By Bob Condor

Among its impressive pursuits as a private consumer watchdog organization, the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group has been at the forefront of what has to be our most urgent public health issue: Toxins in children.

EWG’s latest report is among the most disturbing of its findings to date. In a study of 20 teenage girls from eight states and D.C., scientists uncovered 16 toxic chemicals in their blood and urine. The chemicals, no big surprise, are common in cosmetics and body care products.

Hmm, cosmetics, body care products, teen girls, danger, potential disaster. The substances included preservatives, fragrances and antimicrobial chemicals that altered hormone levels in the girls.

That is no sweet 16.

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“Hormone-altering chemicals shouldn’t be in cosmetics, especially in products used by millions of teenage girls,” said Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D., author of the report and staff scientist at EWG. “Their bodies are still developing and may be especially vulnerable to risks from these exposures.”

The girls the study were 14 to 19 years old (though it is not hard to imagine a significant number of girls as young as, what, 10 or 11, using such cosmetics and body care products, including skin lotion and shampoo. Along with adolescence affecting the reproductive or hormonal systems, this age level is a peak period for rapid bone growth, significant shifts in metabolism and key changes in brain function.

Researchers, who are reluctant to form consensus on most all scientific inquiry, all agree that toxins are most damaging to children and teens, the former because of the smaller body size and blood volume and the latter because it is such a sensitive period for hormonal development.

While parents of teens might be unfazed, it still seems astounding that the girls in the study (across various ethnicities and cultures) used an average of nearly 17 personal care products per day that contain a total of 174 unique cosmetic ingredients. The typical American woman uses 12 such products each day. The EWG researchers speculated

that teenage girls are habitual experimenters when it comes to beauty and body care products. In the process, they are unwittingly exposing themselves to even more potential toxins.

The study is the first of its kind, and, by all accounts, created awareness among the 20 teens and their parents. Among the facts they learned is that the federal government does not require companies to test its products or ingredients for safety before going to market. Products are only pulled if proven to be harmful to consumer health in a process that puts the burden on customers and not the companies.

“Most parents don’t know that the eyeliner, lipstick or shampoo they allow their daughters to use probably contains at least one chemical linked to a number of serious health concerns,” said Sutton. “Teenage girls are at a particularly vulnerable age and these exposures could trigger a subtle sequence of damaging effects that leads to health problems later in life.”

Check out’s “Skin Deep” online database for more information about products that are considered safe or not. Honestly, it should be just the first step in protecting teen bodies from toxic invasion by way of cosmetics and body care product marketers. It’s time to be not only aware but active.

For its part, the primary trade association for cosmetics and personal care products, the Personal Care Products Council, answers that it reviews and assess the safety of all ingredients used in cosmetics. Yet the council’s chief scientists, John Bailey, said the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statement is the detection of trace amounts of chemicals in the body does not mean that an individual is at risk for particular diseases or adverse health conditions.

And that should worry us all, whether we have teen daughters or not.

“Bob Condor is the Daily Health Blogger for Barton Publishing . He is also the Living Well columnist for theSeattle Post-Intelligencer . He covers natural health and quality of life issues and writes regularly for national magazines, including Life, Esquire, Parade, Self, and Outside. He is a former syndicated health columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of six books, including “The Good Mood Diet” and “Your Prostate Cancer Survivors' Guide.” He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two 11-year-old kids.