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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A new study has found that girls are at risk of hitting puberty earlier if they are exposed to chemicals commonly found in shampoo, toothpaste and soap. Over the past 20 years, the study observed 338 children from birth into adolescence to understand how early environmental exposures can impact childhood development.

Exposure to the chemicals through the products while mothers were pregnant also had an effect, researchers at UC Berkeley found. They shared their findings in the Human Reproduction journal.

The chemicals named were phthalates, parabens and phenol. They may mimic hormones and have the potential to lead children to mature early.

The research found that girls, and perhaps boys, have been going through puberty earlier and earlier. Early puberty can be linked to greater risk of mental illness, breast and ovarian cancer in girls, and testicular cancer in boys. Beyond that, early puberty can cause social issues.

“We need to know how these chemicals are affecting our health,” explains Kim Harley, associate adjunct professor in the School of Public Health at Berkeley, in a University of California newsletter. “We wanted to know what effect exposure to these chemicals has during certain critical windows of development, which include before birth and during puberty,” Harley said.

Consumers who are concerned about chemicals in personal care products can take practical steps to limit their exposure, researchers explained.