The People's Perspective on Medicine

Do Cosmetics Contain Chemicals That Speed Puberty?

Many cosmetics contain chemicals such as parabens or phthalates that can alter development. Other personal care products may also change hormones.

Body care products like toothpaste, soap and cosmetics contain chemicals that are suspected of being endocrine disruptors. A new study links heavy exposure to such compounds to early puberty in girls (1). 

The agents include triclosan (in antibacterial soap and in toothpaste), 2,5-dichlorophenol (in mothballs and room deodorizers), phthalates, found in products with fragrance and methyl and propyl paraben (preservatives in cosmetics).

Learning Whether Cosmetics Contain Chemicals That Disrupt Puberty:

The research, titled Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS), included 179 girls and 159 boys that have been tracked from before birth to age 13. (“Chamacos” is an informal Spanish term that means, roughly, “kids.”) Mothers gave urine samples during pregnancy, and the children also provided samples at age 9. The scientists analyzed levels of parabens, phenols and phthalates in these samples.

Did these children enter puberty early? To find out, the researchers evaluated the youngsters for signs of puberty every nine months between the ages of 9 and 13 using objective criteria.

Understanding the Data:

According to this research, when mothers had high levels of triclosan and its breakdown product 2,4-dichlorophenol in their urine during pregnancy, daughters started menstruating early. Mothers with high urinary levels of mono ethyl phthalate while they were pregnant had daughters with earlier development of pubic hair. The scientists did not note any potential effects on sons.

Analysis of the chemicals in the urine of the nine-year-old children also provided some interesting insights. Cosmetics contain chemicals such as methyl paraben or propyl paraben. Girls with higher levels of these parabens in their urine got their first menstrual periods earlier than girls with lower levels. Those with higher levels of methyl paraben also developed visible breasts and pubic hair earlier than other girls. Boys who had a lot of propyl paragon in their urine also had earlier development of their genitals.

On the other hand, high urinary levels of 2,4-dichlorophenol were associated with later appearance of pubic hair in girls. The investigators found no association between timing of puberty and chemicals found in nail polish or sunscreen.

The link between urinary proof of exposure and changes in the timing of puberty is an association. Therefore, we can’t attribute causation to the chemicals in these personal care products. In addition, these youngsters live in an agricultural community with parents who work with pesticides and other chemicals, so the whole story may go beyond the possibility that cosmetics contain chemicals that can speed the onset of puberty.

Learn More:

If you are interested in the impact of endocrine disruptors in daily life, you may wish to listen to our recent interview with Dr. Leo Trasande. It is Show 1158: Will Hormone Disruptors Affect Your Children’s Health? You may also be interested in Show 974: Toxin Toxout. It offers practical suggestions for avoiding chemicals that may disrupt human hormones.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Show 1158: Will Hormone Disruptors Affect Your Children’s Health?
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Many of the foods and products contain hormone disruptors that can affect our health and that of our children. Are these chemical making us sick and fat?

Show 1158: Will Hormone Disruptors Affect Your Children’s Health?
Citations
  • Harley et al, "Association of phthalates, parabens and phenols found in personal care products with pubertal timing in girls and boys." Human Reproduction, Jan. 2019. DOI: 10.1093/humrep/dey337
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I volunteer with a grassroots organization that is working to eliminate the plastic litter that is trashing our environment. Recently, we have been reading the research on plastic as endocrine disruptors. We are concerned with the amount of estrogenic chemicals people especially mothers have in their bodies before and while pregnant. Another concern is the amount of plastic a baby has contact with from the time it is born, such as, baby bottles, pacifiers, toys that they chew on. Foods prepared and/or served in plastic. Even if they do not contain BPA they still release estrogenic chemicals. Also, the microplastics from broken down plastics that the fish are eating in the ocean (and other waterways) that are covered with toxins they have picked up in the water is a hazard to our health.

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