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New Research: Common Personal Care Ingredient May Cause Newborn Bowel Obstruction with 80% Mortality

Is your baby’s colon worth having pretty eyelashes?

Would you trade your child’s ability to poop for a pretty smelling shampoo?

Let’s make a deal: You get convenient spray sunscreen, your newborn gets bowel surgery. Sound like a plan?

oxybenzone in sunscreen linked to birth defect Hirschsprung's Disease

This is the trade-off pregnant women using conventional beauty products may be making every day because of the ingredient oxybenzone, recently under fire for harming coral reefs and even possibly getting removed from the GRASE (Generally Recognized as Safe and Effective) list by the FDA.

For now though, you can still find this toxic endocrine disruptor in mainstream sunscreens as well as “lip balms, shampoos and conditioners, body fragrances, mascaras, hand and dish soaps, and insect repellents, but also single-use plastic packaging and toddler pacifiers and teethers,” according to a press release from Haereticus Environmental Labs just this morning.

Oxybenzone in Sunscreens and Personal Products may Cause Birth Defect Hirschsprung’s Disease

sunscreen chemical oxybenzone causing serious birth defect Hirschsprung's Disease

Women in their first trimester of pregnancy (a portion of which happens before the woman is generally even aware she’s pregnant, by the way) are susceptible to their babies developing Hirschsprung’s Disease, a birth defect in which nerve-cell networks don’t form in the lower colon and rectum. Once born, the baby will have trouble or will be unable to poop and requires surgery to correct, or roll the dice on an 80% mortality rate. (DiNardo, J & Downs, CA, Can oxybenzone cause Hirschsprung’s Disease? Journal of Reproductive Toxicology, March 2019)

I admit I had never heard of Hirschsprung’s Disease, although I think I know someone who has it and just didn’t know its name. But it’s not actually that rare – 1 in 5,000 babies born in the U.S. are afflicted with this serious birth defect, running pretty similar to Crohn’s Disease, our family’s personal cross to bear, as far as rate of diagnosis.

To put this in perspective, are you afraid of your child getting cancer? Dude. I am. Terrified.

The American Cancer Society estimated that about 10,590 children in the United States under the age of 15 would be diagnosed with cancer in 2018. About 4 million American babies are born each year. If we assume that, since cancer is the second leading cause of death for kids under age 15 and 80% of child cancer patients survive, we can multiply 4 million babies per year times 15 years to run some numbers, that means the percent chance of your baby being born with Hirschsprung’s is actually slightly greater than being diagnosed with cancer in a given year. 

We already know that oxybenzone (and octinoxate, although that chemical isn’t pegged in this study) is a potent endocrine disruptor, interfering with sexual development of children and fertility in adults. Now we know that oxybenzone also causes this birth defect. In fact, if a newly pregnant mother uses the recommended daily application of a conventional sunscreen containing 6% oxybenzone (very common concentration), her baby may have blood levels as high as 384 parts per billion, potentially toxic at the cellular level. 

This new study is corroborated by several recent scientific findings. Another study found a correlation between high levels of oxybenzone contamination in pregnant mothers’ urine and their babies developing Hirschsprung’s Disease. Another study showed that oxybenzone can interfere with cell development in exactly the way Hirschsprung’s happens. (And PS, for those of you afraid of cancer already – oxybenzone is linked to that too.)

We Must Avoid Oxybenzone!

best safe natural mineral sunscreen review

But at least we can just avoid these ingredients while pregnant, right?

NO! Because they’re so ubiquitous in the environment as they wash off everyone else’s bodies into the water supply, even bathing can cause an exposure. 🙁 Plus oxybenzone is fat-soluble and can stay in the body for weeks after exposure.

Dr. Denis Dudley M.D., an OB/GYN specializing in Fetal Maternal Medicine & Reproductive Endocrinology confirms that oxybenzone is “especially harmful to the most vulnerable among us – the unborn, young or adolescent children, and couples trying to conceive. They are linked to reproductive, metabolic, or neurological disorders, and several cancers.”

