she campaigned for Argentine women’s right to vote and founded the first female political party.

This movie is a version of the successful musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim RiceEvita”; it features Madonna as Evita Perón and includes the iconic song “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.

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French couturière Coco Chanel is regarded as one of the most innovative fashion designers and one of the most influential people of the 20th century. Her ideas were revolutionary, as she liberated women from the corset dresses that fashion dictated at that time and made popular a more sporty, casual style. Her timeless creations remain popular still today: the trademark suits and little black dress, her beloved leather bags and the iconic parfum Chanel No. 5 transformed her in “a symbol of French elegance”.

This film focuses on Coco Chanel’s life before becoming famous as a fashion designer. The role of Chanel is played wonderfully by French actress Audrey Tautou.

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What is your favorite film? Would you add any other to this list?


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A recent study came -again- to incriminate certain environmental toxins known as phthalates as being responsible for pregnancy losses. Women undergoing assisted reproduction techniques (in-vitro fertilization or intra-uterine insemination) had urine exams to assess the presence of certain phthalates; it became evident that women with high levels of phthalates had up to three times increased risk of pregnancy loss. The study was recently presented at the Annual Meeting of American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).

For several years now we have been hearing about the toxic effects of phthalates, but what are they exactly? Where do we find them? Are they really harmful? Check out this article to learn more about these enigmatic toxins…

What are Phthalates?

Phthalates are chemicals used to soften plastics and make them more flexible (they are also known as plasticizers). These substances do not bound to plastics, therefore they are continuously released into the air, foods or liquids. Certain phthalates are used as dissolving agents for other materials.

Where do we find them?

Phthalates are used in an astounding array of products. They are most commonly found in:

  • Plastic bottles.Phthalates plastic bottles
  • Plastic containers and plastic wraps.
  • Cosmetics: in creams and lotions (to help them penetrate and soften the skin), in perfumes (to help them last longer), in hair sprays (to reduce stiffness), in nail polish (to prevent chipping), in deodorants, soaps, shampoos and almost every cosmetic with fragrance, including baby products.
  • Household products: air fresheners, paints, plastic flooring.
  • Plastic toys and other baby products such as teethers.
  • Certain medical devices, e.g., blood bags, intubation tubes, intravenous catheters.
  • Objects made of vinyl or PVC.
  • Phthalates are present even in seemingly unexpected sources. One example is milk: even in glass bottles, high levels of phthalates have been found, presumedly due to the plastic tubing used in milking machines.

We get exposed to phthalates by:

  • Ingestion: eating food contaminated from food packaging; drinking beverages from plastic bottles that leach the chemical; sucking plastic objects (e.g., baby toys, teethers).
  • Absortion: using cosmetics products. According to the CDC, women of childbearing age have the highest levels of phthalates, possibly due to the use of cosmetics.
  • Inhalation: breathing dust or fumes from products containing vinyl (vinyl floors, the interior of cars, shower curtains, etc).

Which are the most commonly used phthalates?

Phthalates perfumeThese chemicals have very difficult names, but there are a few you may want to keep in mind (see the studies below):

-In cosmetics: the primary phthalates used in cosmetic products have been dibutylphthalate (DBP), used in nail polishes; dimethylphthalate (DMP), used in hair sprays; and diethylphthalate (DEP), used as a solvent and fixative in fragrances. According to latest survey of cosmetics conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010, DBP and DMP are being used rarely, while DEP is the most commonly used phthalate. The use of DBP and DEHP is banned in the European Union  but they are still found in cosmetic products.

-In food packaging: the most commonly used is Di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP). Bisphenol-A (BPA) is not a phthalate, but is also being used as plasticizer in food packaging and plastic bottles.

-In paints, plastic and PVC objects, solvents and adhesives: DEHP, Diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP) and DBP (also called DnBP).

-In children toys and child care products: In the USA, phthalates used in these products have been divided in three categories:Phthalates toy ducks

  1. permanent ban (permanently prohibits the sale of any “children’s toy or child care article” individually containing concentrations of more than 0.1% of DBP, BBP or DEHP);
  2. interim ban (prohibits on an interim basis the sale of “any children’s toy that can be placed in a child’s mouth” or “child care article” containing concentrations of more than 0.1% of DNOP, DINP, or DIDP); and
  3. currently unrestricted under Section 108 of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (DMP, DEP, DIBP, DCHP, DIHEPP, DIOP, DPHP).

Similar recommendations apply in Europe, where the six above-mentioned products are banned.

What is the evidence linking phthalates to pregnancy losses?

