Chemicals in cosmetics could make girls go through puberty early
CHEMICALS found in perfume and body lotion may make girls go through puberty early.
Those exposed to certain substances as children or in the womb could become teenagers at a younger age, a study suggests.
A chemical called diethyl phthalate, used in perfumes and cosmetics and only banned by the EU in significant concentrations this year, could lead girls to start puberty months earlier than the average, research found.
Youngsters also started their periods early after being exposed to methyl paraben – a chemical that is found in high street body lotions and hand creams.
Researchers from the University of California tracked almost 200 girls from birth to adolescence, and checked for signs of puberty every nine months between the ages of nine and 13.
The chemicals they were exposed to are believed to affect the female sex hormone oestrogen, triggering adolescence early. The findings are significant because females who go through puberty early are at greater risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
The study found children started puberty earlier if their mothers were exposed to triclosan, which is found in some antibacterial handwashes and toothpaste. The chemical was measured in the mothers’ urine between 14 and 27 weeks of pregnancy. The daughters of women with the highest levels went on to start their periods four months earlier on average.
And daughters of women with the highest levels of diethyl phthalates developed body hair around six months earlier, when compared to those with the lowest level.
The research, published in the journal Human Reproduction, also found links with propyl paraben – which is used in perfumes – and chlorine-containing chemicals, which appear in cosmetics in the US but are only for industrial use in Britain.
The study followed 338 children of both sexes from birth to adolescence. However it was only girls, and not boys, who entered puberty earlier when exposed to certain chemicals. Lead author Dr Kim Harley, of the University of California, Berkeley, said chemicals in personal care products ‘interfere with natural hormones in our bodies, such as oestrogen’.
She said: ‘We know the age at which puberty starts in girls has been getting earlier in the last few decades and one theory is that chemicals in the environment might be playing a role. This is an important issue to address as earlier puberty in girls increases their risk of mental health problems and risk-taking behaviour as teenagers – as well as breast and ovarian cancer over the longer term.
‘This study is important because it is one of the first studies to look at human exposure in the womb and because it gives us a chance to examine exposures both in the womb and at puberty.’