Baby shampoos, lotions and powders may expose infants to chemicals that have been linked with possible reproductive problems. The chemicals, called phthalates, are found in many ordinary products including cosmetics, toys, vinyl flooring and medical supplies. They are used to stabilize fragrances and make plastics flexible. According to a study authored by Sheela Sathyanarayana, a University of Washington pediatrician, phthalates were found in elevated levels in the urine of babies who had been shampooed, powdered or lotioned with baby products.
Animal studies have suggested that phthalates can cause reproductive birth defects and some activists believe they may cause reproductive problems in boys and early puberty in girls. Rigorous scientific evidence in human studies is lacking. The current study offers no direct evidence that products the infants used contained phthalates, and no evidence that the chemicals in the babies’ urine caused any harm. Still, the results worried environmental groups that support restrictions on these chemicals.
“There is an obvious need for laws that force the beauty industry to clean up its act,” said Stacy Malkan of Health Care Without Harm. According to Dr Sathyanarayana, “The bottom line is that these chemicals likely do exist in products that we’re commonly using on our children and they potentially could cause health effects.” Babies do not usually need special lotions and powders, and water alone or shampoo in very small amounts is generally enough to clean infant hair, Sathyanarayana said.
“Although several studies in people have explored possible associations with developmental and reproductive outcomes (semen quality, genital development in boys, shortened pregnancy, and premature breast development in young girls), more research is needed,” a report said. The new study, which appears in February’s issue of ‘Pediatrics’, involved 163 babies. Most were white, ages 2-28 months and living in California, Minnesota and Missouri in the US. The researchers measured levels of several phthalates in urine from diapers. They also asked the mothers about use in the previous 24 hours of baby products including lotions, powders and baby wipes. All urine samples had detectable levels of at least one phthalate. The highest levels were linked with shampoos, lotions and powders, and were most prevalent in babies younger than eight months.