Why Pregnant Moms Are Being Warned Not to Use Hair Spray

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Pregnant women hear the word "no" almost as much as their future toddlers do. "No, you can't drink coffee." "No, you can't eat soft cheese." And there's a new one this week: "No, you can't use hair spray." 

Wait, what?

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Yup, a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in late 2016 has surfaced, positing a link between moms who use hair spray during pregnancy and hypospadias, a birth defect that shows up in about five out of every 1,000 boys born in the United States. 

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Past studies have linked hair spray usage by pregnant cosmetologists to the condition, but scientists in Amiens, France, reviewed cases of babies born with hypospadias and say there is a link for moms who use hair sprays at home as well because of the endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are contained in the sprays.  

So should you throw out the bottles of spray? It may be worth it if you just found out you're pregnant, says Dr. Mark Cain, a pediatric urologist with Riley Children's Health in Indianapolis, but it's not the end of the world if you've been spraying up a storm. 

The penis stops developing in babies with hypospadias sometime between 10 to 14 weeks in utero, resulting in a urethra that isn't located at the penile tip and often a curved penis.

"Moms barely know they're pregnant when the penis is developing," Cain points out. "You almost have to have a planned pregnancy to know." 

What's more, the research into how endocrine disruptors affect fetal development is promising but still in very early stages. "We don't have enough data right now," Cain says, although there is plenty of suspicion that environmental factors could be playing a role.

It's something the researchers in France say themselves in their study, noting, "A larger study with more accurate exposure assessment should evaluate the impact of [endocrine-disrupting chemicals] in hair cosmetics on the incidence of hypospadias." 

In the meantime, if you work around hair spray or you've been spritzing your head all pregnancy long, don't freak out. Hypospadias is still limited to less than 1 percent of male births. And while ultrasounds may pick hypospadias up in late pregnancy, there is nothing that needs to be done in utero, Dr. Cain says. 

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Typically it's caught at birth, at which point doctors recommend parents avoid circumcision but otherwise send them home from the hospital with their new little bundle. Depending on the severity of the hypospadias, a simple outpatient surgery may be scheduled by a doctor sometime after the little boy is 7 months old.

Best of all: Cain says little boys typically go on to have healthy lives after surgery with no side effects.

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