New study warns of hormone disruption from chemicals in personal care products

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The “less is more” approach to makeup just received a vote of confidence from a study indicating that certain personal care products can lead to hormone disruptions in adolescent girls.

Published Monday in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal, the study was conducted by researchers at UC Berkeley in conjunction with the Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas and youth researchers from the CHAMACOS Youth Community Council.

The researchers hoped to determine whether avoiding personal care products containing hormone disruptors would reduce levels of these chemicals in the participants’ bodies.

Maritza Cardenas, a campus junior and a youth researcher in the study, said the campus’s Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health, or CERCH, had an established relationship with the Hispanic-majority city of Salinas, California, which was why the participants in the study were largely Hispanic.

Hormone disruptors are synthetic chemicals that either block or mimic the body’s hormones, interfering with the natural chemicals of the body. Kimberly Parra, the community principal investigator for the study, said teenage girls were selected because they use these personal care products at far greater rates than older women or men.

Nevertheless, Cardenas noted that the study has implications for everyone, because products such as laundry detergent and body wash are not gender-specific.

Phthalates, parabens and triclosan — chemicals that disrupt the body’s endocrine system — are found in many personal care products and have potentially been linked to cancer, developmental harm in children and infertility, according to CERCH. This is particularly dangerous for adolescents, who are in an important stage of reproductive development, Parra noted.

Over a three-day period, participants used personal care products that were labeled free of these chemicals. Urine samples were collected both prior to and following the study. Analysis of the samples indicated a 27 percent to 45 percent decline in the urinary concentrations of these chemicals after the three-day period.

Cardenas explained that individuals could reduce exposure to these disruptors by wearing less makeup and using unscented products. She added that while buying organic products might be more expensive, there are alternatives — such as do-it-yourself recipes — which could even be made from items found in many kitchens.

“(We’re) not saying get rid of all your products and go natural all the time because if you use these products something bad would happen,” Cardenas said. “But there are definitely alternatives that you can use, and some of them can be a fun experience.”

Ronald Owens, a spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health, said in an email that the CDPH had not conducted their own studies on this topic, though they had collaborated on the study.

“People should be very cautious, or at least knowledgeable, about what they’re using on their bodies,” Parra said.

Contact Shradha Ganapathy at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sganapathy_dc.