Early Onset Puberty in Girls Linked to Chemicals in Personal Care Products
From shampoos to body lotions to soaps and perfumes, conventional personal care products are laden with potentially hazardous chemicals to help scent, fill, emulsify, lather and preserve, extending their shelf life and driving down costs. But a recent U.S. study found that girls exposed to these chemicals in utero may begin puberty earlier than those who do not receive the same exposure in the womb.
In previous studies, according to Reuters Health, certain chemicals “have been linked to early puberty in animal studies including phthalates, which are often found in scented products like perfumes, soaps and shampoos; parabens, which are used as preservatives in cosmetics; and phenols, which include triclosan, researchers note in Human Reproduction. While this is thought to interfere with sex hormones and puberty timing, few studies have explored this connection in human children.”
In the recent study, mothers’ urine was tested during pregnancy, and interviews were conducted to determine chemical exposure. Researchers followed 338 children from birth through to adolescence; at nine years old, the children’s urine was tested to determine chemical exposure, and they were checked every nine months for signs of entering puberty between the ages of nine and 13.
According to Reuters Health, “Over 90 percent of kids’ urine samples showed concentrations of all the potentially hormone-altering chemicals, except for triclosan, which was found in 73 percent of pregnant mothers’ urine samples and 69 percent of their kids’ urine samples.” Such hormone-altering chemicals showed a direct correlation to the girls in the study hitting puberty earlier than those with no chemical exposure: “For every doubling in concentration of a phthalate indicator in mothers’ urine, their daughters developed pubic hair an average of 1.3 months earlier, the study found,” according to Reuters Health. “And with every doubling of mothers’ urine concentrations of triclosan, girls started menstruating one month earlier.” At 9.2 years old, pubic hair was found in half of the girls studied; menstruation followed at 10.3 years old. Boys, however, did not seem to hit puberty earlier when exposed to chemicals before birth.
“There has been considerable concern about why girls are entering puberty earlier and hormone disrupting chemicals like the ones in personal care products that we studied have been suggested as one possible reason,” Kim Harley, lead study author and associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the University of California, Berkeley told Reuters Health.
While these chemicals—phthalates, parabens and triclosan—are still not banned federally in personal care products here in the U.S., this study raises the awareness of how they can affect the human body. As young girls continue to enter puberty earlier, reading labels, limiting exposure and making informed decisions as a consumer seems to be more important than ever—making true once more the old adage that “knowledge is power.”
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