Hairspray link to male genital defect

Researchers at Imperial College London interviewed a total of 471 women whose boy babies had been born with hypospadias, a genital defect where the urinary tract is found away from the penis.

The women gave birth in 1997 and 1998 and were interviewed between 2000 and 2003.

Roughly double the number of women in the ‘hypospadias’ group revealed that they had been exposed to hair spray through their job compared with those with unaffected babies.

The incidence of hypospadias has risen sharply in recent decades, and some experts have pointed the finger of suspicion at chemicals called phthalates, found in some plastics, including those found in hair spray.

Phthalates have the ability to disrupt hormones, and have been banned in toys in the EU for some years; certain phthalates have also been banned from hair sprays and other cosmetic products since January 2005.

Professor Paul Elliott, who led the study, said that the finding did not prove that hair spray – or any phthalates it contained – was the cause of this of the condition but that, as a precautionary measure, pregnant mothers might wish to minimise their use of hair sprays.

Another finding of the study provides further backing of the government's recommendation that pregnant women should take extra folate to prevent similar defects to hypospadias, which arise early in pregnancy. Women who took folic acid in the first three months of pregnancy were a third less likely to have a baby with hypospadias, according to the study.

Source: Journal Environmental Health Perspectives

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January 2009

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