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Chemicals in personal care products may affect hormone levels during pregnancy, study finds

Experts worry about how exposure to these chemicals will affect infants at birth

Pregnant woman using lotion on belly
Photo (c) globalmoments - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Rutgers University explored how chemicals in popular personal care products may affect pregnant women. According to their findings, products with chemicals like phthalates, phenols, parabens, and toxic metals may impact women’s hormone systems during pregnancy

“Alterations in hormone levels, especially during pregnancy, can have vast consequences beyond health at birth including changes in infant and child growth, pubertal trajectories, and may influence development of hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer,” said researcher Zorimar Rivera-Núñez. “Additional research should address the public health impact of exposure to chemicals in hair products in pregnant populations.” 

Hormone responses may impact infants’ wellness

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from over 1,000 pregnant women between the ages of 18 and 40 enrolled in the PROTECT study in Puerto Rico. The women gave blood twice throughout their pregnancies and answered questions about their lifestyles, including information about what kinds of skincare, haircare, and other personal care products they used. 

The study showed that certain beauty products were linked with disruptions to women’s hormone systems. The team found that hair bleach, mousse, hair dyes, and relaxers posed the biggest risk to progesterone and estrogen production. They explained that these products contain chemicals that affect the body’s endocrine system, and exposure to them may increase the risk of low birth weight and preterm birth.

The study also showed that women’s demographics may play a role in their decision to use personal care products. Those with higher incomes and more education were more likely to be exposed to these harmful chemicals.

Moving forward, the researchers hope these findings help health care providers identify those who may be at the highest risk of developing complications during pregnancy. 

“Prior research has shown that non-pregnant complications have also reported associations between frequency of use and socioeconomic markers, such as household income and education,” Rivera-Núñez said. “A strong culture of beauty influences Latina women, which may impact consistent use of cosmetics through pregnancy. This data is important because it will allow us to identify populations who are at an increased risk of chemical exposures associated with personal care product use.” 

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