Risk to cosmetic chemical exposure high among teen girls, says Berkeley research

Risk to cosmetic chemical exposure high among teen girls, says Berkeley research

This week Kim Harley, associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health at the University of California, Berkeley, published her findings in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal.

Her findings suggest that teens can lower their exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals by taking a break from conventionally formulated personal care and beauty products—and perhaps that brands would do well to reformulate.

“The beauty industry has not yet realized that during girls’ growth years, girls—tweens and teens—need products formulated just for them,” affirms Deborah Hernan, president of the skin care company Ottilie & Lulu Naturals for Tweens.

Specifically, formulas should not contain parabens, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfates, triclosan, petrolatum bi-products or oxybenzone.  Unfortunately many if not all of these ingredients are found in most of the popular cosmetics, fragrances, sunscreens, hair products and soaps used by girls today,” Hernan tells Cosmetic Design.

Teens and products

Young girls were the focus of the UC Berkeley study because culturally they are likely to be at risk to chemical exposure from personal care products.

“Because women are the primary consumers of many personal care products, they may be disproportionately exposed to these chemicals,” Kim Harley, associate director of the UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health, explains in a Berkeley news item about the study.

“Teen girls may be at particular risk since it’s a time of rapid reproductive development, and research has suggested that they use more personal care products per day than the average adult woman,” adds Harley.

The data

The study, designated HERMOSA for Health and Environmental Research on Makeup of Salinas Adolescents, involved 100 Latina teenagers.

Participants used products without as phthalates, parabens, triclosan and oxybenzone during the study. The research team analyzed urine samples before the trial for comparison.

After only three days of using lower-chemical products, chemical levels fell significantly. Metabolites of diethyl phthalate were down by 27%. Triclosan and benzophenone-3 (BP-3; oxybenzone) fell 36%. Methyl parabens dropped 44%. And, propyl parabens decreased by 45%.

“Seeing the drop in chemical levels after just three days shows that simple actions can be taken, such as choosing products with fewer chemicals, and make a difference.” Says Maritza Cárdenas, a co-author on the study and a UC Berkeley undergraduate in molecular and cell biology.

Consumer perception

One objective of the study was community consumer education. “Many moms have confidence in the quality of the products they buy and do not hesitate to share them with their daughters,” notes Hernan of Ottilie & Lulu Naturals for Tweens.  “But what mothers and girls are unaware of is that adult formulations can be harmful to young girls’ endocrine systems.”

The UC Berkeley researchers hope that with fuller information consumers will make more conscious choices.

There’s something for the industry to learn here too. Because of research like this, consumer perceptions are changing. “While this [UC Berkeley] study may consist of a small sample, the findings speak loudly,” Hernan tells Cosmetics Design.

Developing safe, healthy, age-appropriate formulas is…smart business,” she says. “Marketers and retailers should note that the tween demographic alone represents $43 billion of personal spending and is projected to steadily increase by 9% by 2025.”

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