Health editor, Dr Ric Gordon, joins the show this morning, with news that could make you think twice before reaching for any one of numerous beauty products.
Pregnant women have been warned about the potential dangers of some make-up and hair products, with concerns that chemicals such as parabens and phthalates found in cosmetics, can cause birth defects.
Parabens have been used as preservatives since the early 1920s and are utilised in preventing the growth of bacteria. Today this chemical is commonly used in a wide range of consumer products, especially in cosmetics, including skin care products, shampoos and conditioners, facial and body cosmetics, sunscreens, deodorants and soaps. Look for ingredients: methyl-, propyl-, butyl- or ethyl-paraben or p-hydroxynenzoate (PHB) esters.
Phthalates are chemical additives commonly used as plasticisers - substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility. Phthalates are used widely in personal care products and can be found in skin softeners and moisturisers, nail polishes and hairsprays. Look for ingredients: DBP, DEP, DIBP, DEHP, and BBzP.
During the vulnerable period of pregnancy, Dr Ric insists that women should reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals. Women who are planning to conceive or who are in the first three months of pregnancy should also take a careful look at what they are using, as there is mounting evidence that these chemicals are harmful to unborn children.
The studies on parabens so far:
- Recent studies, including ones in Japan and the UK, have shown that parabens are oestrogenic, meaning they mimic the effects of oestrogen in the body, and may even contribute to problems including male fertility and an increased risk of breast cancer, because they are believed to be acting like hormones and disrupting the body's immune system.
- For pregnant women, in particular, this raises issues with the type of make-up or skin lotions that they use because of the long exposure time on the skin.
- The danger is that anything that you put on your skin will be absorbed into the body and potentially reach the foetus.
- However, little scientific information exists on whether there are any health issues associated with the use of consumer products including parabens.
- A 2004 study claimed to have detected parabens from deodorants in breast tumours but the study was ultimately inconclusive, failing to answer many of the questions raised. By way of example, this study did not demonstrate that parabens caused cancer or that they were even harmful. The study did not review the possible levels of parabens in normal tissue.
The studies on phthalates so far:
- A study has found women exposed to high levels of hairspray during pregnancy were twice as likely to have babies born with hypospadias, a condition in which the urinary tract grows on the underside of the penis.
- According to a US study, exposure to phthalates has also been associated with a shortened duration of pregnancy. It found that infants of a group of exposed women were born more than one week earlier than those of non-exposed women. A second study, performed in Italy, also found a decrease in gestation in 88% of exposed infants.
- Researchers have also demonstrated a highly significant relationship between a mother's exposure during pregnancy to phthalates and changes in the ways the baby boy's genitals develop. It found that baby boys with greater phthalate exposure had smaller AGI measurements than normal. Boys with lower AGIs had smaller penis volumes and were more likely to experience incomplete testicular descent.
There are now many specialist retailers online who stock a wide range of products for pregnant women that do not contain parabens or phthalates.