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Breast development begins a series of dramatic physical and mental changes that lead to sexual maturity. While the physical changes are well-noted--especially by fellow classmates-'the significant changes that take place within the brain during puberty often go unremarked.

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Causes and Affects of Early Puberty

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By Stacy Malkan

Lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, perfume—Jessica Assaf applied them all, and more, before she hit 12. And by her mid teens, she estimates she was using 15 to 20 beauty products a day. Like many girls, Assaf was indoctrinated into the beauty culture at a young age, with makeover-themed birthday parties as early as kindergarten and trips to the nail salon starting in grade school.

“I remember the coolest thing growing up was Hard Candy nail polish with the ring on the bottle. I really wanted that ring,” Assaf says. “The companies do a really good job of trying to attract younger girls.”

Indeed. Consider the Hannah Montana Backstage Makeover Set, targeting 3- to 7-year-olds; Barbie Makeup games; and spa services with names like “Twinkle Toes and Fancy Fingers” that offer manicures and facials to girls from age 6 to 11. Popular hair-straightening products called “Just For Me!” feature 7-year-old girls on the box. Getting your hair colored is now practically a rite of passage in middle school.

“Five years ago, the rule of thumb was 15- to 16-year-olds would come in for their first color. Now, that girl is 10,” Gordon Miller, a spokesman for the National Cosmetology Association, told The New York Times. The trend, he said, represents a “lucrative niche market” for the beauty industry.

Early Puberty Not So Pretty
But this rush to cosmetic beauty also represents something else—increased exposure to toxic chemicals. Many scientists now suspect that these toxins, found in many of the cosmetics for which young girls clamor, contribute to another disturbing trend: Research shows that girls in the US, especially African-American girls, are entering puberty earlier than their grandmothers did. In fact, half of all American girls now show signs of breast development by the age of 10—one to two years earlier than 40 years ago—and a significant number show signs as early as age 8 or 9.

Breast development begins a series of dramatic physical and mental changes that lead to sexual maturity. While the physical changes are well-noted—especially by fellow classmates—the significant changes that take place within the brain during puberty often go unremarked. The brain, for example, in order to accommodate new powers of abstract thinking and adult socialization behaviors, becomes less flexible. But as that happens, it becomes harder to learn complex skills such as playing a musical instrument, speaking a foreign language, or mastering a sport.

“Girls now have, on average, a year and a half less to learn these things,” says Sandra Steingraber, PhD, biologist and author of a paper that discusses the research on puberty. “Over the course of just a few decades, the childhoods of US girls have been significantly shortened. This has huge implications.”

And the implications extend far beyond learning skills. Girls who enter puberty earlier are at higher risk for breast cancer and depression, and are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such ...

Author: Stacy Malkan

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