Personal care products used by pregnant mums can cause early puberty in their kids

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Girls may hit puberty earlier, even if their only exposure is through the products their mothers used while they were pregnant.

Worried about the chemicals in the personal care products that your kids use? Now, there is reason to look at what mums-to-be are using as well, and be a little more concerned. There is a probable link that chemicals in products used by pregnant moms adversely affect their unborn babies. In particular, these substances could be one of the main causes of early puberty in children

Pregnant mums: Choose your personal care products wisely

Researchers at UC Berkeley found this disturbing link by looking at products used by mothers during their pregnancy. They found that daughters that have been exposed to chemicals commonly found in shampoo, toothpaste and soap (used by their mothers) may hit puberty earlier.

“We know that some of the things we put on our bodies are getting into our bodies. This is because they pass through the skin or we breathe them in. We may also inadvertently ingest them,” said Kim Harley, lead author of this study and associate adjunct professor in the School of Public Health at Berkeley.

“We need to know how these chemicals are affecting our health.”

These chemicals are known as endocrine disrupters. They mimic hormones and lead children to mature well before their natural time. “In other words, chemicals in personal care products may be disrupting the hormones in our bodies,” says Harley.

Causes of Early Puberty

Causes Of Early Puberty

Causes of early puberty have been linked to chemical exposure even before a child is born. | Image Source: Pixabay

Chemicals that have been linked to early puberty include phthalates. Phthalates are often found in scented products like perfumes, soaps and shampoos. Parabens which are used as preservatives in cosmetics is another chemical linked to early puberty.

Phthalates, parabens and triclosan are not banned for use in personal care products. “This is because there isn’t solid evidence yet that they cause health effects in humans,” says Harley.

The UC Berkeley ‘s study also found exposure to these chemicals to be widespread.  This makes it crucial for parents to be aware of the possible connection between these chemicals and early puberty.

A concerted effort to address this issue

Over the past 20 years, research has shown that girls, and possibly also boys, are hitting puberty earlier and earlier. Scientists have linked the early onset of puberty with greater risk of mental illness, breast and ovarian cancer in girls. Meanwhile, early puberty in boys is linked to testicular cancer.

Early puberty is also known as precocious puberty. For girls this is defined with developing breasts and starting periods before the age of eight. In contrast, the average “normal” age for girls is 11.

Harley finds that puberty starting before the age of eight can also cause social trouble for young girls. “This includes a heightened tendency towards risky behaviour,” she says.

While the personal care industry and governments need to tackle these issues on a global level, there are things that parents can do mitigate factors leading to early puberty.

This is done through diet and lifestyle choices that we make and teach our children. Steps include:

  • Encourage young daughters to avoid cosmetics. Choose natural products if they are going to use them. It can be more expensive in the short run. But the health price tag is much lower over time! 
  • Avoid using plastic as much as possible. This includes the use of plastic bottles and plastic food containers especially for reheating and storing hot food.
  • Take the stigma out of puberty by talking to children. Aim to help them to feel comfortable in their bodies no matter what.

Also relevant: More children diagnosed with precocious puberty in Singapore and What causes early puberty in boys?

Source: UC Berkeley School of Public Health

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Written by

Elaine Boey

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