February 13, 2020
3 min read

Chemicals in cosmetics increase obesity risk for children exposed in utero

You've successfully added to your alerts. You will receive an email when new content is published.

Click Here to Manage Email Alerts

We were unable to process your request. Please try again later. If you continue to have this issue please contact customerservice@slackinc.com.

Irina Lehmann

Children may be more likely to develop overweight or obesity if their mothers are exposed to high levels of paraben while pregnant, according to findings published in Nature Communications.

“We are convinced that knowledge of potential health risks for the child related to the usage of specific consumer products can contribute to an altered behavior of pregnant woman — avoidance of harmful exposures — and finally will contribute to disease prevention,” Irina Lehmann, PhD, head of the molecular epidemiology unit at Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and Charité – Berlin University Hospital in Germany, told Healio. “[There are] no clinical implications but a recommendation for expectant mothers to avoid paraben-containing cosmetic products during the sensitive periods of pregnancy and breastfeeding.”

Lehmann and colleagues used urine samples to determine levels of paraben exposure among 622 women from the LINA study at 34 weeks of pregnancy. Participants self-reported the cosmetic products they used, and the researchers used an online database to identify which products had paraben. The researchers also determined BMI from age 2 to 8 years as well as birth weight for the 629 children born to these women using data collected at 1-year intervals.

Cosmetic products that had paraben were used by 26% of the women. The average methyl paraben level was 68.8 µg/L for women who used the products; those who did not use cosmetics containing paraben had an average level of 28.05 µg/L. Levels of ethyl paraben (2.9 vs. 1.89 µg/L; P = .0466) were also greater among women who used cosmetic products with paraben than they were in those who did not, as were levels of n-propylparaben (7.4 vs. 3.2 µg/L; P = .0025) and n-butylparaben (1.24 vs. 0.41 µg/L; P = .0004).

Pregnant women in hospital 
Children may be more likely to develop overweight or obesity if their mothers are exposed to high levels of paraben while pregnant.
Source: Adobe Stock

The researchers found that it was more than twice as likely that a child would become overweight or reach a BMI of at least 25 kg/m2 if they were exposed to i-butylparaben (OR = 2.4; 95% CI, 1.16-4.98) or n-butylparaben (OR = 2.17; 95% CI, 1.06-4.47) vs. not exposed.

“Our study results strongly suggest that prenatal exposure to n-butylparaben increases overweight development in the offspring,” the researchers wrote. “Our findings do not implicate to disregard the importance of a balanced diet or sufficient exercise for weight management, but call attention to the great significance of environmental exposures during pregnancy for the disease susceptibility in later life.”


The researchers further noted that based on evidence from mice “this effect seems to be stronger in girls compared to boys” and that “prenatal exposure to n-butylparaben induced an increase food intake and weight gain in female offspring.”

“Our data provide evidence that a neuronal dysregulation of satiety could contribute to the observed gain in body weight mediated by an epigenetic silencing and reduced hypothalamic expression of the gene proopiomelanocortin (POMC), well known to be involved regulation in appetite,” the researchers wrote. – by Phil Neuffer

For more information:

Irina Lehmann, PhD, can be reached at irina.lehmann@charite.de.

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.