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Makeup May Be Too Radical for Teens

Americans buy billions of dollars worth of cosmetics and body care products every year. And no one uses more of these items than teenage girls. A recent study from the non-profit Environmental Working

Makeup May Be Too Radical for Teens

 (Photo: Aubrey Kragen is serious about her makeup and body care products. Kenny Goldberg/KPBS News )


Americans buy billions of dollars worth of cosmetics and body care products every year. And no one uses more of these items than teenage girls.

A recent study from the non-profit Environmental Working Group suggests makeup and other cosmetics could pose serious health risks to teens. KPBS Health Reporter Kenny Goldberg has more.

Aubrey Kragen doesn't mess around with her appearance. She's 15. Looking good is like, totally major. So every day, she's follows a strict routine.

Aubrey Kragen: When I wash my face in the morning, there's moisturizer and then, there's also skin revver-upper, that's supposed to be more moisturizer…

Then, Kragen gets to work on her makeup.


Kragen: Mascara, top eyeliner and bottom eyeliner, and eye shadow……..

Next, Kragen has to make sure she smells awesome.

Kragen: I use all sorts of deodorant and perfume every day, lotion every day, depending on what perfume. I have to like coordinate them.

Like enough already! But Kragen's not done yet. There are a couple of other things she can't do without.

Kragen and Kenny : Body butter, I don't know if that's different than lotion. And hand sanitizer…It's like a drug store in here….It is not! They're necessary, if I'm gonna be a girl.

A report from the Environmental Working Group suggests Kragen might want to back off her routine a little bit. 

The EWG study examined blood and urine samples from 20 teenage girls throughout the country.

Researchers were looking for traces of hormone-altering chemicals found in cosmetics and body care products. These chemicals come from the families called phthalates, triclosan, parabens, and musks. They're widely used as fragrances, preservatives, and antibacterial agents.

Laboratory tests detected an average of 13 toxic chemicals in each girl.

Rebecca Sutton is a senior scientist in EWG's Oakland office.

Sutton concedes the levels of the chemicals found were low. But she says chemicals that affect hormones can be active at extremely low levels.

Rebecca Sutton : Now we're concerned especially with teens because they're going through a period of accelerated development, where their reproductive system is maturing, also things like their bone, blood and immune system is maturing, and they're even changes to brain structure and function. All these changes are guided by hormones. So if we have an industrial chemical that's invading their body that could act like a hormone or block a hormone, then even at a low level we need to be concerned.

Sutton says the study was unable to find a link between the amounts of cosmetics used and the levels of hormone-altering chemicals in the body. Still, she believes increased exposure to these toxins puts teens at higher risk of serious health problems.

So how do teenage girls choose safer cosmetics? Sutton says it's tough. 

Sutton: Consumers have very little information about their products, or about the health and safety concerns that might be associated with the ingredients.

Sutton says the problem is the cosmetics industry regulates itself. She says the Food and Drug Administration leaves the public unprotected.

Sutton: The FDA does not require products or their ingredients to be tested for safety before they are sold. So as it stands, the current system basically requires that you need a PhD in chemistry in order to buy safe products.

Aubrey Kragen doesn't have her high school diploma yet. So what is she supposed to do? Go without makeup? Whatever!

Kragen: Completely natural is a stretch. I don't know if that's ever gonna happen. But I'll try to limit my use. Just no use at all, is not gonna happen.

Health experts say teens could choose products that have fewer ingredients. And they suggest teens could probably do without things like lip gloss.

But don't take away their body butter. That stuff is sick!

Kenny Goldberg, KPBS News.