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
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.
In Rizza (Manteca, CA): 15 hormone-altering cosmetics chemicals
An Environmental Working Group (EWG) study revealed the presence of 16 chemicals from 4 chemical families in the bodies of 20 American girls aged 14 to 19. Chemicals from these families, phthalates, triclosan, musks, and parabens, are all commonly used in cosmetics and body care products, and are capable of disrupting the hormone system according to laboratory tests (e.g., Gray 1986; Schreurs 2004; Gomez 2005; Veldhoen 2006). This work represents the first focused look at teen exposures to chemicals of concern in cosmetics, and in particular provides the first biomonitoring data available on levels of musks and parabens in teens. Teen use of body care products is suspected to be far higher than adult use. The young women participating in our study, recruited from locations across the U.S. and representing diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, used an average of nearly 17 personal care products each day, and were exposed to an estimated 174 unique cosmetic ingredients. In contrast, EWG's survey results have indicated that the average adult woman uses just 12 products with 168 unique chemicals each day (EWG 2004).
In Erin (Ross, CA): 12 hormone-altering cosmetics chemicals.
"I am living proof that one's health reflects one's lifestyle choices. Making healthier and safer choices, living a green life from day one, has significantly reduced the burden on my body."
Emerging research suggests that teens may be particularly sensitive to exposures to hormone-disrupting chemicals, given the complex hormonal signals that guide the rapid growth and development of the reproductive system, the brain, and the bone, blood, and immune systems during adolescence (Golub 2000). Chemicals within each of the 4 chemical families tested have also been linked to cancer in laboratory studies (e.g., CERHR 2000; Apostolidis 2002; Darbre 2002, 2003; ACGIH 2004; EWG 2008), and a variety of other toxicities as well (e.g., CERHR 2000; ACGIH 2004; Luckenbach 2005; EWG 2008). Chronic, low-level exposures to a mixture of these and hundreds of other untested, potentially harmful industrial chemicals may contribute to falling levels of fertility, noted especially for American women under 25 (Barrett 2006), as well as increasing rates of breast and prostate cancer (SEER 2006), diabetes and obesity (AHA 2007), and many other chronic diseases. Teen study participants' bodies contained a broad array of chemicals commonly used in cosmetics and personal care products:
- We tested blood and urine samples for a total of 25 chemicals, and detected 16 of them (64%) in our teen participants. Each young woman had between 10 and 15 chemicals in her body. 9 of these chemicals were found in every single teen tested.
- These first-ever exposure data for parabens in teens indicate that young women are widely exposed to this common class of cosmetic preservatives. All 20 participants were contaminated with 2 parabens, methylparaben and propylparaben; 2 young women were contaminated with all 6 parabens examined.
- Contamination of our group study participants with the antibacterial agent triclosan was more widespread than would be suggested by CDC data. All 20 of our teen participants had measurable levels of triclosan in their bodies, while just 78% of the 263 CDC-tested teen girls aged 14-19 were similarly contaminated (CDC 2005).
- The levels of exposure varied dramatically from participant to participant. Young women highly exposed to triclosan, methylparaben, or propylparaben had levels of these chemicals over a thousand times the levels of young women with low exposures to these chemicals.
In Emma (Boston area): 14 hormone-altering cosmetics chemicals
Comparisons between participants' body levels of these cosmetic chemicals and the body care products they use, on a daily basis and in total, revealed no significant links between measured exposures and the presence of individual cosmetic ingredients in their products. In addition, higher levels of musks and phthalates, and in particular the metabolite of diethyl phthalate, a common component of fragrance, were not associated with use of a greater number of personal care products containing fragrance. This lack of correlation between reported use of cosmetics chemicals and measured exposures in the body is not surprising, given widespread use of these chemicals in a variety of non-cosmetic everyday products, as well as data gaps concerning both the amounts of chemicals within each body care product, and the levels of exposure that may be expected with typical use of different products.
Test results from 20 teen girls find 16 chemicals from 4 chemical families commonly used in cosmetics and body care products (results for individual chemicals below)
Phthalates - tested for 7, found 7 Ingredients in nail polish and other cosmetics, especially those containing “fragrance,” as well as plastic containers. Some linked to birth defects in the male reproductive system of lab animals. Detected in: 20 of 20 teen girls tested
Typical level: 300 ppm creatinine in urine
Range: 102 – 1050 ppm creatinine
U.S. level for typical teen girl (CDC): 308 ppm creatinine
Triclosan - tested for 1, found 1 Preservative in products like liquid hand soap and toothpaste. Forms cancer-causing chemicals in surface waters and water treatment plants; raises concerns about potential impacts to thyroid gland and possible development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Detected in: 20 of 20 teen girls tested
Typical level: 8.58 ppm creatinine in urine
Range: 0.430 – 350 ppm creatinine
U.S. level for typical teen girl (CDC): 10.2 ppm creatinine
Nitro- and polycyclic musks - tested for 11, found 2 Artificial fragrances in soap, shampoo, deodorant, and cosmetics. Linked to hormone disruption and cancer in lab animals; some build up in the food chain and in people.
Detected in: 12 of 17 teen girls tested
Typical level: 0.394 ppb in serum
Range: not detected – 2.81 ppb
Parabens - tested for 6, found 6 Preservatives in cosmetics. Linked to hormone disruption and cancer in laboratory studies.
Detected in: 20 of 20 teen girls tested
Typical level: 157 ppm creatinine in urine
Range: 8.39 – 3821 ppm creatinine