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Pregnant Women Warned Over Harmful Cosmetics

Posted Dec 02 2008 2:59am

As if being pregnant is not hard enough with having to forgo alcohol, cigarettes, mould ripened cheese, eggs (as well as recreational drugs and pet urine should the fancy take you), now women are being forced to re-assess whether their make-up and beauty products are safe for unborn baby.

Following increasing of birth defects after pregnant women have been exposed to certain harmful chemicals in make-up, the EU have taken steps to roll out a new labelling system to warn expectant mothers of what is and is not safe to use.

The plans come after a study into the problem was published by the Imperial College London. The findings showed in particular, that women using excessive amounts of hairspray during pregnancy, had double the chance of giving birth to boys with a condition called hypospadias - where the urinary tract develops on the underside of the penis. The study concluded that there was a strong link between the chemicals fond in hairspray and how they affect hormones in the body and the development of the reproductive system.

The two big offenders that are sparking fears and causing the cosmetics industry to sit up are parapens - which are often used to preserve make-up - as well as phthalates which are found in hairspray. Phthalates are also used to soften plastics including PVC. and have previously been proven to disrupt hormone levels. Similarly, parapens were revealed to be harmful in 2004 after a report suggested parapens found in deoderants contributed to the development of breast cancer.

Roselyne Bachelot, the French health minister, ignited conflict last week after she declared a labelling system for cosmetics that would allow pregnant women to clearly see what was unsafe to use could be introduced across France. However the UK government’s viewpoint suggested that it was an EU-wide concern and should be dealt with as such along with a variety of other alterations within the European Cosmetics Directive.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR) said, “BERR does not think this is something which is suitable for individual countries to take forward unilaterally and hope that the French raise this during the current negotiations on the revision of the cosmetics directive, where a discussion can take place among experts on cosmetic products”.

A study carried out in 2007 revealed that on average women absorb as much as 5lb of cosmetics through their skin and mouths each year.

Scientists are welcoming the proposed labelling system, “Labels enable people to make informed choices. In the vulnerable period of pregnancy, it makes sense for people to reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals,” said Professor Paul Elliott, who headed the team for the Imperial College study. “It is part of a broader discussion about minimising chemical exposure in early pregnancy.”

The Royal College of General Practitioners have asked that women used caution when selecting cosmetics, “Women who are planning to conceive or who are in the first three months of pregnancy should look at what they are using,” said Professor Steve Field, chairman of the RCGP. “The cosmetics industry needs to look at this and clearly label their products. Anything like this raises concerns,” he added, “but I don’t think people should panic.”

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