Learning about your makeup may be more than just a fashion decision. According to a new study published Monday in Environmental Health Perspectives choosing personal care products wisely could reduce exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals.
Commonly found in makeup, deodorants, toothpastes, and other personal care products, these chemicals have the power to block or mimic natural hormones in the body, like estrogen and testosterone. Messing with these natural systems may present health risks, particularly for pregnant women, children, and teenagers, according to Kim Harley, an epidemiologist at U.C. Berkeley and one of the study’s lead authors. While the average woman uses 12 personal care products each day, the average teenage girl uses 17, making them especially vulnerable where health effects exist, she said.
“Teenagers are going through a period of rapid growth and development,” said Harley. “We’re concerned that exposure during adolescence might have long term health consequences.”
While these chemicals are found elsewhere too — in products like air fresheners, cleaning products, and fabric softeners — researchers from U.C. Berkeley and Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas suspected that personal care products, which go directly on the skin or in the mouth, might be major contributors to daily exposure. They wondered if consumers could effectively lower that exposure by paying attention to labels and avoiding certain worrisome ingredients in the products they took home from stores. They asked 100 teenage Latina girls from Salinas to forgo using their typical personal care products for three days.
Instead, the researchers set up a “beauty bar” — a stockpile of products free from nine commonly used hormone disruptors including phthalates, parabens, triclosan and oxybenzon. They educated teens about the health concerns surrounding hormone disruptors and invited them to take home products to replace what they would typically use. Researchers wanted to ensure the changes could be tenable outside the experiment, so they stocked the Beauty Bar with skin moisturizers, sunscreens, makeup, and other care products that the teens could have purchased themselves from local stores.
The researchers tested for these chemicals in the girls’ urine before the trip to the beauty bar and after. At the beginning of the study, about 90% of the girls tested positive for hormone disrupting chemicals, confirming the researcher’s suspicions that they were being exposed. But three days after visiting the Beauty Bar, the concentrations of five of the nine chemicals decreased, suggesting avoiding their old products was helping. Levels of methyl parabens and propyl parabens, common preservatives in cosmetics, dropped 44 to 45%, while levels of other chemicals — triclosan, benzophenone-3 (BP-3), and metabolites of diethyl-phthalate — dropped 27-36%.
“After just three days of changing the products they used, they could lower their levels of these hormone disruptors,” said Harley. “Part of the takeaway is if consumers want to reduce their exposure to these chemicals there are steps they can take in terms of what products they buy.”