Teen Girls’ Chemical Exposure Plummets After Switching to Better Beauty Products

CC BY 2.0. Crissa Rogers/flickr

Study shows that after just 3 days of using makeup, shampoos and lotions free of hormone-disrupting chemicals, levels dropped up to 45 percent.

While the European Union has banned thousands of ingredients from being used in personal care products due to safety concerns, the United States FDA has banned a total of 11. Leaving the cosmetics industry to police itself is an interesting tactic; the result being that the things we buy to use on our bodies are often chock full of ingredients that may not be so great for us. It seems nothing short of a travesty, but here we are.

Getting data about health effects from exposure to chemicals is not easy, but there is growing evidence linking a certain family of chemicals, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, to neurobehavioral problems, obesity and cancer cell growth, say the authors of a new study comparing body chemical levels with usage of chemical-containing products.

The researchers, from the University of California, Berkeley, and Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas, say that the issue may be even more urgent for women, and especially teens.

"Because women are the primary consumers of many personal care products, they may be disproportionately exposed to these chemicals," said study lead author Kim Harley, associate director of the UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health. "Teen girls may be at particular risk since it's a time of rapid reproductive development, and research has suggested that they use more personal care products per day than the average adult woman."

For their research, they included 100 teenagers participating in the Health and Environmental Research on Makeup of Salinas Adolescents (HERMOSA) study, which is a community-university collaboration between UC Berkeley, Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas, and a team of young researchers from the CHAMACOS Youth Council.

They gave the participants personal care products that were labeled as free of certain chemicals such as phthalates, parabens, triclosan and oxybenzone. These ingredients are commonly used in everything from cosmetics and fragrance, to hair products, soaps and sunscreens. In studies with animals they have been shown to interfere with the body's endocrine system.

The research took urine sample before the switch and then again three days after the teens began using the low-chemical products – the results were significant:

Metabolites of diethyl phthalate, commonly used in fragrances, decreased 27 percent by the end of the trial period. Methyl and propyl parabens, used as preservatives in cosmetics, dropped 44 and 45 percent respectively. Both triclosan, found in antibacterial soaps and some brands of toothpaste, and benzophenone-3 (BP-3), found in some sunscreens under the name oxybenzone, fell 36 percent.

"We know enough to be concerned about teen girls' exposure to these chemicals. Sometimes it's worth taking a precautionary approach, especially if there are easy changes people can make in the products they buy," said Harley.

Right? The EU model of banning ingredients is based on the precautionary principal in which if a chemical’s safety is disputed or unknown, it’s not approved until proven safe. If the FDA can’t apply that standard to the things we use, it’s up to us to do it ourselves. Here’s some help: 20 toxic ingredients to avoid when buying body care products and cosmetics

Read more news of the study here.