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The following introduction is from the Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina (1).

"Cosmetology, a predominantly female occupation comprising over half a million women in the United States, has received little attention with regard to potential adverse reproductive outcomes. Cosmetologists (also called hairdressers, stylists, or beauticians) have daily contact with cosmetic products and thus are routinely exposed through inhalation or skin absorption to a wide range of chemicals, including established toxins such as dyes and solvents, and they generally perform their work in a standing position. Exposure to chemicals during pregnancy has been associated with increased spontaneous abortion risk in various occupations."

Concern for cosmetic products should also carry over to all women as chemical based hair dyes, hair sprays, facial make-ups and finger nail polish are routinely used by the majority of American women. Many of these chemicals were stated as being mutagenic (having the ability to damage the genes and chromosomes) in a paper by the Toxic Chemicals Laboratory, New York State College (2).

Mental Retardation Linked to Cosmetic Chemical Exposure

Research showing an association between the mother’s occupational exposure and mental retardation in offspring was also reviewed by the Department of Medical Informatics, University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands, in a report entitled Reproductive Disorders Due To Chemical Exposure Among Hairdressers (11). In one of the studies, a dissertation by a student at the University of Nijmegen, Netherlands, investigated 306 mentally retarded children and their mother’s job occupations. Significantly increased odds ratios were found for hairdressers working in the first or second month of pregnancy and in the third through the fifth months of pregnancy. Results showed a 3.7 times increased risk for having a mentally retarded child for women exposed to hair care products or dyes.

In a study of 76 children with neural tube defects in Venezuela, two researchers, Hammond & Canache (10) found that 13.6% of the mothers were hairdressers but only 1.3% of the mothers of a control group were hairdressers. Further stressing the dangers of cosmetic chemicals, a study reported by the School of Public Health, University of North Carolina, found that full-time cosmetologists had nearly twice the risk of having a spontaneous abortion (12).

As several research articles have found increased genetic abnormalities occurring in pregnancies resulting in spontaneous abortion, the following investigation of women working around the chemicals used in cosmetics raises concern.

Spontaneous Abortions Higher Among Cosmetologists

Working in the cosmetics industry increases the chance of having a pregnancy end in spontaneous abortion. This was the conclusion of a research study partially funded by the March of Dimes Foundation and conducted at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health. Researchers investigated over 1,000 live births and spontaneous abortions among cosmetologists and other occupations, including comparison to women who stayed at home. Results showed that women employed full-time as cosmetologists (35 or more hours per week) had a higher rate of spontaneous abortion than women in other jobs. The researchers analyzed different working exposures for the cosmetologists in an attempt to identify which cosmetology practices were more dangerous. The table below lists different cosmetology working conditions and the corresponding increased risk of having a spontaneous abortion.



Survey Of 1,249 Births And Spontaneous Abortions

Cosmetic Practice

Risk of Spontaneous Abortion
Working In Cosmetology School 2.3 times greater risk
Working in Cosmetic Business 35-40 Hours Week 1.2 times greater risk
Working in Cosmetic Business More than 41 Hours Wk 2.0 times greater risk
Performing more than 13 Chemical Services per Week 1.9 times greater risk
Giving 10 or more Permanents Per Week 1.9 times greater risk
Performing more than 2 Bleaches Per Week 1.9 times greater risk
Use of Formaldehyde Based Disinfectants 2.0 times greater risk
Working Around Employees Performing Nail Sculpturing 1.9 times greater risk
For Comparison - Working at Home "Homemaker" .1 times decreased risk


In summary, the researchers stated,

 "To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the relation between specific occupational exposures in cosmetology and the risk of spontaneous abortion.... Since cosmetology involves exposure to chemical mixtures from multiple sources, it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify effects associated with specific chemical agents. We found that several work characteristics were independently associated with an increased risk of spontaneous abortion, including the number of chemical services performed per week, the use of formaldehyde-based disinfectants, and work in salons... Women who attended cosmetology school during the first trimester of pregnancy had more than double the risk of a spontaneous abortion... Among our relatively young respondents to the screening questionnaire, spontaneous abortions accounted for 7.8% of the most recent pregnancies... Future research based on larger study populations, improved assessment of occupational exposures, and validated reproductive outcomes is warranted to replicate our findings and identify any specific reproductive hazards in cosmetology."

Epidemiology, 5(4):147-155, Spontaneous Abortions among Cosmetologists, Esther M. John, David A. Savitz, and Carl M. Shy, Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina



  1. Epidemiology, 5(4):147-155, Spontaneous Abortions among Cosmetologists, Esther M. John, David A. Savitz, and Carl M. Shy, Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina
  2. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, 34:197-206, 1991, Urinary Mutagens in Cosmetologists and Dental Personnel.