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It’s a scary concept: Products you might be using every single day—moisturizer, nail polish, perfumes, and makeup—can wreak havoc on your health. While there have been previous studies linking chemicals in beauty products with infertility and genital birth defects and certain cancers, an alarming new study shows that these same chemicals can cause early menopause. Even more frightening is the fact that menopause brought on not by age, but by chemical exposure, can lead to a host of health problems for women, including increased rates of heart disease and osteoporosis.
The study published in the journal PLOS ONE led by reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Amber Cooper from Washington University, studied over 30,000 women participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They analyzed the blood and urine samples for 111 commonly found chemicals like pesticides, PCBs, and phthalates, which are found in a host of beauty products and plastic packaging. The results were disconcerting—the women with the highest amounts of chemicals had menopause anywhere from 1.9 to 3.8 years earlier than women with the lowest levels.
“While I can’t prove causation at this point, my goal is to raise awareness about these chemicals and inspire more transparency about what is in everyday products,” explained Dr. Cooper. “Right now there is no way for people to see how many phthalates are in their products.” As to whether we should worry more about phthalates contained in the beauty products we are putting on our bodies or as packaging for food, Dr. Cooper states, “Potentially both.”
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So what can you do to avoid these chemicals? Unfortunately, Dr. Cooper says it isn’t a simple fix. “PCBs are probably ubiquitous in the environment,” she states, this despite the fact that PCBs were banned in the United States in 1979. As for looking for products labeled phthalate-free? She is skeptical, “The hard question is what did they use in their place.” However, with more natural beauty brands promising transparency, it may be worth it to switch to products with fewer chemicals in the meantime. The Environmental Working Group has a website called Skin Deep that analyzes hundreds of brands for toxic chemicals and can be a great resource if you want to try and limit your exposure.
“I don’t really want to see women turn their lives upside down,” says Dr. Cooper. “We don’t know where the most dangerous sources are. But we need to examine and discuss the role of environment and encourage more studies so we can find out.”