Mother's beauty products might impact girls' weight gain

(Reuters Health) - Mothers who use beauty products containing chemicals known as parabens during pregnancy may be more likely to have overweight daughters, a small study suggests.

Babies tended to be heavier at birth, and more likely to become overweight by age 8, when mothers used makeup, lotions and other common beauty products containing parabens while pregnant, the study found. One of these chemicals, butylparaben, was associated with excess weight only in girls.

“Our results provide strong evidence that parabens, in particular butylparaben, contribute to an increased risk that children will become overweight,” said senior study author Tobias Polte of Leipzig University Medical Center in Germany.

“However, there are many other factors playing an important role in weight gain, such as a (high calorie) diet and lack of exercise,” Polte said by email.

Parabens are often used in beauty products because they have antimicrobial properties and can also act as a preservative. They are known to disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates hormones involved in reproduction, growth and metabolism.

The chemicals can cross through the skin and seep into the body, and some previous research also suggests that parabens in products used by pregnant women can impact babies’ development.

In the current study, researchers collected data on 629 mother-child pairs between 2006 and 2008, asking women about paraben exposure late in pregnancy and then checking children’s height and weight annually.

Mothers who reported using products known to contain parabens during pregnancy had higher levels of parabens detected in urine tests than women who said they didn’t use these products while they were pregnant, the study found.

And women with higher levels of butylparaben in their urine were more likely to have overweight kids than women with lower levels in their urine. The excess weight was seen in girls, but not boys.

Researchers separately examined the impact of butylparaben on weight in mice, and found that exposure to this chemical was associated with increased food intake and weight gain in female offspring.

They suggest that exposure to butylparaben during pregnancy might trigger genetic changes in babies that impair their ability to regulate food intake or make them crave and consume more food than they would otherwise, the study team concludes in Nature Communications.

The study wasn’t designed to prove whether or how prenatal exposure to parabens might directly impact weight gain in children. It’s also not clear if results from mice are applicable to humans.

Even so, it makes sense for pregnant women to check product labels and steer clear of beauty items containing parabens, said Luz Claudio, an environmental health researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City who wasn’t involved in the study.

This is particularly true if women know they’re having girls, because the weight gain associated with parabens appeared to impact females, not males, Claudio said by email.

“The significance of this finding cannot be underestimated because girls and women typically used more personal care products and cosmetics containing parabens than do boys and men,” Claudio said. “Thus, this effect of early exposure to parabens in females could potentially continue to increase as they grow and use even more of these products, potentially affecting the next generation of girls.”

SOURCE: Nature Communications, online February 11, 2020.