London - Pregnant mothers should avoid certain types of make-up to ensure their children grow up healthy, a study suggests.
Women who use a lot of make-up containing a chemical called butyl paraben could be at greater risk of having overweight babies and young children, according to research.
The commonly used chemical may disrupt the development of the growing baby’s brain, making them more likely to overeat.
Scientists monitored exposure of pregnant mothers to butyl paraben. The chemical is used as a preservative as it has anti-bacterial and fungicidal properties. However, its possible effect on disrupting hormones has received little scientific attention.
Levels of the chemical were tested in 629 pregnant women and their children. The future mothers had their urine checked and were asked to fill in a questionnaire as to what cosmetics they used in the 34th week of pregnancy.
After birth, the children’s body weight and height were assessed annually up to the age of eight. The authors found the mothers who had higher levels of the chemical in their urine had a higher risk of offspring who would be overweight in early to mid-childhood – with a "stronger trend in girls".
Researchers led by Tobias Polte from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig reported their findings in Nature Communications.
In further research, the authors showed that exposure to butyl paraben in pregnant mice led to their female mice eating more and gaining more weight.
The authors claim that the paraben affects a gene in the brain which regulates food intake. They argue that when a baby is in the womb its development can be disrupted by chemicals such as parabens that disrupt hormones, also known as endocrine disrupting chemicals.
Commenting on the research, Dr Alex Polyakov of the University of Melbourne said mouse and human physiology were different, but he said pregnant women would be best off avoiding make-up with paraben compounds.
He said: "It would be advisable for pregnant women to avoid cosmetic compounds that contain paraben. Complete avoidance of paraben is not possible as its use is so widespread, but avoiding non-essential exposure seems a prudent and achievable goal."
However, Dr Amy Heffernan, of Melbourne’s Florey Institute, said: "Studies in mice are not the same as studies in humans."
She added: "Pregnant mice exposed to butyl paraben induced increased food intake and weight gain in female offspring.
"Diet and exercise are much more important than paraben exposure in healthy weight management."