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Researchers at UC Berkeley and Clinica de Salud del Valle Salinas recently conducted a study that illustrated the dramatic changes that happen to one’s body after even just a short break is taken from using cosmetic products such as shampoo, sunscreen, soap and other personal hygiene amenities.
Published in Environmental Health Perspectives journal, the study had 100 teenage Latina girls try out personal care and cosmetic products that did not contain chemicals commonly found in traditional and conventional personal care products, such as phthalates, parabens, triclosan, and oxybenzone. Studies involving animals have shown that these chemicals can actually directly affect the body’s endocrine system, which is why they are being targeted for study regarding human use now.
“Because women are the primary consumers of many personal care products, they may be disproportionately exposed to these chemicals,” said associate director of the UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health and study lead author, Kim Harley.
“Teen girls may be at particular risk since it’s a time of rapid reproductive development, and research has suggested that they use more personal care products per day than the average adult woman.”
What the study discovered
After just three days of the Latina girls using products without the chemicals mentioned above, their bodies had significant reactions. Urine samples revealed decreases in all levels of these chemicals in the body. Methyl and propyl parabens fell by 45 percent, metabolites of diethyl phthalate fell by 27 percent, and triclosan and benzophenone-3 both had 36 percent decreases.
“The results of the study are particularly interesting on a scientific level, but the fact that high school students led the study set a new path to engaging youth to learn about science and how it can be used to improve the health of their communities. After learning of the results, the youth took it upon themselves to educate friends and community members, and presented their cause to legislatures in Sacramento,” says Kimberly Parra, co-director of the study.
Maritza Cardenas, one of the high school students who helped design and develop the study (and who is now an undergraduate at UC Berkely), says that raising awareness about these chemicals and their effects was part of the motivation behind the study:
“One of the goals of our study was to create awareness among the participants of the chemicals found in everyday products, to help make people more conscious about what they’re using. Seeing the drop in chemical levels after just three days shows that simple actions can be taken, such as choosing products with fewer chemicals, and make a difference.”
If you want to avoid buying these products, the best thing you can practice is checking the ingredient list. Unfortunately, many cosmetic products do not contain their ingredient list on them, so if you have any brands in particular that you like to use, it may behoove you to contact their manufacturer directly.
While “organic” and “natural” are typically good indicators, these words are also often used by marketers to sell products, meaning they might not actually be as natural or organic as you’d hoped. Buying products from health food stores is your safest bet, but again, it is wise to ask someone about what you are purchasing.
Ideally, many of the products with high amounts of chemicals will eventually be phased out as more and more people make the switch!