In addition to the recent American study (where they measured metabolites of DEHP), two previous studies had found a relationship between phthalates and miscarriages:

In 2012, a Danish study  found an increased risk of early pregnancy loss in women with high urine levels of DEHP‘s breakdown products. More recently, a Chinese study, comparing urine samples of women who had miscarriages and healthy women found that pregnancy loss was associated with higher levels or three phthalates: DEP, DBP, and di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP).

Another American study also found and increased risk of miscarriages in women with high levels of BPA.

Eliminating phthalates and BPA from our lives is virtually impossible, but you can take some measures to minimize exposure, especially if you are trying to conceive, are pregnant or have young children”

Are there any other health risks?

Phthalates are widely known as endocrine disruptors: they mimic hormones, interfering with their function. Some possible consequences of this are:

Effect on male fertility: phthalate exposure in men was associated with reduced fecundity.

Birth defects in baby boys: several studies have found abnormalities in baby boys’ genitals when pregnant women were exposed to high levels of certain phthalates; another study found increased risk of hypospadias (the opening of the urethra is on the underside of the penis) in occupational exposure of pregnant women.

Neurological problems in newborns, infants and children: such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), reduced IQ, behaviour problems.

Obesity: both in children and adults.

Asthma: in children when pregnant women were exposed to high level of phthalates.

Interference with puberty in girls: the evidence is inconsistent on this subject; while some studies found that phthalates may be related with precocious puberty, others reported delayed puberty.

Breast cancer: a small study showed increased breast cancer risk, but the evidence is not conclusive; there is a large study being conducted in the USA, which will provide more clear answers on this matter.

What can I do to reduce exposure to phthalates?

Phthalates glass food containersEliminating phthalates and BPA from our lives is virtually impossible -they seem to be everywhere- but you can take some measures to minimize exposure, especially if you are trying to conceive, are pregnant or have young children:

  1. Read labels on personal care products. Unfortunately, manufacturers are not forced to list phthalates, and  they can be added as a part of the “fragrance.” Many companies have voluntarily removed phthalates from their products, so you may search for products labelled as “phthalate-free”.
  2. Limit the use of baby care products in babies and young children.
  3. Don’t microwave food in plastic, or use only “microwave safe” and phthalate-free containers to microwave food or drinks. Phthalates can leach from containers (or plastic wrap) into foods on contact and when heated, particularly oily foods or with a high fat content. Don’t put plastic containers in the dishwasher (heat will increase phthalates leaching).
  4. Replace plastic bottles, cups, dishes and food containers with those made of glass, porcelain or stainless steel, especially for hot food and beverages.
  5. Check labels on plastic bottles and containers: choose only those with recycle codes 1, 2, 4, or 5. Plastics made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or high-density polyethylene (HDPE) are safer than those made of PVC (“PET” or “HDPE” may be printed on the label or the bottom of the bottle).
  6. Use only toys and toothbrushes labeled “phthalate- free”. There are strict regulations banning the most dangerous phthalates in toys and baby products, both in the USA and in Europe.
  7. Reduce your use of canned foods, as they are often lined with material that contains BPA. Prefer fresh products or those in glass containers. Avoid canned milk (including canned formula for babies).
  8. Phthalates baby bottlesChoose only bottles and cups that are BPA-free. In fact, BPA was banned in all baby products in 2011 in Europe, and since 2012 in the USA.
  9. When using paints or solvents, keeps the area well ventilated. Prefer natural paints, phthalate-free (DBP is the phthalate usually used in these products).
  10. Choose non-vinyl products, such as shower curtains, raincoats or furniture, as the chemical off-gassing from these products introduces phthalates to your environment.
  11. Keep your house clean, as phthalates can remain in dust.
  12. Avoid air fresheners; prefer essential oils instead.

Is anything being done?

Phthalates safe cosmeticsAs people are becoming more aware of the harmful effects of phthalates, increasing information is being available to consumers; websites such as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics have actively advocated the elimination of dangerous chemicals from cosmetics and personal care products. As a result, certain companies and retailers have been taking measures to reduce toxic substances in their products.

Initiatives are also being taken at governmental level. European authorities have restricted the use of phthalates in some baby products, cosmetics, and plastics designed to come into contact with food; more phthalates will be soon banned from medical equipment, electrical and electronic devices. Recently, a very extensive Report to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission by the Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel on Phthalates and Phthalates alternatives (CHAP) analyzed the available data on each phthalate and phthalates alternative and provided recommendations, which will hopefully lead to banning certain phthalates that proved to be toxic.


Photo credits

Getty Images; Reciclado creativo, Flickr.com; Etienne, Flickr.com; Pixabay.com; Target.com; Alicia Voorhies, Flickr.comjillsamter.com