Makeup, toothpaste and soap: what do these personal care items have in common? According to a recent study, some chemicals found in them could contribute to girls hitting puberty before.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and published in the journal Human Reproduction at the beginning of this week, analyzed pregnant women living in "farming communities, mainly Latin communities of central California in Salinas. Valley "between 1999 and 2000, according to a UC Berkeley press release.
Researchers took urine samples from mothers twice during pregnancy. They then collected urine samples from 338 children – 159 boys and 179 girls – when they reached 9 years of age, so they monitored their growth and the "fundamental stages of development" from that time until the age of 13 years.
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The urine has been tested for the presence of various chemicals, such as diethyl phthalate and triclosan – the first of which "is often used as a stabilizer in fragrances and cosmetics," according to the press release. The second is found in some types of toothpaste.
In the end, "the researchers of the School of Public Health have discovered that the daughters of mothers who had higher levels of diethyl phthalate and triclosan in their bodies during pregnancy have experienced puberty at a young age", they concluded, the same was not true for the boys.
More specifically, whenever the concentration of the two chemicals – diethyl phthalate and triclosan – doubled in the mother's urine, "the timing of developmental stages in girls has changed about a month earlier," they said.
"Girls who had higher concentrations of parabens in their urine at the age of 9 also experienced puberty at a young age," the researchers continued. Parabens are used in cosmetics as preservatives.
The results come after a series of studies over the past two decades "have shown that girls and perhaps boys have experienced puberty at an increasingly younger age," the researchers said, noting that reaching puberty at a young age "was linked to an increased risk of mental illness, breast and ovarian cancer in girls and testicular cancer in boys ".
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But this study is one of the few that has specifically analyzed how these chemicals could affect "the growth of human children," the researchers said.
"We wanted to know what effect the exposure to these chemicals has during some critical development windows, which include before birth and during puberty," said Kim Harley, an associate professor at the School of Public Health who worked at the study, in a statement.
"We know that some of the things we put on our bodies are entering our bodies, or because they pass through the skin or we breathe them or inadvertently we ingest them," he added. "We need to know how these chemicals are affecting our health".
While it is not absolutely certain that chemicals are causing girls to reach puberty at a young age, "people should be aware that there are chemicals in personal care products that could disturb hormones in our bodies," he said Harley, adding more research still needed.