Contaminated teens

Auntie Ruth is green to the eco scene. Read up each week as she weeds through the dirt and unearths new gems of environmental knowledge.

While reading about the use of toxic chemicals in beauty products in a recent SN&R cover story (”The Chemistry of beauty,” August 14), Auntie Ruth experienced surprise, then horror. It’s bad enough that personal-care products regularly expose us to hundreds of industrial chemicals linked to chronic illness and disease, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t even have the authority to recall questionable beauty products, and companies aren’t required to test products for safety before selling them to consumers. Now, Ruthie’s more horrified. The Environmental Working Group released findings in late September confirming that teenage girls in the United States are contaminated with hormone-altering chemicals found in beauty products.

The group tested for 25 chemicals and detected 64 percent of them in blood and urine samples from 20 girls aged 14 to 19. Each of the young women had between 10 and 15 chemicals in her body, nine of which were found in every single teen tested. The report detected traces of four chemical families—phthalates, triclosan, parabens and musks. Parabens mimic estrogen in the body, and the EWG study is the first time young women’s exposure to parabens has been tested; findings indicate that teens are widely exposed to this chemical family, with methylparaben and proplyparaben detected in all the girls. The teens used an average of 17 products a day, depositing 174 ingredients into their bodies—more than a typical adult woman who uses 12 products daily.

Auntie Ruth is concerned because bodily changes during adolescence might make teens especially sensitive to hormone-disrupting chemicals. Some scientists and medical professionals worry that exposure to these chemicals may speed up development and contribute to premature puberty. In the last 40 years, the age at which girls in this country begin to develop breasts has declined by one to two years and the age they begin to menstruate has declined by a few months, increasing their risk for breast cancer and infertility later in life. Not to mention that numerous studies show early-maturing girls are more prone to psychiatric and behavioral problems including: depression, eating disorders, attempted suicide, early sexual encounters, unprotected sex and teen pregnancy. These girls are also more likely to be physically and violently victimized.