Concern about child and teen exposure to chemicals via cosmetics

The US Environmental Working Group has expressed concern about the increased marketing of makeup to children as young as 3-years-old.

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.

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.

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 US 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.

More from the Environmental Working Group

First published 2008

Click here for more articles