Rutgers study sees links between use of hair care chemicals and maternal health issues
Even as the global beauty care industry continues to thrive on chemicals-based products, a recently disclosed study undertaken by Rutgers University in the United States is pointing to the role which it says the use of some of those products play in likely impacting maternal health care.
The Rutgers researchers are recommending that primary physicians and obstetricians engage reproductive-age women about the potential health impact of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, like those found in hair products.
The study, funded by The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, examined the association between personal care product use and the levels of sex steroid hormones, including estrogens and progesterone and thyroid hormones, among pregnant women though it appears not to comment on how what it says could impact the fortunes of the multi-billion dollar beauty care industry.
Not least among the assertions made in the study is the pronouncement that personal care and beauty products contain a number of ingredients that sometimes include endocrine-disrupting chemicals that influence synthesis, regulation, transport, metabolism and hormone reception, circumstances that render women particularly vulnerable during pregnancy.
While it is unclear whether the disclosures arising out of the study have as yet impacted health-related responses either at national or specific industry-related levels, what the study has to say could gain traction amongst commentators on the role which they say potentially harmful chemicals play in the growth of the multibillion dollar beauty care industry.
The researchers associated with the study reportedly collected blood samples from 1,070 pregnant women aged between 18 and 40 and enrolled them in an ongoing prospective birth study designed to examine environmental exposures in pregnant women and their children who live in the northern zone of Puerto Rico. As part of the study, participants underwent physical exams and completed a series of questionnaires providing their demographics, 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.
Participants also provided blood samples twice throughout their pregnancies, which were analyzed for nine sex steroid and thyroid hormones, a description of the methodology applied in the pursuit of the study says.
One of the discoveries reportedly made during the study is that the use of hair products, particularly hair dyes, bleach, relaxers and mousse are associated with lower levels of sex steroid hormones, which have a critical role in maintaining pregnancy and foetal development. Disruptions of these hormones may contribute to adverse maternal and pregnancy outcomes like growth restriction, preterm birth and low birth weight, the report on the study says.
“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 hormonesensitive cancers such as breast, uterine and ovarian cancer,” the study’s lead author, Zorimar Rivera-Nunez, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health is quoted as saying. RivieraNunez also says that further research should be undertaken to address the public health impact of exposure to chemicals in hair products in pregnant populations.
While studies in some countries have revealed that socio-economic variables, including income, education and employment status have influenced the use of personal care products, this has been found not to be the case in other instances where what is described as the ‘look-good lure” frequently pushes even the least well-off women to find ways of financing beauty care options that employ the use of possibly harmful chemicals.
While some studies have suggested that investment in beauty care is more prevalent among those with greater earning power, the Stabroek Business’ interviews with three popular beauty salons in the Georgetown say otherwise. In each of the three instances the respondent proprietors told this newspaper that roughly equal numbers of women of sharply different economic circumstances utilise their services. “You’d be surprised at the number of what you would call “not well off women” who spend rather large sums of money on beauty are,” one proprietrix told the Stabroek Business. Asked if she had read anything on the recent Rutgers study she responded in the negative and stated that she was doubtful that the findings of the study were likely to have any meaningful impact on the beauty care industry here.