Teenage girls who switched cosmetics for just three days had a big drop in certain chemicals in their bodies, according to a new study from researchers at UC Berkeley and Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas.

The team looked at four chemicals used in cosmetics, shampoos and lotions. These chemicals, known as “hormone disruptors,” can interfere with estrogen and testosterone in the human body. The four chemicals were:

  • phthalates — found in nail polish and fragrance
  • parabens — a preservative used in cosmetics
  • triclosan — an antibacterial agent
  • oxybenzone — a sunscreen agent

In the study, 100 Latina girls in the Salinas area swapped their cosmetics and other personal care products for new ones that did not include the four chemicals on their labels. Researchers took urine samples before and after the three-day test.

Overall, the girls showed a 25-45 percent drop in the levels of the four chemicals.

Reducing Exposure

Lead author Kim Harley, associate director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health, said this type of approach had never been studied before.

“We hoped that if we changed to lower-chemical products, we would see significant reductions,” Harley said. “So that was positive for us, that we found that you really could reduce your exposure to these chemicals through these changes.”

The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Harley said there’s “a lot we don’t know yet” about the effects of these chemicals in the human body, but some human research shows “they are associated with neurodevelopment problems in children, respiratory problems like asthma in children and obesity problems.”

The reason the study was done on teenage girls is because they tend to use more personal care products than adult women and because adolescence may be a time of particular risk.

“Adolescence is a time of rapid growth and development,” Harley said. “It’s physical growth, reproductive development, brain development, all happening in adolescence.”

There is no identified safe level of the four chemicals, Harley said.

Limited FDA Authority

While the Food and Drug Administration is responsible for regulating cosmetic products, their authority over these products is different than it is with drugs. Specifically, there is no “pre-market” approval. Instead, the FDA says on its website, “Companies and individuals who manufacture or market cosmetics have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their products.”

Teens Helped Design Study

To find products that were free of the four chemicals, the researchers referred to consumer resources, including the Environmental Working Group’s SkinDeep Cosmetics Database.

The UC Berkeley and Clinica de Salud researchers worked in tandem with a team of teen members of the CHAMACOS Youth Community Council, a leadership training program for Salinas high school students. The student leaders helped design the study.

Maritza Cardenas, a former council member, is an author of the study.

“Looking back, in such a short period of time” using products that did not have the four chemicals in them, Cardenas said, “and to realize that made such a big difference to hormone-disrupting levels in my body, was really amazing.”

Cardenas worked on the study between her junior and senior year of high school. Now she is a junior majoring in molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley. She said she remains conscious of what she’s buying, although “some of the products that might be more natural or organic might be a little more expensive.”

University researchers designing a study in coordination with teenagers is unusual. But the hope was to engage the students in public health education. The youth council included many teens from immigrant families.

“It was a great way for us to cross cultural barriers and language barriers by first educating the teenagers and then having them go home and educate their families,” Cardenas said.

While research is thin and cannot show the health benefits of switching to low-chemical products, Harley said the natural levels of hormones in the human body act at very low level, “at a parts per billion level.”

Any additional chemicals — in this case, from personal care products — “can act on very low levels also,” she said. “So it seems like things we can do to reduce the levels of the hormone-disrupting chemicals … can potentially help our health in the long term.”

A recent poll showed that 70 percent of likely voters believe the government should be responsible for making sure chemicals in personal care products are safe. Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, have introduced bipartisan legislation to give the FDA more authority over regulating personal care products.

Big Drop in Chemical Levels in Girls Who Switched Cosmetics 18 March,2016Lisa Aliferis

  • Michelle Dwyer

    Yes! Glad we are raising awareness about chemicals in personal care products and cosmetics! I work with clients on balancing their hormones, and we talk all the time about reducing exposure to these chemicals. More studies need to be done and greater action taken to both clearly label when products contain this endocrine-disruptors and remove them.

  • angelashah

    What are the companies that *don’t* have these chemicals? It would be helpful for the writer of this story to have asked and provided readers this information.

    • Ashley Ruszkowski Martinez

      Check out Beautycounter based out of Santa Monica, CA. Highest lever of ingredient testing and complete transparency. They also lobby in Washington to reform regulations regarding labeling and eliminating harsh chemicals in products. http://www.beautycounter.com

    • Karen Nahigian Sarian

      angelashah Arbonne has a whole range of products that Do not have these chemicals in them. They are a 36 year old Swiss formulated company that is known for its Pure Safe And Beneficial products. There are over 250 products including makeup, body wash, lotions, Anti aging products, spa products etc…that are formulated WITHOUT mineral oil, parabens, petrolatum, phthalates, synthetic dyes or fragrances, talc, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate(SLS), etc… You can see their complete line of products at karensarian.arbonne.com

  • Melissa

    Lemongrass Spa is an amazing company that provides toxin free 97-100% all natural products! All the ingredients are listed too so you can double check 🙂 http://www.OurLemongrassSpa.com/7490

  • Karen Nahigian Sarian

    Arbonne has a whole range of products that Do not have these chemicals in them. They are a 36 year old Swiss formulated company that is known for its Pure Safe And Beneficial products. There are over 250 products including makeup, body wash, lotions, Anti aging products, spa products etc…that are formulated WITHOUT mineral oil, parabens, petrolatum, phthalates, synthetic dyes or fragrances, talc, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate(SLS), etc… You can see their complete line of products at karensarian.arbonne.com

  • berkeleyborn

    My company TerraNova, http://www.storeterranovabody.com , does not use these ingredients in our bath, body and fragrance products. None of our fragrances contain phthalates, though this study equates fragrance with phthalates. Our fragrances are all made in accordance with Prop 65 and the California Safe Cosmetics Act. It is not true that the industry is unregulated. I produce very safe products under the regulations of 7 different U.S. agencies alone.

Author

Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED's State of Health blog. Since 2011, she's been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco's CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for "Best Topical Reporting" from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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