Study: Chemicals in Soaps, Shampoos and Cosmetics Linked to Early Puberty in Girls




Girls exposed to chemicals commonly found in toothpaste, makeup, soap and other personal care products before birth may hit puberty earlier,
according to a new longitudinal study led by researchers at UC Berkeley.

“We know that some of the things we put on our bodies are getting into our bodies, either because they pass through the skin or we breathe them in or we inadvertently ingest them,” said Kim Harley, an associate adjunct professor in the School of Public Health. “We need to know how these chemicals are affecting our health.”

The study looked at three major groups of chemicals:

Phthalates – used in products that list “fragrance” on the label

Parabens – used as preservatives in cosmetics

Phenols – antibacterial agents used in soaps, hand sanitizer and toothpaste such as triclosan

The CHAMACOS study recruited pregnant women living in the farm-working, primarily Latino communities of Central California’s Salinas Valley between 1999 and 2000. While the primary aim of the study was to examine the impact of pesticide exposure on childhood development, the researchers used the opportunity to examine the effects of other chemicals as well.

The team measured concentrations of phthalates, parabens and phenols in urine samples taken from mothers twice during pregnancy, and from children at the age of 9. They then followed the growth of the children — 159 boys and 179 girls — between the ages of 9 and 13 to track the timing of developmental milestones marking different stages of puberty.

More than 90 percent of 9-year-olds tested positive for all three of the hormone-altering chemicals.

Half of the girls in the study started growing pubic hair at age 9 and began menstruating at 10.

For every doubling in phthalate levels, girls developed pubic hair a month earlier. And with every doubling of triclosan, they started menstruating a month earlier.

“While more research is needed, people should be aware that there are chemicals in personal care products that may be disrupting the hormones in our bodies. Consumers who are concerned about chemicals in personal care products can take practical steps to limit their exposure," Harley said.  

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