Cosmetics and puberty: is makeup accelerating the rate at which girls develop?

cosmetics and pubertyCC: Chelsea London Phillips

Contrary to popular belief, makeup isn’t a new invention. If you look back toward the Ancient Egyptians, you’ll find that Cleopatra was adorning herself with eyeliner. As for Queen Elizabeth I, she used crushed beetles to rouge her lips and (disturbingly) lead to make herself pale. Although the makeup mechanisms of famous women from years gone by were bizarre, it’s unlikely there was a connection between cosmetics and puberty. Today, however, researchers suspect there’s a link between the two.

In a modern beauty where girls and women of most ages use makeup, it’s hardly surprising that a link between cosmetics and puberty is being examined. Girls are starting their menstrual cycles earlier compared to two decades ago. Is makeup solely to blame? Or are other factors at play?

How do we know there’s a connection between cosmetics and puberty?

Researchers at the University of California Berkeley began recruiting expectant mothers into a study examining the connection between cosmetics and puberty in 1999 and 2000. They took urine samples from the mothers while they were pregnant. When their children turned 9, they took samples from them too.

The samples taken from the mothers and their female children revealed the presence of certain chemicals. This included phthalates and parabens, which commonly feature in beauty products. The researchers didn’t find the same chemicals in the urine of the male participants.

Their overall conclusion was that some of the chemicals that we know will affect development are absorbed by mothers during pregnancy. Additionally, young girls who use cosmetics also absorb them. What the researchers couldn’t conclusively say was whether the presence of these chemicals meant there is a link between cosmetics and puberty. But, as we know that the chemicals they found do interact with estrogen receptors, there’s a strong argument to say this is the case.

Why are there concerns about early puberty?

Since the turn of the last century to the present day, the average age for a girl starting puberty has dropped from around 16 to 12. For the sake of clarity, this means the age when they start their periods.

While it’s difficult to argue that earlier puberty could cause physical harms, there’s a strong case for the mental ones. An increasing number of girls are experiencing precocious puberty. This means they hit puberty at the age of 8 or 9. When this happens, they begin developing physically, but their mental abilities don’t move at the same pace. Socially, experiencing a woman’s body with the mind of a child is challenging.

Because of this scientists are looking at cosmetics and puberty, as well as other potential causes.

If it isn’t due to cosmetics, what else could it be?

In addition to cosmetics and puberty, there are other environmental factors to consider. An increase in childhood obesity among girls will also cause an earlier influx of estrogen levels. This could then spark earlier puberty.

Another argument is that the more we take oral hormonal contraceptives, the easier it is for them to enter the water. However, like cosmetics and puberty, this school of thought needs a little more research.

Until the evidence strengthens, parents may want to consider switching to organic beauty products. And, they could also prioritize exercise within their families.

About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.