Stabroek News

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.

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