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expert reaction to study looking at personal care products and age of puberty

Research published in Human Reproduction suggests that use of personal care products is linked with girls entering puberty at younger age.


Dr Ali Abbara, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Endocrinology, Imperial College London, said:

“The press release is fair and balanced. This is good quality research, which is difficult to conduct given the long duration of follow up. The authors rightly highlight that such observational studies could still be prone to confounders by factors not accounted for such as pesticides, thus said, it would be extremely difficult / near impossible to conduct interventional studies to assess this kind of exposure. They also only measured exposure at two critical time windows, which is understandable, however does not rule out that chronic exposure at other times, or other factors more generally, were not also contributory.

“There are important limitations which are mentioned in the press release, such as girls who start puberty early could be more likely to start using personal care products, such as deodorants and thus could have higher levels of chemicals for this reason. This could affect the results but is an unavoidable issue when working on observational studies like this.

“Some of these risks associated with earlier puberty could be slightly overstated, in that risk taking behaviour is of course more common in teenagers who have gone through puberty if you compare to children who have yet to do so, and thus early puberty could bring forward these risks, but it is not necessarily the case that these risks would not have occurred during normal onset of puberty.

“The age of puberty has been advancing over the years and other factors such as ethnicity are also important contributors. The other main theory put forward for earlier onset of puberty is an increased prevalence of overweight and obese children.

“It is difficult to give specific advice based on these results and the authors are appropriately measured in their assessment. Generally limiting unnecessary exposure of chemicals if avoidable is sensible to avoid potential harm, however in practice this may difficult to do as they are so ubiquitously present. At this stage, we are unable to say for sure that is necessary to actively seek to avoid contact with such chemicals as we do not have the evidence to support this course of action at present. Thus, whilst it would be reasonable to avoid excessive exposures, it is too early to suggest that we actively strive to completely avoid all such products in case of a potential risk that still remains uncertain.

“Certainly, this type of research could be important from a public health perspective, to inform appropriate restrictions on the amounts of chemicals that are likely to be safe in commonly used cosmetic products.”


‘Association of phthalates, parabens and phenols found in personal care products with pubertal timing in girls and boys’ by name of Kim Harley et al. was published in Human Reproduction at 00:05 UK time on Tuesday 4th December.

 Declared interests

None received.

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