Worst Women's News of the Year: Makeup May Cause Early Menopause

As if the recent study linking the consumption of alcohol to increased breast cancer risk wasn’t disturbing enough, now there is a study that strikes at the very heart of the modern woman. Chemicals commonly found in makeup, hairspray, and other cosmetics may be disrupting their reproductive systems and causing the early onset of menopause.

Pthalates can trigger menopause more than two years early

Pthalates are compounds that are used not only in cosmetic products but also in the creation of plastics, household products, and food packaging materials, and thus tend to seep into our systems. Scientists have been concerned about them for some time, because increased levels of pthalates in blood and urine have been linked in the past with higher incidences of diabetes, cancer, and obesity. The latest research, conducted by Dr. Natalia Grinder of Washington University and presented at the latest conference of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, is the first to link pthalates to changes in women’s reproductive systems.

Dr. Grinder and her colleagues examined 5,700 women, and found that those women with the highest levels of pthalates in their blood and urine experienced the onset of menopause an average of 2.3 years earlier than those with lower levels of pthalates. The average age at which women enter menopause is 51, and those who had been exposed to the highest levels of pthalates were beginning menopause at an average age of 49. Some of the women Dr. Grinder examined were entering menopause 15 years earlier than normal, in their mid-30s.

This is a concern for many reasons. Early menopause has been linked in previous studies with far higher rates of strokes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and brain hemorrhages. As Dr. Grinder explained, “We absolutely think these chemicals have the potential to affect ovarian function and human reproduction.… Early menopause has a lot of impact on your health. We absolutely think these chemicals have the potential to affect ovarian function and human reproduction. There’s a lot that we don’t know at this point, our research is still preliminary, but it’s enough to suggest it is having a detrimental impact in the long term.”

The pthalates may not all be coming from cosmetics, but many of them are

Researchers could not determine what percentage of the higher levels of pthalates in their subjects came from exposure to those chemicals in cosmetics. It could also have been that they drank more water from plastic bottles that contained pthalates, or ate foods processed foods that came in packages made with pthalates. But whatever the source, there is a growing concern over the safety of these chemicals. None of the researchers are suggesting yet that you stop wearing makeup. However, if you would like to reduce the number of pthalates you are exposed to, a number of organizations have provided lists of products that have been certified as phthalate-free by their manufacturers. For example, you can see the list compiled by the Breast Cancer Action organization here, and another list compiled by the Environmental Working Group here.

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