I know how it goes, ladies. You wake up for your 10:30 class (so early!), roll out of bed, throw on some clothes, brush your teeth, and glance in the mirror–only to be horrified. You think, “I’ll just put on a little makeup so that I look at least presentable.” You brush on some powder or rub on some tinted moisturizer, throw on a bit of blush, and quickly brush mascara through your eyelashes. Quick and easy, gets the job done, right? Perfect for those early a.m. classes. Later you might shower, put on some clothes that do not consist of only sweat material, and redo your makeup.
I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound at all out of the ordinary for me, or for my roommate. Nor, apparently, is it out of the ordinary for a large number of teen girls. A study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently found that teen girls use on average 17 personal care products per day. This takes into account moisturizers, shampoos, conditioners, makeup, perfume, and face wash. This made me wonder, how many products do I use? Well, some days I really only use six, more often, nine, and if I’m feeling ambitious, 13 or 14. Ah! I’m kind of freaking out right now, because I had no idea how much I relied on beauty care products. Oh, my.
The EWG was not simply curious about the number of products teen girls use today, they were more interested in the effects of these products. First of all, they found that the average teen girl uses nearly 50 percent more products daily than the average adult woman (17 vs. 12). Second of all, they found that, because of this enhanced product usage, the average teen girl has approximately 13 endocrine disrupters in her body. And what’s the big deal about endocrine disrupters, anyway? Well, they happen to be synthetic chemicals that mimic hormones (in girls, estrogen), disrupting natural bodily functions. Uh-oh!
There’s more. Because the teen years are when a girl’s body is maturing and hormones are all a fluster, there is no worse time for her to be plaguing her body with endocrine disrupters. So not only are teens exposing themselves to huge numbers of disrupters, they are also more susceptible to the effects.
The four most common endocrine disrupters found in teenage girls are phthalates, triclosan, parabens and musks. Of these, phthalates are commonly found in nail polish, hair spray, and shampoo and, in addition to being endocrine disruptors, have been linked to liver cancer. Triclosan is in most hand sanitizers and hand soaps. Musks are chemicals in many synthetic fragrances. The most shocking discovery in EWG’s research is that literally every girl tested had both methylparabens and propylparabens present in their bodies. Parabens are a kind of chemical preservative, and so are found in nearly every beauty product imaginable: Shampoo, deodorant, conditioner, facial cleanser, sunscreen, and most make-up.
Well, that makes me scared. And it should make you scared, too! Both my mother and I have personally scoured over the aisles in the health food store to find the personal care products most devoid of these endocrine disrupters, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still have a few products that contain these disruptors! Just because your shampoo comes from the health food store doesn’t mean it is paraben-free. My best advice to you is to write down the names of the four chemicals mentioned in this article and CHECK THE INGREDIENTS LABELS on all of your products, then replace the ones that contain them. I’m replacing my very, very guilty pleasures (Revlon powder blush and Almay touch pad liquid makeup). I know, I know! I bet you’re horrified right now. But those are my only two chemical-full products, I swear!
Note to self: Replace endocrine disrupters, ASAP.
Lily Berthold-Bond grew up in a chemical-free zone and has struggled her whole life to understand and accept this non-commercial lifestyle. Now a sophomore at Tufts University, she has embraced her green life and hopes to share its possibilities with the rest of her generation.