Photo: Gemstone Images, Robert Houser
Should you stop wearing makeup, perfume, and beauty products when you’re pregnant? A new study highlights the risks, linking exposure to common chemical ingredient called phthalates in the womb—with lower IQ scores.
Scientists at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health examined the phthalate levels of 328 low-income women through urine samples taken during the last three months of pregnancy. Seven years later, they gave the children IQ tests. The children of mothers who were exposed to the highest levels of phthalates DnBP and DiBP had IQ scores 6.6 and 7.6 points lower than the children of mothers who had the lowest levels.
The surprising part: The “higher” levels are still within the national average tested by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This means that most Americans have possibly damaging levels of the chemical. Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors, proven in studies to cause an array of problems from infertility to genital birth defects. They are also possible carcinogens, but this is the first time they have been linked to IQ.
If you think the solution is simply avoiding phthalates, it’s not easy. Phthalates are in everything from paint to upholstery to plastic food containers. They are also in hundreds of beauty products, including soaps, nail polish, lipsticks, and perfume. Even more frustrating? They aren’t listed on labels. Sometimes they can be referred to on a label just as “fragrance.” The one bright spot is that many natural and organic brands now highlight their products as phthalate-free. It’s definitely worth looking for on a label.
So what should pregnant women do to avoid exposure? Manhattan-based obstetrician Dr. Laura Corio says she has been warning against phthalates for years. “I tell my patients to use chemical-free, organic products during pregnancy,” she says. In particular, Corio recommends patients switch to natural alternatives for household cleaners, nail polish, shampoo, soap, and makeup—anything placed on skin, hair, and nails. If you know what everything is on a label, that’s a good sign. It’s worth making the effort, Corio says: “A baby in utero is especially sensitive to anything their mother is exposed to. You just have to be really careful.”