Warning: Some chemicals in cosmetics and hair spray can cause periods to stop more than two years early. (Photo: iStock)
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Oh Snap! Makeup Can Trigger Early Menopause

We all have that one friend who’s just one brush stroke away from looking like a full-on-clown. Besides making your face resemble a toddler’s colouring book, here’s an alarming reason to go easy with the lippers and mascaras: wearing too much makeup will result in more than just a pancake face.

A comprehensive, large-scale new study warns that chemicals in cosmetics, hair sprays and even household cleaners, ‘phthalates’ (pronounced f-THAL-lates), could actually cause women to go through menopause earlier than biology would determine.

And that’s hardly good news.

Those exposed to high doses have been found to go through the change almost two to four years before other women. And in some cases, these chemicals may be causing women to stop having periods 15 years too soon, in their mid-30s!

Snapshot
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  • A group of chemicals known as phthalates, thought to raise the risk of cancer, diabetes and obesity also causes early menopause.
  • Women with high levels of this chemical are six times more likely to have an early menopause by two to four years than others.
  • This chemical is found in cosmetics, certain plastics and food packaging.

The Study

The average age for menopause in women is 53 years in India. Those exposed to phthalates may stop getting their periods in their late 40s. (Photo: iStock)
The average age for menopause in women is 53 years in India. Those exposed to phthalates may stop getting their periods in their late 40s. (Photo: iStock)

Researchers from Washington University studied 32,000 women for a decade; followed up with an extensive health and nutrition exam every two years.

They took blood and urine samples of these women and analysed them for the presence of common chemicals. It was noted that those with the highest levels of phthalates had menopause anywhere from 2 years to 4 years earlier than those with lower levels. In a few women who had very high content of this chemical in their blood, menopause happened 15 years early.

And it’s not just a one time exposure, experts found that increasing exposure over time was connected to problems with ovarian function. When they looked at all of the women in the survey above the age of 30 years, those with the highest levels of the chemical phthalates, were six times more likely to be menopausal than women with lower readings.

For men, middle age brings thinning-grey hair and the promise of little blue pills to combat the indignities of aging. For women, turning hot, complicated, and fuzzy, is a trickier proposition.

What Are Phthalates and How to Avoid Them

The world produces a billion pounds of phthalates every year, according to the US FDA. This mysterious and hard-to-pronounce chemical compound is used in cosmetics as a lubricant and even plastics to give it flexibility. (Photo: iStock)
The world produces a billion pounds of phthalates every year, according to the US FDA. This mysterious and hard-to-pronounce chemical compound is used in cosmetics as a lubricant and even plastics to give it flexibility. (Photo: iStock)

The use of phthalates is so widespread that it’s nearly impossible to avoid it entirely. You’ll find phthalates in perfume, hair spray, deodorant, almost anything fragrant, nail polish, insect repellent, vinyl flooring, plastic ‘sex’ toys, and your car’s steering wheel, dashboard, and gearshift. (When you smell “new car,” you’re smelling phthalates.)

So how can you minimise the use of this ugly chemical from your life?

1. Remove plastics from your beauty regime: Your kitchen is plastic free but bathroom is another story? In order to make plastic bottles “squeezable,” manufacturers add phthalates. So try and use organic cosmetics and creams which come in glass bottles. For starters, replace your night cream with essential oils. Use a home made exfloilation - the scrubs with the microbeads are again plastic!

2. Limit the use of perfumes: Unfortunately, you will very rarely see phthalates listed on a product label, luckily, there are clues. When it comes to cosmetics, the word “fragrance” or “parfum” on a label almost always means phthalates. What you want to see are claims like: “no synthetic fragrance” or “scented with only essential oils” or “phthalate-free.”

3. Crack the code. Plastic products with recycling codes 3 and 7 may contain phthalates or BPA. Look for plastic with recycling codes 1, 2, or 5.

4. Avoid plastic whenever possible, and microwave only in glass. Foods that are higher in fat, meats and cheeses, for instance, are particularly prone to chemical leaching. Even BPA or phthalate-free plastic may contain other harmful chemicals.