Could Perfume and Cosmetics Cause Autism?
As the percentage of children diagnosed with autism rises, researchers are scrambling to discover why. Two new reports from experts at the South Carolina Center for Biotechnology propose that perfume and cosmetics may have a role in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).
How could makeup cause autism?
On the surface, it sounds implausible that use of makeup and perfumes could have a role in why an estimated one in 88 children suffer with autism. Yet, when you consider, as the current authors did, that “there is irrefutable evidence that pesticides, water borne chemicals, or food preservatives play critical roles in inducing the genetic mutations associated with known intellectual deficiencies that have been linked to autism spectrum disorder,” then the potential link becomes clearer.
The authors indicate they have scientific proof that autism can result from exposure to perfume and cosmetics. Let’s consider perfumes for a moment.
They point out that fragrance makers do not have to reveal the ingredients in their products on labels, even though perfumes contain chemicals known to cause tumors (mutagenic) and have a negative impact on the nervous system (neurotoxic and neuromodulatory). In fact, perfume manufacturers can get away with having to report these ingredients because of a loophole in the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973.
What are some of those dangerous ingredients? The authors studied 17 name-brand products and found there were 38 different unidentified chemicals in them. Among the products evaluated were Dolce and Gabbana Light Blue, Chanel Coco, American Eagle Seventy Seven, Britney Spears Curious, Victoria’s Secret Dream Angels Wish, and Calvin Klein’s Eternity for Men.
Nearly all of the fragrances each contained more than a dozen unidentified ingredients. The researchers were able to identify them, and some of them included alpha-pinene, benzophenone, butylated hydroxytoluene, diethyl phthalate, limonene, musk ketone, and octinoxate, among others.
Other ingredients in fragrances also have been uncovered, including zinc pyridinethione, isobutanol, and hexachlorophene, to name just a few that are associated with neurotoxicity (nerve damage). Overall, there are about 3,100 different ingredients that may be used in making perfumes.
According to the authors, many of the abovenamed ingredients, among others, are known carcinogens, mutagens, and can cause damage during human fetal brain development. To illustrate this point, the authors recently completed an Ames test analysis of fetal brain cell lines exposed to minute concentrations of various perfumes.
They found that exposure to “extremely low levels of concentration” of perfumes resulted in significant neuromodulations in human fetal brain cells at “levels that are expected to reach a developing fetal brain if the pregnant mothers are exposed to these chemicals.”
More specifically, the authors hypothesized that exposure to perfumes can alter development of the olfactory bulb (structure in the forebrain that receives neural input about smell) and ultimately result in underdeveloped or damaged neuronal pathways (the “avenues” upon which information travels through the neurons, or nerve cells, of the brain).
How about cosmetics? Synthetic perfumes are commonly used in cosmetics and soaps, as well as in detergents and even in food flavorings to boost flavor. Therefore, perfumes themselves as well as items that contain fragrances may be contributing to the rise in autism.
Other possible autism causes and risks
Among the latest findings concerning possible autism causes and risks is an association between use of sodium valproate (an antiseizure drug) during pregnancy and an increased risk of autism. One finding of the study was that children exposed to valproate during pregnancy were six times more likely to have a neurodevelopment disorder such as autism than children who were not exposed.
Other factors that have been suggested as possible causes or risks for autism include fever during pregnancy, having a child after age 35, use of antidepressants during pregnancy, and genetic mutations, to name a few. Factors that may fuel autism include a standard American diet and an imbalance of intestinal flora.
The search for the causes of autism spectrum disorder has turned up some interesting and promising possibilities that warrant further investigation. That list now includes perfumes and cosmetics as possible causes of autism.
Bagasra O et al. Role of perfumes in pathogenesis of autism. Medical Hypotheses 2013 Jun; 80(6): 795-803
Bagasra O, Pace DG. Smell of autism: Synthetic fragrances and cause for allergies, asthma, cancer and autism. OA Autism 2013 Jun 19; 1(2):15
Bromley RL et al. The prevalence of neurodevelopmental disorders in children prenatally exposed to antiepileptic drugs. Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry 2013 Jan 31. DOI:10.1136/jnnp-2012-304270