Infants and toddlers are likely becoming exposed to potentially harmful substances called parabens at a higher level than adult women in the U.S. through lotions, shampoos and other personal care products, new research says.

Potential daily skin exposure to parabens by infants and toddlers could be as much as two to three times higher than that for adult women, says the new research, published recently in the the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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Increased exposure to parabens has been linked to reproductive and other health issues.

Substances called phthalates and parabens are used in a wide range of products, from medical devices to children’s toys, as well as in personal care products. Phthalates hold in moisture; parabens are used as preservatives.

Most people are exposed to these substances every day—for example, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that more than 90 percent of the population is exposed to these substances. The body breaks them down quickly, but both have been detected in urine, breast milk and blood.

Research suggests a link between these substances and health issues in animals and people, such as sperm damage, breast cancer and an increased risk for asthma.

In previous studies, the research team led by Kurunthachalam Kannan and Ying Guo found that food and indoor dust contributed to phthalate exposure to varying degrees, but paraben exposure was low. In the most recent research, the team looked at a third route of possible exposure—the use of personal care products.

They collected 170 samples of makeup, lotions, shampoos and other products, including 20 items for babies, and tested them for nine phthalates and six parabens. Both substances were found in the personal care products. While phthalate concentrations were low, parabens were common. 

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