Pregnant women are being urged to stop using perfumes or scented creams after research suggested the products could cause unborn boys to suffer infertility or cancer in later life. It found the reproductive systems of male foetuses were damaged at as early as eight weeks’ gestation by chemicals found in cosmetics.
Professor Richard Sharpe, who led the research at the Medical Research Council’s Human Sciences Unit, said that he had discovered a ‘time window’ of eight to 12 weeks’ gestation, when certain hormones in the foetus are activated and the male reproductive system comes into being. At that time, future problems of male fertility, including undescended testicles, low sperm count and the risk of testicular cancer could be determined if these hormones, such as testosterone, do not work properly, he added. The experiments on rats confirmed that if the hormones were blocked, the animals suffered fertility problems. Professor Sharpe said he had discovered the male programming window occurred far earlier in foetal development than was previously thought, before the reproductive organs fully develop, and when androgens in the foetus are most active.
“If the male foetus does not receive enough androgens it may not realise its full reproductive potential,” he added. “Women could stop using body creams and perfumes. Although we do not have conclusive evidence they do harm, there are components about which there are question marks; for example, it could be certain combinations of chemicals.”