Baby products linked to raised chemicals levels in babies urine

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Researchers in the United States are warning the parents of babies to cut down on their use of talcum powder, shampoo and lotions after a study has linked them to high levels of hormone-altering chemicals in infants urine.

They have found the concentration of phthalates, manmade chemicals, in a child's urine, increased in relation to the amount of baby care products used.

Phthalates are suspected of affecting the development of the reproductive system and some studies have suggested that exposure to phthalates could reduce levels of testosterone and alter reproductive organs, leading to fertility problems in boys and early puberty in girls.

Lead author Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana says the link between the products and phthalate levels was strongest in babies under eight months old and this is a concern because phthalate exposure in early childhood has been associated with altered hormone concentrations as well as increased allergies, runny nose, and eczema.

Dr. Sathyanarayana, from the University of Washington, says babies may be more at risk than children or adults because their reproductive, endocrine and immune systems are still developing.

The research is the first to suggest that phthalates appear to enter the body through the skin.

The Australian Government's National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme is currently conducting hazard assessments on 25 phthalates and risk assessments on nine phthalates for use in cosmetics, including creams and lotions; Europe and the U.S. have already banned some phthalates in baby toys, feeding products and cosmetics.

According to Johnson & Johnson only one phthalate compound, diethylphthalate, is used in its baby products, and it is at such low levels it doubts it could explain the high concentrations found in babies.

Phthalates are man-made chemicals found in personal care and other products such as plastic food containers, vinyl flooring, toys, food packaging and carpets.

The research involved 163 babies born between 2000-2005 and a baby was considered to have been exposed to any infant care product that the mother reported using on her infant within 24 hours of urine collection.

For the study all the babies were weighed, measured, and given a physical check and their mothers completed questionnaire on infant product use.

Product categories were infant powder/talc/cornstarch, Desitin/diaper creams, infant wipes, infant shampoo, and infant lotion; they were also asked how many hours per day their baby spent playing with or using soft plastic toys/teething rings and pacifiers.

The mothers were asked to bring in a wet diaper on the day of study visit and urine samples were obtained by squeezing the diaper and collecting the urine.

The researchers say phthalate exposure is widespread and variable in infants and infant exposure to lotion, powder, and shampoo were significantly linked with increased urinary concentrations of monoethyl phthalate, monomethyl phthalate, and monoisobutyl phthalate, and associations increased with the number of products used.

They say this was more so in babies younger than eight months, who may be more vulnerable to developmental and reproductive toxicity of phthalates given their immature metabolic system capability and increased dosage per unit body surface area.

The researchers say there is no requirement in the U.S. that products be labeled as to their phthalate content so parents may not be able to make informed choices until manufacturers are required to list phthalate contents of their products.

They suggest that until such phthalate content information is available on infant care products providers may want to educate and counsel families regarding phthalate exposures via infant care products and potential ways to reduce exposure to these chemicals.

They point out that several companies have already started to decrease use of phthalates in their production process and label products as phthalate-free, but safety of these alternatives has yet to be established.

They suggest parents who want to decrease exposure to such chemicals should limit the amount of infant care products used and not to apply lotions or powders unless indicated for a medical reason.

The research is published in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics.

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