Can you imagine how you would feel if doctors took a blood test and found chemicals? It happened to Emma Spencer, a teenage girl who gave blood as part of a study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Scientists found pthalates, parabens, and fragrances coursing through her veins-possibly from the makeup and personal-care products she uses everyday.
“It’s definitely scary,” she said. “I’ve been using all of these things all of my life and not realizing it.”
In the survey, EWG detected 16 chemicals from 4 chemical families (phthalates, triclosan, parabens and musks) in the blood and urine samples from 20 teen girls age 14-19. Two of the parabens were detected in every single girl tested.
These types of chemicals are dangerous for everyone, but particularly for young girls who are still developing. Parabens are hormone disruptors, and have been linked with breast cancer. Pthalates have been found in animal tests to damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive systems, even mess up sexual development in babies. And fragrances can contain as many as 200 undeclared chemicals. It’s not yet clear how dangerous these toxins are in minute amounts, but researchers are concerned their effects could compound over time.
This is the first look at teen exposure to such chemicals in cosmetics, so more research needs to be done to determine what’s really going on. (Parabens are used as preservatives in foods, as well, so the source in the girls’ blood has not been proven.) Still, it raises some legitimate concerns. Teens are still growing, and since they’re going through puberty, they’re just starting to develop reproductive systems. Hormone-altering chemicals present in the blood stream could be particularly harmful during these tender years. “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,” says Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D. Since teens use even more personal-care products a day than adult women, their risk of absorbing chemicals is significantly higher.
What to do? Educate yourself. Check out our ingredients to avoid list and the EWG’s shopping guide, read the ingredient lists on products, and start shopping for organic and synthetic-fragrance-free alternatives. (If you like fragrance, choose products that use natural sources like essential oils for scent.) The EWG recommends you try to reduce the number of products you use; choose paraben-free skin products, shampoos, and sunscreens; and avoid antibacterial hand soaps with triclosan. Check your favorite personal-care products against the EWG’s Skin Deep Database for safety. If you’re a mom with a teen in the house, create a fun outing with your teen and head to the organic section of your department store for some major label-reading!
If you’re a teenager, are you concerned about chemicals in products? Please share your thoughts.
Photo courtesy of Eric K Veland via Flickr.com.