Could shampoo or lotion be doing more than just keeping you clean? It's quite possible, according to a new study by researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Their article in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives finds that three types of common chemicals may affect female development.
The study focused on phenols, phthalates, and phytoestrogens — all of which interfere with the body's endocrine system. These ingredients are frequently found in grooming products such as antiperspirant, lipstick, and shampoo. To find out why the news is troubling, keep reading.
Researchers found that the phthalates in personal care products, particularly those with fragrance, were linked to an earlier onset of puberty. Girls who had high exposure to phthalates were more likely to develop breasts and other secondary sex characteristics before those who did not. This, in turn, may lead to a higher risk of breast cancer and diabetes later in life.
"Our research shows a connection between chemicals that girls are exposed to on a daily basis and either delayed or early development," said Mary Wolff, professor of preventive medicine and oncological sciences at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "While more research is needed, these data are an important first step in continuing to evaluate the impact of these common environmental agents in putting girls at risk."
If you'd like to avoid products with phthalates, you can . . . but it's easier said than done. Reading the labels is always a good first step, but here's where things get tricky. Dibutyl phthalate, an ingredient banned in the EU, is considered one of the more problematic phthalates. You'd think you could just scan an ingredient list for that, right? Not exactly. Dibutyl phthalate also can go by di-n-butyl phthalate, butyl phthalate, n-butyl phthalate, 1,2-benzenedicarboxylic acid dibutyl ester, o-benzenedicarboxylic acid dibutyl ester, DBP, or butyl ester.
Making things even harder is that "fragrance" on an ingredient list is an umbrella term for various ingredients, and phthalates are often among them. Manufacturers are not legally required to list phthalates outside of the umbrella term "fragrance."
So what can you do if avoiding phthalates is your goal? Read the label and go fragrance-free, or seek out cosmetics and personal care products that specifically state that they're phthalate-free. (For instance, Burt's Bees, Aerie Botanicals, and H&M's new organic body care are among those that do.)
The jury's still out on phthalates. Cosmetics companies say they're safe, while environmental groups disagree. I have to say, though, this new study gives the environmental activists more fuel for their fire.