Obesity caused by cosmetics - products containing preservatives pose a risk

Obesity caused by cosmetics - products containing preservatives pose a risk

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Parabens: risk of obesity from cosmetics

Most people naturally use creams, shower gels or deodorants every day. However, many of these cosmetic products contain ingredients that are suspected of causing health problems. This could also be scientifically proven in part. A new study now shows that certain preservatives can increase the risk of being overweight.

Parabens are used as preservatives in cosmetics because of their antibacterial properties. If pregnant women use cosmetics containing parabens that remain on the skin for longer, this can have consequences for the child's subsequent weight gain. This was shown by a research team in a study published in the journal "Nature Communications".

Controversial preservatives

Methyl parabens, propyl parabens, butyl parabens - parabens, or something similar, are called parabens, which are often used as preservatives in cosmetics due to their antibacterial effect.

These substances came under criticism years ago because "parabens were detected in tissue samples from breast tumors", as the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) reported in early 2004.

At that time, the German Cancer Society warned of paraben-containing deodorants, since parabens have an activity similar to the female hormone estrogen and could possibly stimulate the cells of the breast tissue to grow in an uncontrolled manner.

However, the BfR concluded that there is no scientific evidence that the use of such deodorants increases the risk of developing breast cancer.

Years later, scientists from the United States shared chemicals such as parabens with the early occurrence of puberty in girls.

And now researchers from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ), together with colleagues from the University of Leipzig, the Charité and the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), have shown that when pregnant women use products with such substances, this has a negative impact on their offspring can impact.

Serious side effect

Parabens in creams or body lotions protect against germs, but they can have a serious side effect. "And in the truest sense of the word," says UFZ environmental immunologist Dr. Tobias Polte according to a message. "If pregnant women take parabens through the skin, this can lead to overweight in their children."

The starting point for the investigations was the “LINA” mother-child cohort study, a long-term study by the UFZ in which the importance of environmental pollution in sensitive childhood development phases for the later occurrence of allergies and respiratory diseases or obesity is researched.

"First of all, we wanted to know whether the parabens found in the urine of pregnant women from the mother-child cohort have an influence on the weight development of their children," explains the former UFZ researcher Prof. Irina Lehmann, now at the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH ) and at the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin.

"We discovered a positive correlation between the concentrations of butyl paraben in the urine of the mothers and an increased body mass index in the children - especially the daughters - up to the age of eight."

Check cosmetics for parabens using the app

In order to find out where the butyl parabens in the urine of the pregnant women come from, the researchers searched the questionnaires that the participants in the LINA study had filled out, according to information on cosmetic products used during pregnancy.

"Using the BUND ToxFox app, we were able to quickly and easily check whether parabens were among the ingredients in the respective cosmetics," said Polte.

"And high levels of parabens in the mother's urine were actually associated with the use of cosmetics containing parabens - especially those that remain on the skin for a long time, such as creams or body lotions."

Increased weight gain

But how is the use of paraben-containing creams by the pregnant woman related to the child's later overweight? In order to track down the underlying mechanisms, the research team first investigated in cell cultures whether fat cells themselves react to increased concentrations of butyl paraben.

"Butylparaben did not enlarge the fat cells, nor did they store more fat than usual," explains Lehmann. "Obviously, the parabens did not influence the differentiation of fat cells." So there had to be something else behind the weight gain of the children.

In collaboration with scientists from the Medical Faculty of the University of Leipzig, the researchers used mouse models to simulate paraben exposure during pregnancy and lactation. Mice were exposed to butyl paraben through the skin.

"As in the LINA study, the female offspring showed an increased weight gain," said Polte. "And they also ate more than the offspring of mice from the control group."

Therefore, the researchers suspected that parabens might have an impact on hunger regulation in the brain and took a closer look at key genes in the hypothalamus of mouse progeny.

The gene for controlling hunger was down-regulated

This showed that a gene called proopiomelanocortin (POMC), which is crucial for controlling hunger, was amazingly downregulated in the brain of the young mice.

Further scientific studies at the genetic level showed that an epigenetic change was responsible for this, which prevented the corresponding POMC gene from being read.

“Under the influence of parabens during pregnancy, the offspring obviously develop epigenetic changes that disrupt the regulation of the natural feeling of satiety in the long term. This means that they absorb more food, ”says Polte.

“Of course, other factors also play an important role in weight development, such as a hypercaloric diet and lack of exercise. Nevertheless, parabens appear to be a risk factor for the development of obesity during pregnancy. ”

Pregnant women should use paraben-free products

So far, the researchers have not yet been able to say how stable the epigenetic changes are and whether they can be passed on. However, based on the results so far, you can already make a clear recommendation:

"Expectant mothers should definitely use their child's paraben-free products during the sensitive phases of pregnancy and lactation with a view to future health," explains Lehmann. "Many cosmetics have already been declared paraben-free, otherwise looking at the list of ingredients or using the ToxFox app, for example, helps."

In future studies, the scientists will find further possible effects of parabens. "Epigenetic changes that affect the regulation of the feeling of satiety are of course only one possible endpoint," said Polte.

“Cross-generational effects of environmental factors have so far often been underestimated. We hope that our research can help to focus more on this in the future, ”summarizes the UFZ environmental immunologist. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ): Obesity through cosmetics / benefits Pregnant paraben-containing creams can have consequences (accessed: February 12, 2020), Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ)
  • Beate Leppert, Sandra Strunz, Bettina Seiwert, Linda Schlittenbauer, Rita Schlichting, Christiane Pfeiffer, Stefan Röder, Mario Bauer, Michael Borte, Gabriele I. Stangl, Torsten Schöneberg, Angela Schulz, Isabell Karkossa, Ulrike E. Rolle-Kampczyk, Loreen Thürmann , Martin von Bergen, Beate I. Escher, Kristin Junge, Thorsten Reemtsma, Irina Lehmann, Tobias Polte: Maternal paraben exposure triggers childhood overweight development; in: Nature Communications, (published: 02/11/2020), Nature Communications
  • Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR): Paraben-containing deodorants and the development of breast cancer, (accessed: February 12, 2020), Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR)
  • Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ): The LINA study, (accessed: February 12, 2020), Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ)
  • BUND: ToxFox: Scan, ask, shop non-toxic, (call: 02/12/2020), BUND

Video: Obesity report highlights risk of Type 2 diabetes for slightly overweight people (May 2022).


  1. Palban

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