Unborn babies exposed to a common chemical found in make-up may be at higher risk of becoming overweight early in life, according to new research.
Scientists say pregnant women exposed to butyl paraben (BuP) - a preservative widely used in cosmetics and food - are more likely to have children who are overweight in early to mid-childhood.
BuP can enter the body through ingestion or skin absorption and be detected in urine and blood.
Tobias Polte, from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research- UFZ in Germany, and colleagues collected data from 629 mothers and their children between 2006-2008.
Exposure was checked using questionnaires undertaken in the 34th week of pregnancy. Following birth, the children's body weight and height were measured every year.
The researchers found a "positive association" between BuP concentrations in the mothers' urine samples and the risk of their children being overweight in the first eight years of their life. The association was stronger in girls.
Tests on mice showed exposure to BuP led to increased eating and weight gain in female offspring.
Writing in the journal 'Nature Communications', the researchers noted: "Our study results strongly suggest that prenatal exposure to BuP increases overweight development in the offspring.
"Our findings do not implicate to disregard the importance of a balanced diet or sufficient exercise for weight management but call attention to the great significance of environmental exposures during pregnancy."
Dr Alex Polyakov, a senior lecturer in obstetrics and gynaecology at Melbourne University, said: "This study demonstrated an association between maternal use of paraben-containing cosmetic products and increased urinary paraben concentration. Further research is required in view of the fact that numerous cosmetic, pharmaceutical and food compounds widely used by pregnant women contain paraben."