Shampoos, lotions, and other baby care products expose babies and toddlers to potentially harmful substances at a great rate, according to a new study.

Published in the American Chemical Society’s journal, Environmental Science and Technology, the study focuses on exposure to two chemicals commonly found in personal care products – parabens and phthalates. Manufacturers use parabens as preservatives and add phthalates to products to hold in moisture. About 90 percent of people in the United States face exposure to these chemicals every day.

The human body breaks these chemicals down quickly but scientists have detected phthalates and parabens in urine, breast milk and blood. Previous research has suggested a link between exposure to these chemicals and an increased risk for medical conditions such as breast cancer, sperm damage and asthma.

The researchers collected 170 samples of personal care products, including lotions, shampoos, and makeup; 20 of the items collected were for babies. The scientists then tested the products for the presence of nine phthalates and six parabens – they found both substances in personal care products. Paraben was common in baby products while phthalate concentrations were low. Rinse-off products contained fewer parabens and phthalates than did leave-on products.

The scientists calculated the possible exposure levels and found an infant or toddler’s potential daily exposure to parabens could be double or even triple that of adult women, who risk great exposure to these chemicals through makeup and beauty products. Women also risk greater exposure after shaving and nicking their underarms before applying deodorant; men and women who don't shave have a lower risk for exposure because their underarm hair prevents their skin from absorbing parabens present in antiperspirants. Some scientists speculate parabens absorbed through antiperspirants increase the risk for breast cancer because of the close proximity of the breast to the underarm.

Scientists in this study were able to determine how much parabens and phthalates were absorbed into the skin. Adult females absorbed 0.37 and 31.0 μg/kg-bw/day for phthalates and parabens, respectively. While infants and toddlers showed lower levels of phthalates in their systems, they had three times more parabens in their bodies than did adult women.

Source: Guo, Ying, and Kurunthachalam Kannan. "Personal Care Products Are Possible Sources of Potentially Harmful Parabens for Babies." American Chemical Society. 21 Nov. 2013. Web. 21 Dec. 2013.