Chemicals in Cosmetics, Other Products Tied to Early Puberty in Girls

It has become increasingly clear in recent years that exposure to numerous chemicals used in our daily lives can have a significant impact on human development. One recent study shows that chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products such as soaps and shampoos may push early puberty in girls. [1]

The study suggests that prenatal exposure to these chemicals is primarily to blame.

Phthalates and other chemicals have been linked to early puberty in girls in past research. These substances are found in scented products like perfumes, soaps, and shampoos. Two categories of chemicals called parabens and phenols are often used as preservatives in cosmetics. Exposure to the products are believed to interfere with sex hormones and the timing of puberty, but few studies have explored this connection in children.

Chemicals linked to early puberty are ubiquitous, however. Even toothpaste and skin lotions contain potentially-dangerous ingredients.

Study author Kim Harley explained that these chemicals:

“…get into our bodies either by absorption through the skin, by being inhaled, or being ingested [like lipstick]. Once they are in the body, they are quickly metabolized and [then] excreted in urine.” [2]

According to Harley, associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the University of California, Berkeley, the chemicals have “been shown to mimic estrogen in certain laboratory conditions.”

Her research reveals that puberty will occur earlier and earlier with increased exposure. However, Harley and her associates did not find a link between prenatal exposure to these chemicals and early puberty in boys.

Read: Age 10 the “New Norm” for Puberty in Girls Thanks to Chemicals

“We were a little surprised that the associations were only with the girls and we didn’t see much with boys. But since these tend to be estrogenic chemicals, it makes sense that they might impact girls.”

Personal Care Products May Cause Personal Harm

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For the study, Harley’s team analyzed data collected in a study of pregnant women between 1999 and 2000. During their pregnancies, the women had their blood tested twice and they were interviewed to determine their level of exposures to the chemicals in question.

Nine in 10 of all urine samples collected from the pregnant women tested positive for phthalates, parabens, or phenols, though slightly fewer (7 in 10) women tested positive specifically for triclosan.

This could be because many cosmetic companies have voluntarily removed triclosan from their products, and because the chemical is now banned from antibacterial soaps and body washes, per a 2016 order by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The researchers tracked 338 of the women’s children through adolescence, collecting urine samples from them once they reached age 9. Then, the team tracked the onset of puberty in the kids between the ages of 9 and 13.

Some of the Findings

  • For every doubling of phthalate levels in an expectant mother’s blood, the development of her daughter’s pubic hair started 1.3 months earlier than usual.
  • When a mother’s triclosan levels doubled, her daughter’s first period started 1 month earlier than usual.
  • A doubling of paraben levels in girls was linked to the development of both her breasts and pubic hair 1 month earlier than usual.
  • Over 90% of the children’s urine samples showed concentrations of all of the chemicals in question, except triclosan.
  • Triclosan was found in 69% of the children’s urine samples.

But Harley said the findings don’t prove that chemical exposure causes early puberty in girls. [2]

“There is always the possibility that there were confounding factors that we were not able to control, or that our findings were due to chance.

That said, our findings are consistent with what we know about the endocrine-disrupting properties of these chemicals. So, although we are not ready to say that early life exposure to these chemicals causes earlier puberty in girls, we have enough evidence to be concerned.”

Read: Avoid These 5 Toxins for You and Your Child’s Health

One limitation of the study is that researchers weren’t able to tell if girls going through puberty might be more likely to use these personal care products, which could affect their personal exposure levels. [1]

Either way, exposure to these chemicals certainly isn’t a good thing, and in most cases, it’s easy to limit your exposure to these offending chemicals.

  • Harley said buyers should beware of toothpastes listing triclosan in their ingredients.
  • Furthermore, people should look for parabens, often listed as methyl paraben, or propyl paraben, on ingredient lists and avoid them, too.

It’s tougher to avoid diethyl phthalate, however, because it isn’t listed on labels and is often used in fragrances.

The study appears in the journal Human Reproduction.


[1] Reuters

[2] HealthDay

Adverse Effects from Personal Care Products Climb 300% in 2016

Reports of side effects caused by cosmetics and personal care products sold in the U.S. more than doubled in 2016, and that’s partly due to complaints about WEN by Chaz Dean Cleansing conditioners, according to recent study. [1]

Researchers looked at data on side effects reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 2004-2016 for products including makeup, sunscreen, tattoos, hair color, perfume, shaving creams, and baby care items. A total of 5,144 adverse events were reported to the agency during that time, with an average of 396 a year, the team writes in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Source: Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

Side effect reports skyrocketed from 78 to 706 in 2015, and there was a huge 300% spike to 1,591 adverse events in 2016, due in large part to complaints concerning WEN products.

In 2014, the FDA announced it was investigating WEN by Chaz Dean Cleansing Conditioners after receiving reports that the products cause hair loss, hair breakage, balding, itching, and rash. The agency had received 1,386 complaints as of November 2016. [2]

Read: 5 Toxic Ingredients Probably Found in Your Shampoo

Through that investigation, the health regulator discovered that Chaz Dean Inc. and parent company Guthy Renker LLC had been buried in more than 21,000 complaints. It didn’t matter, though; companies are not currently required by law to report complaints.

The FDA doesn’t regulate cosmetic products, and companies can launch products without the agency’s approval.

In an e-mail, the FDA said:

“The law does not require cosmetic companies to share their safety information, including consumer complaints, with the FDA. FDA’s data on cosmetic adverse events are limited because reporting is voluntary. The FDA may take regulatory action against cosmetics on the market that do not comply with the laws we enforce, if we have reliable information indicating that a cosmetic is adulterated or misbranded.”

If you wind up losing clumps of hair after using a particular product, complaining to the manufacturer may or may not get you results.

Read: 4 Solutions for Naturally Healthy Skin from the Inside-Out

Dr. Shuai Xu, a dermatology researcher at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said:

“Adverse events to cosmetics matter to patients mostly because nearly everyone uses a cosmetic or personal care product every single day – this includes newborns, infants and pregnant women. Unlike drugs and medical devices, cosmetics permeate daily life. We’re exposed to hundreds of chemicals a day from these products.”

Source: Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

And, he said, there are likely far more adverse events caused by cosmetics and personal care products than is represented by the findings.

“These numbers are likely underreported. We need better reporting, from both consumers and clinicians. Broadly, the hope of our paper was to continue this discussion to modernize and expand the collection of data about personal care products. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it, was our key point.”

Xu says most cosmetic and personal care products are safe, but it’s hard proving that the “bad” ones are truly unsafe.

“When it comes to cosmetics on the shelves that are dangerous, it’s very hard to prove. In general, cosmetics are a very safe product class.”

The Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) said in a statement that it “believes that mandatory adverse event reporting is critically important, which is why we have long advocated for it on Capitol Hill.”

PCPC adds:

“Nevertheless, despite the recent increase in reporting, the fact remains that only a very small percentage of cosmetics products on the market are associated with adverse events. And of those, a fraction are listed as ‘serious.’

“In other words, even with the increase, adverse reactions associated with cosmetics and personal care products are extremely rare.”

But if the numbers are inaccurate, how can we really know?


[1] Reuters

[2] CNN

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

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