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Hairspray May Cause Birth Defect

November 21, 2008

Scientists have reported a link between hairspray use among pregnant women and a genital defect.

Boys born to mothers who used hairspray were noted to have hypospadias, where the urinary tract is found away from the penis, researchers from Imperial College London said.

In the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, they found that the incidence of hypospadias has risen sharply in recent decades. Some scientists believe chemicals called phthalates ““ found in hairsprays and plastics ““ are to blame because they can disrupt hormones.

No study has discovered a strong correlation between birth defects and expecting mothers’ exposure to phthalates.

The latest study looks not at personal use of hairsprays, but at their use, potentially in higher doses, by workers such as hairdressers and beauty therapists.

A total of 471 women whose babies had been born with hypospadias were interviewed, as were a similar number of women with unaffected children.

Women in the hypospadias were twice as likely to report being exposed to hairspray through their job, compared with those in the unaffected group.

However, researchers were not able to say that hairspray or phthalates caused the defect.

“Women shouldn’t be alarmed. This study adds a bit more evidence to the general picture about these chemicals, but more research will be needed to demonstrate that the link exists,” said lead researcher Paul Elliott.

“Pregnant women will need to make their own choices about whether or not to avoid these kind of exposures.”

Professor Andreas Kortenkamp said the UK government needs to consider taking the approach used by the Danish authorities, which has issued advice to women about the evidence linking phthalates to health problems.

“I don’t think we can continue to leave women alone to make decisions about these things – they need a bit of guidance, to know where these chemicals are,” said Kortenkamp.

“Certainly, if this was the mother of my children who was pregnant, I would strongly advise her to stay away from these.”

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