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Health Team

Chemicals in Baby Products Might Be Harmful

Posted February 8, 2008 4:58 p.m. EST
Updated February 8, 2008 10:30 p.m. EST

A new study suggests that some baby shampoos and lotions might contain harmful chemicals, although the Food and Drug Administration says research on the subject is inconclusive.

More than 80 percent of babies who participated in the study had been exposed to a potentially harmful group of chemicals called phthalates. Researchers suggested the chemicals came from baby shampoo, lotion and powder.

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted the research. It has been investigating phthalates for the past seven years.

Other studies show that phthalates can cause reproductive problems in boys and early puberty in girls, EWG scientists argued.

"There's a significant body of evidence that suggests that there's a real cause for concern," Jane Houlihan, with the Environmental Working Group, said.

Other experts say that evidence is far from conclusive, however, and more studies are necessary to prove that phthalates pose a danger. The FDA said it is not clear what effect, if any, phthalates have on human health.

Scientists who work for industries using phthalates disputed the latest study.

"I don't think that parents should be worried about using shampoos and lotions on their children," said Dr. John Bailey, of the Personal Care Products Council.

Finding out if phthalates are present in products can be difficult. Checking labels might not be useful, because phthalates are not often listed among the contents.

Phthalates are used to stabilize fragrance in baby products and cosmetics, so the number of products potentially containing the chemicals is hard to count.

Danielle Wirtenberg said conflicting reports like these often leave her confused about whether products are safe for her baby.

"I'm using one thing, and then I hear from another mother, 'Oh, by the way, there's this chemical you shouldn't be using,'" Wirtenberg said.

Until scientists settle the dispute over phthalates, Houlihan offered one tip for parents: "Avoid products that have fragrance in them, because fragrance so often contains phthalates," she said.