The Chemicals In Your Beauty Products May Lead to Premature Babies

How will that lipstick affect your reproductive system? (Photo: Getty Images)

Though it’s a total beauty buzzkill, the fact remains that toxic chemicals commonly found in cosmetics can cause serious health issues ranging from neurological disorders to cancer — along with, according to a new study, premature and underweight newborns following exposure during a pregnancy.

“The study found a link between women with higher levels of butylparaben, which is commonly used as a preservative in cosmetics, and the following birth outcomes: shorter gestational age at birth, decreased birth weight, and increased odds of preterm birth,” said Laura Geer, associate professor at the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn, in a press release.

The school, in Brooklyn, New York, led the study in partnership with the Center for Environmental Security at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute to look for adverse reproductive effects of cosmetics chemicals, and the findings, released online on May 4, will be published in an upcoming Journal of Hazardous Materials.

Butylparaben, according to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, is a preservative and known endocrine disruptor. Other chemicals looked at by researchers in this study included the antimicrobial triclocarban, found in soaps and already linked to organ toxicity, which was associated with premature birth, and propylparaben, added to lotions as a preservative and a known endocrine disruptor; the latter was associated with shorter body length at birth. While the findings were not conclusive, Geer added, they raise concerns, and “must be reproduced in larger studies.”

This research followed 185 women in Brooklyn, who started out the study pregnant, between 2007 and 2009; all had their third-trimester urine tested, while 34 had their cord blood analyzed.

While the chemicals that the study focused on are known to be unsafe, they are still commonly found in products in this country: According to EWG, in fact, butylparaben is used in more than 2,200 products, propylparaben is used in more than 7,000, and triclocarban in at least 20.

That’s because there is barely any regulation of the $60 billion-a-year makeup and skin products industry — and federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, which is supposedly there to provide it, last updated its standards in 1938. (The U.S. has banned only 11 ingredients from personal-care products, including such poisons as mercury and chloroform, while the EU bans more than 1,300.) The bipartisan Personal Care Products Safety Act now awaits federal hearings in an attempt to make health and beauty products safer.

As for the outcome of the Brooklyn study, Geer noted, “While small-scale changes in birth size may not be of clinical relevance or cause for concern in individual cases, subtle shifts in birth size or timing at the population-level would have major impacts on the risk for adverse birth outcomes.” Further, she suggests, “Based on this new evidence, the safety of use of these chemicals in our consumer products should be reassessed.” Sounds like a smart idea to us.

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