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Baby Shampoo Awash in Chemicals?

Use of Some Infant Products Linked to Higher Levels of Phthalates in Babies, but Health Risks Disputed
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 4, 2008 -- New research suggests a link between the use of baby lotions, powders, and shampoos and higher levels of potentially harmful manmade chemicals known as phthalates in infants.

Researchers reported that babies exposed to all three products had levels of three different phthalate metabolites that were five times higher than babies whose mothers reported using none of the products.

All the infants in the study had evidence of at least one phthalate metabolite in their urine, even if they had no exposure to baby lotions, powders, or shampoos.

And the baby products were not tested, so it was not clear if they actually contained phthalates or if their use contributed to the phthalate levels seen in the babies.

But researcher Sheela Sathyanarayana, MD, MPH, of the University of Washington, Seattle tells WebMD that the strong association between use of the baby products and higher phthalate levels suggests that the products may be an important source of exposure.

"We don't know the long-term health effects of (phthalate) exposure, but if parents are concerned they need to decrease their exposure to these products," she says. "You really don't need to use them on newborn babies."

A spokesman for the cosmetic industry called the new study methodologically flawed, adding that there is no evidence that baby lotions, powders, and shampoos pose even the slightest risk to babies.

"Their recommendation that parents not use these products is simply not supported by the science," Personal Care Products Council chief scientist John Bailey, PhD, tells WebMD. "It just doesn't make any sense."

What Are Phthalates?

Phthalates are commonly added to plastics to soften them, but several are also widely used in cosmetic products to stabilize fragrances.

They are rarely listed as ingredients on cosmetic labels, however, because the FDA does not require the listing of the individual components of fragrances.

Choosing unscented beauty products is no guarantee that they will be phthalate-free, though, because these products often contain masking fragrances that may contain the chemical.

Animal studies have linked some, but not all, phthalates to reproductive development and endocrine problems, and several recent studies in babies suggest that the same thing may be true in humans.

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