Girls exposed to chemicals commonly found in toothpaste, makeup, soap and other personal care products before birth may hit puberty earlier, according to a new longitudinal study led by researchers at UC Berkeley.
Researchers studied 388 children in California who were taking part in a long-term study.
'This is an important issue to address as earlier puberty in girls increases their risk of mental health problems and risk-taking behaviour as teenagers - as well as breast and ovarian cancer over the longer term. The same trend was not observed in boys.
Diethyl phthalate is often used as a stabilizer in fragrances and cosmetics.
It is added to antibacterial soaps, body washes, toothpastes and cosmetics, as well as some clothing, furniture and toys.
Prof Harley said: "But we always knew we would have the opportunity to examine other chemical exposures".
Notably, the study found no association between exposure to these chemicals and the puberty development in boys. Chemicals that have been implicated include phthalates, which are often found in scented products like perfumes, soaps and shampoos; parabens, which are used as preservatives in cosmetics; and phenols, which include triclosan.
The research, published in the journal Human Reproduction, also found links with propyl paraben - which is used in perfumes - and chlorine-containing chemicals, which appear in cosmetics in the United States but are only for industrial use in Britain. There, they tested 179 girls and 159 boys in California born to mothers pregnant between 1999 and 2000.
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There is growing concern among some researchers about the effects... They tested mothers' urine during pregnancy and interviewed them about potential chemical exposures, then tested kids' urine for chemical exposure at 9 years old and examined children for signs of puberty development every nine months between ages 9 and 13 years.
Boys' puberty timing didn't appear to be influenced by prenatal exposure to these chemicals.
For every doubling in concentration of a phthalate indicator in mothers' urine, their daughters developed pubic hair an average of 1.3 months earlier, the study found.
In addition, girls who had higher concentrations of parabens in their urine at age nine also experienced puberty at younger ages.
"This is important because we know that the age at which puberty starts in girls has been getting earlier in the last few decades; one hypothesis is that chemicals in the environment might be playing a role, and our findings support this idea".
Harley added that there are many steps that can be taken if women want to reduce their exposure to these chemicals.
"There has been increasing awareness of chemicals in personal care products and consumer demand for products with lower levels of chemicals", Harley said.
Phthalates, parabens and triclosan are not banned for use in personal care products, and there isn't solid evidence yet that they cause health effects in humans, Harley said by email. Kim G Harley Kimberly P Berger Katherine Kogut Kimberly Parra Robert H Lustig Louise C Greenspan Antonia M Calafat Xiaoyun Ye Brenda Eskenazi.
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