Beauty product chemicals affect hormones during pregnancy

© iStock/Jacob Wackerhausen

A novel research project has signified that using certain personal care products may impact hormones during pregnancy.

An investigation conducted by experts from the Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, University of Michigan, University of Puerto Rico, University of Georgia, and Northeastern University identified that a range of hair and beauty products impact female hormones during pregnancy.

The study’s findings, which are published in Environmental Research, may help enhance the health of mothers and their babies during pregnancy.

Under the lid of care products

Personal care and beauty products are comprised of a plethora of ingredients that often include endocrine-disrupting chemicals like phthalates, parabens, phenols, parabens, and toxic metals. These chemicals are known to interact with hormone systems, influencing synthesis, regulation, transport, metabolism, and hormone reception, all of which are incredibly vulnerable during pregnancy.

The new investigation looked to examine the relationship between hair and beauty products and levels of hormones during pregnancy, such as oestrogens, progesterone, and thyroid hormones. Additionally, the team analysed how the use of personal care products is manipulated by demographic factors.

Examining hormones during pregnancy

To carry out their study, the experts obtained blood samples from 1,070 pregnant women aged between 18 and 40, all of whom were enrolled in the Puerto Rico PROTECT Cohort.

The initiative is an ongoing prospective birth study built to examine environmental exposures in pregnant women and their children who live in the northern karst zone of Puerto Rico.

During the study, the participants underwent physical exams and completed a series of questionnaires to determine their demographic, occupation, lifestyle and use of personal care products like fragrances, lotions, cosmetics, nail polish, shaving cream, mouthwash, shampoo, and other hair products, such as bleach, relaxers and mousse. The women also provided blood samples twice to measure their hormones during pregnancy, which the researchers closely analysed for nine sex steroids and thyroid hormones.

The team discovered that the use of hair products – most notably hair dyes, bleach, relaxers, and mousse – are linked to lower levels of sex steroid hormones during pregnancy, which is crucial to maintaining pregnancy and foetal development. If there are disruptions to these hormones during pregnancy, there can be adverse outcomes such as growth restriction, preterm birth, and low birth weight.

Zorimar Rivera-Núñez, the leader of the research and an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health, commented: “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 the development of hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast, uterine and ovarian cancer. Additional research should address the public health impact of exposure to chemicals in hair products in pregnant populations.”

Socioeconomic impacts

Additionally, the study illuminated that pregnant women’s use of personal care products in Puerto Rico is influenced by socioeconomic variables, such as income, education, and employment status. They found that households with an income over $100,000 use personal care products more than low-income households, and employed participants reported higher use of cosmetics than unemployed people.

Rivera-Núñez said: “Prior research has shown that non-pregnant populations have also reported associations between frequency of use and socioeconomic markers, such as household income and education.

“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.”

The team recommends that primary physicians and obstetricians discuss the potential effects of chemicals found in these products on hormones during pregnancy with reproductive-age women.

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