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Kids hitting puberty at younger ages, everyday products could be to blame

Everyday personal care products could be pushing young girls into a difficult stage of life sooner than expected.

Puberty was awkward and uncomfortable for everyone. 

Now imagine 6-year-olds going through those body changes. 

The number of kids entering puberty at a younger age is growing and everyday personal care products could be pushing young girls into this difficult stage of life sooner than expected.

It's called precocious puberty.

“I was diagnosed at 7. I actually began my period, my menstrual cycle at 7,”  Amber Brigham said. 

 Brigham said at that age she was also already 5 feet tall. 

While she said she doesn't really remember the diagnosis, she does remember how it felt.

“Seeing that I was different than everyone else, and that was extremely hard. Extremely hard,” Brigham said

Dr. Sureka Bollepalla with University of South Florida University Health said precocious puberty is becoming more and more common.

“The age of earlier puberty, in general, has just moved. It's become earlier and earlier over the recent decades. We're seeing up to 8-20 percent of girls do have slightly earlier puberty. Even around age 7," Dr. Bollepalla said.

Brigham never learned why her body started puberty early, but recent studies have shown chemicals in cosmetics, soaps and personal care products could be a culprit.

Health officials said some of the ingredients in those products are hormonally active. They're also called endocrine disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, and they do exactly what it sounds like.

The chemicals disrupt the delicate balance of hormones: most specifically, they act like estrogen. That could be what pushes young girls into puberty at an earlier age. 

Registered dietician and nutritionist Mikka Knapp advises people to avoid using products with ingredients like parabens and phthalates. 

“When young girls are using these products that contain phthalates and parabens, these hormonally-active compounds, it’s acting like estrogen and increasing levels of estrogen in the body, which is what catapults them into physical and hormonal changes,” Knapp said. 

Dr. Bollepalla emphasized the importance of wellness checkups for kids.  

“I think it's really important for children to go to their annual well checkups, be evaluated so the first signs of puberty are checked out and noticed and so that too much time doesn't progress so that something more serious gets missed.” 

Brigham took injections once a month until she was 11 to pause her puberty. 

Now, she suffers from ovarian cysts.

“I don't know how much of what I experience now is because of precocious puberty, or because of the medications. I'm not entirely sure," Brigham said. 

The effects of some of the chemicals don't just impact young girls; they can take a toll on boys too. In boys, the estrogen displaces some of the testosterone, which would cause a delay in some of the male signs of puberty.

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