Study Sees Hazards in Baby Powder and Lotion

Monday, February 4, 2008

Parents who want to reduce their infants' exposure to phthalates, chemicals suspected of impairing male reproductive function, should not apply baby lotions or powders -- except for medical reasons. So concludes a study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Phthalates -- man-made chemicals used in the manufacture of lubricants, cosmetics and plastic products including children's toys -- get into the air, liquids and the skin. Young children have been shown to have especially high concentrations. But although researchers have speculated that sucking and chewing on toys and playing on dusty floors may account for this, no study has looked at sources of children's exposure.

The Pediatrics study measured phthalates in the urine of 163 infants (2 to 28 months old) against their mothers' reports of the babies' behavior in the previous 24 hours. The mothers were asked about use of infant powders, diaper creams, wipes, shampoo and lotion. They were also asked how many hours their infants played with items such as teething rings and pacifiers.

All the infants' urine had phthalates. Use of powder, lotion and shampoo was tied to higher concentrations, especially in younger infants. No such link was found with use of pacifiers, plastic toys or diaper cream.

Lead author Sheela Sathyanarayana, an acting assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, advised parents of newborns to buy phthalate-free baby products and "limit [phthalate] exposures to the lowest amount possible."

John Bailey, chief scientist at the Personal Care Products Council, representing makers of baby care products, called the advice unwarranted. Only one of the seven phthalates found in the babies' urine -- diethyl phthalate, or DEP -- is used in personal care products for children, and, he said, it has been shown safe. DEP, he said, "is not a public health concern. . . . This is not good advice to be giving to consumers, to mothers."

-- Susan Morse

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