Pregnant women are being warned off beauty products amid fears they could lead to birth defects.
Growing concerns over the effects of chemicals such as parabens, commonly used in cosmetics as a preservative, and phthalates, used in hairspray, have led to calls for a new EU-wide cosmetics labelling system.
The move follows the publication of a study which found that women exposed to high levels of hairspray during pregnancy were twice as likely to have babies born with hypospadias, a condition in which the urinary tract grows on the underside of the penis.
High levels of phthalates, also used to soften plastics such as PVC, have been found to affect hormone levels, while parabens have been the subject of concern since 2004, when a study claimed to have detected parabens from deodorants in cancerous breast tissue.
The French government announced last week that the country’s health authorities were considering a labelling system for cosmetics that would indicate whether or not products were safe for pregnant women.
But the UK government said that the EU should address the issue as a whole, adding it to a range of changes currently being made to the European Cosmetics Directive.
Professor Paul Elliott, who led the Imperial College study into the use of hairspray during pregnancy, backs the introduction of a labelling system.
He told the Independent on Sunday: ‘Labels enable people to make informed choices. In the vulnerable period of pregnancy, it makes sense for people to reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals.
‘It is part of a broader discussion about minimising chemical exposure in early pregnancy.’
Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, added:
‘Women who are planning to conceive or who are in the first three months of pregnancy should look at what they are using.
‘The cosmetics industry needs to look at this and clearly label their products. Anything like this raises concerns, but I don’t think people should panic.’