Adolescent exposures to cosmetic chemicals of concern
The 20 teens we tested had an average of 13 hormone-altering cosmetics chemicals in their bodies.
Laboratory tests reveal adolescent girls across America are contaminated with chemicals commonly used in cosmetics and body care products. Environmental Working Group (EWG) detected 16 chemicals from 4 chemical families - phthalates, triclosan, parabens, and musks - in blood and urine samples from 20 teen girls aged 14-19. Studies link these chemicals to potential health effects including cancer and hormone disruption. These tests feature first-ever exposure data for parabens in teens, and indicate that young women are widely exposed to this common class of cosmetic preservatives, with 2 parabens, methylparaben and propylparaben, detected in every single girl tested.
In Alex (Washington DC): 12 hormone-altering cosmetics chemicals. "It's frightening to learn about the many different kinds of toxic chemicals that can be found in my body. At the same time I would much rather be knowledgeable about my body's chemical makeup than uninformed; in this case, ignorance is NOT bliss."
This work represents the first focused look at teen exposures to chemicals of concern in cosmetics, exposures that occur during a period of accelerated development. Adolescence encompasses maturation of the reproductive, immune, blood, and adrenal hormone systems, rapid bone growth associated with the adolescent "growth spurt," shifts in metabolism, and key changes to brain structure and function. Alterations in an array of sex hormones, present in the body at levels as low as one part per billion (ppb), or even one part per trillion (ppt), guide this transformation to adulthood. Emerging research suggests that teens may be particularly sensitive to exposures to trace levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals like the ones targeted in this study, given the cascade of closely interrelated hormonal signals orchestrating the transformation from childhood to adulthood.
STUDY TEENS USE MORE PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS DAILY THAN AN AVERAGE ADULT WOMAN
Source: EWG product use surveys.
During this window of vulnerability to toxic assault, adolescent girls typically experiment with an increasing number and variety of body care products. Teen study participants used an average of nearly 17 personal care products each day, while the average adult woman uses just 12 products daily. Thus, teens may unknowingly expose themselves to higher levels of cosmetic ingredients linked to potential health effects at a time when their bodies are more susceptible to chemical damage.
Cosmetics and other personal care products are an alarming example of government and industry failures to protect public health. Federal health statutes do not require companies to test products or ingredients for safety before they are sold. As a result, nearly all personal care products contain ingredients that have not been assessed for safety by any accountable agency, and that are not required to meet standards of safety. To protect the health of teens and all Americans, we recommend action:
- The federal government must set comprehensive safety standards for cosmetics and other personal care products.
- Teens should make healthy choices for themselves by reducing the number of products they use, and by using our Shopper’s Guide to Safe Cosmetics to select safer products.
- Companies must reformulate products to protect consumers from exposure to potentially toxic chemicals, untested ingredients, and noxious impurities.