Fragrance risks to pregnant women exaggerated: scientist

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Pregnant women Fetus Pregnancy

Recent claims over the dangers of fragrances and cosmetics to pregnant women have been exaggerated by the media, according to a leading scientist.

New research by a team based at the University of Edinburgh in the UK, which focused on common disorders of the male reproductive systems, has led to a string of news stories warning pregnant women to stop using cosmetics products and fragrances.

‘Scare story’ journalism

The research was led by Professor Richard Sharpe who claims that this ‘scare story’ journalism does not accurately reflect the science.

The work, which is being presented today at the Simpson symposium in Edinburgh, focused on laboratory rats and identified a critical period in fetus development when certain hormones are necessary if male characteristics are to later develop.

If a male fetus is not exposed to enough androgen during this critical period – which the researchers have termed the male programming window – he will not develop a normal functioning male reproductive system.

Although some environmental chemicals can affect this process in laboratory rats, there is no evidence that this occurs in humans, according to Sharpe.

However, after an interview with the UK newspaper, an article appeared with the headline ‘Women warned not to wear perfume during pregnancy’, which Sharpe claims does not reflect the research findings.

“I would like to distance myself from ‘scare story’ journalism such as that triggered by the headline in the article in Scotland on Sunday which led to a succession of similar headlines in other newspapers.

“It does not accurately reflect the science on which it is based (which as always, has uncertainties),”​ Sharpe said in a statement.

In addition Sharpe accuses this type of journalism as insulting the public, as well as desensitizing them to potential future public health claims that are based on strong scientific evidence.

Effect in humans is uncertain

He states that the research findings raise questions as to whether environmental chemicals may contribute to similar disorders in humans, however at present we do not know whether or not this is the case.

“Obtaining conclusive evidence one way or another is an extremely difficult task which will take several years,”​ he added.

In light of this uncertainty, Sharpe said one way expectant mothers can alleviate their anxiety would be to avoid personal care products like cosmetics for the first three months of pregnancy.

“This is not because we have conclusive evidence that these chemicals will harm the baby in any way, but because feeling anxious about chemicals will not do pregnant women or the babies any good,”​ he said.

Related topics Formulation & Science

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