Experts recommend looking out for the term “fragrance” — a seemingly innocent word that actually refers to a wide range of hidden compounds.
According to a recent study, pregnant women who use hair dyes or straighteners had lower levels of pregnancy-supporting hormones.
Researchers discovered that females who used particular hair items — colors, bleaches, relaxers, or mousse — had lower levels of many hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, among the over 1,000 pregnant women they studied.
This is concerning because, according to lead researcher and assistant professor Zorimar Rivera-Nunez of Rutgers School of Public Health in Piscataway, N.J., those hormone levels should grow throughout pregnancy.
A previous study has correlated changes in pregnancy hormones to an increased risk of issues like fetal growth abnormalities, preterm birth, and low birth weight, she said.
What role would hair care play? Many chemicals are found in personal care items such as lotions, cleansers, cosmetics, shampoo, and nail polish. They also contain compounds known as “endocrine disruptors,” which interact with the body’s hormonal system.
People can be exposed to endocrine disruptors through food, water, or even the air they breathe, according to the Endocrine Society.
Parabens, phthalates, bisphenol-A, and hazardous metals are some of the most prevalent hormone-disrupting compounds found in personal care products.
Rivera-Nunez added that researchers are still attempting to find exactly how exposure affects human health. It’s complicated, in part, since humans are exposed to a variety of chemicals on a regular basis.
However, research has indicated that when expectant mothers have high amounts of specific endocrine disruptors in their systems during pregnancy, their children are more likely to grow overweight or enter puberty early.
Similarly, there is proof that personal care items, in particular, are linked to potential dangers.
According to a study conducted by the United States government, women who frequently used chemical hair straighteners had a higher risk of cancer than those who did not. Hair colors were also linked to a higher chance of developing the condition, especially among Black women.
In terms of pregnancy, a recent Chinese study indicated that pregnant women who used makeup or face care products often were more likely to have a baby who was tiny for gestational age — a symptom of womb growth restriction.
According to Alexis Temkin, a toxicologist with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C., the latest study “fits in well” with the entire body of evidence.
According to Temkin, it connects hair product use to hormonal changes that are consistent with some of the health concerns linked to such products.
The conclusions, which were published in the journal Environmental Research, were based on 1,070 pregnant women in Puerto Rico who visited the study up to three times during their pregnancy.
They filled out questionnaires on personal product use and provided blood samples to test their hormone levels.
Overall, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels were lower in women who said they used “other” hair products compared to nonusers. Dyes, straighteners, bleaches, and mousse were included in this category, but shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, and hair gel were not.
According to Rivera-Nunez, it’s unclear if women who use those hair products are exposed to potentially harmful chemicals or have a higher amount of endocrine disruptor exposure.
Aside from that, there is a slew of other factors that can influence pregnancy hormones.
The researchers took into account all of the characteristics they could, including the women’s pre-pregnancy body weight, income and education levels, and smoking and drinking habits.
But, as Rivera points out, it’s impossible to account for everything.
For the time being, she advises pregnant or planning-to-be-pregnant women to read labels and be careful of what they are putting on their bodies. At the same time, she admits that the labels aren’t always user-friendly.
“The lack of good labeling is a problem,” Rivera-Nunez added.
Temkin warned consumers to be wary of the phrase “fragrance” — a seemingly innocent term that encompasses a vast variety of unknown compounds, some of which may be endocrine disruptors.
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