A 2019 study in the Clinical Dermatology Research Journal by DiNardo and Downs questions whether sunscreens containing oxybenzone (among other active ingredients that I’ve been rallying against for years) should even be considered for use on children at all. In the meantime, children are getting their “sun-safe” application of these chemicals on a daily basis, especially as we head into summer.

Are the fear centers in your brain going off yet? They ought to be. Here’s how Hirschsprung’s works:

Hirschsprung's Disease may be caused by sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone

Outcry Against Endocrine Disrupting Toxic Chemicals Needed

In response to this new study about Hirschsprung’s Disease potentially being caused by oxybenzone, Lara Adler, an environmental health educator whom I interviewed on the Healthy Parenting Connector, warns, “While everyone is exposed to environmental chemicals and are affected to some degree, pregnant women are the most vulnerable population. Fetal development is an  incredibly sensitive process that can be altered with the introduction of endocrine disrupting chemicals like oxybenzone.” (See her interview here.)

She calls for health practitioners to feel a grave responsibility to educate their patients, helping them understand why they need to avoid endocrine disruptors like oxybenzone. Wouldn’t it be great if OBs started sharing with new moms-to-be about how to make a simple swap from conventional sunscreen to a mineral-based option? There are many good ones to choose from (my family has tested over 100 personally, so believe me, we know!).

It’s time for parents to put up a fuss about this – the industry will only listen when the consumers speak with their money, their social shares, their very loud outcry against toxic ingredients that are probably harming our babies, our children, and our possibility of future grandchildren (not to mention coral reefs, ocean life, and your own reproductive health)!

Tropical locations are getting on board more and more with banning these ingredients, but we really need sunscreen brands to commit to removing oxybenzone and other endocrine disrupting chemicals for a true shift to happen. Whole Foods just announced that both oxybenzone and octinoxate are not allowed in their stores…won’t it be great if all of Amazon would follow???

sunscreen should be your last line of defense against sunburn and skin cancer

In reality, sunscreen shouldn’t even be used as often as it is. Dr. Keira Barr, a dermatologist I interviewed on the Healthy Parenting Connector, along with Craig Downs, PhD., one of the authors of the Hirschsprung’s study, both recommend shade and sun-protective clothing as the first line of defense. (See Dr. Barr’s interview here.)

Your Action Steps:

  1. STOP buying conventional sunscreens
  2. READ ingredients on other personal products, watching for oxybenzone – put them back on the shelf!
  3. SHARE this post with your friends
  4. SPEAK UP against oxybenzone, especially if you live in an ocean area where legislation may soon be coming to ban these chemicals
If you’re frustrated that these chemicals are already in our water supply, share as often as possible so we can STOP the buildup more quickly!

Read the entire research study here, galley proof, or the abstract on Science Direct, or the full published PDF at the Clinical Dermatology Research Journal

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New research shows common sunscreen chemical causes serious birth defect in newborns

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13 thoughts on “New Research: Common Personal Care Ingredient May Cause Newborn Bowel Obstruction with 80% Mortality”

  1. whisperingsage

    58, never use sunscreen, I just let it tan. People’s fear of the sun is causing a new rickets epidemic, vitamin D deficiency. D is needed for our bones and our immune system. The people with the high covid rates and worst symptoms are those with the lowest vitamin D levels. And it takes a LOT of sun to optimize your vitamin D in the skin. Dr Sarfraz Zaidi, an endocrinologist in SUNNY Ventura began to routinely test his patients for vitamin D levels and found ONE with optimal levels. She was a lifeguard in a swimsuit 5 days a week, 5 hours a day. 15 minutes on your arms and legs will not do it. He also found overall, his patients needed an average of 10,000 IUs a day of oral D3 to correct their deficiencies.
    OK, fear of cancer. MOST cancers of the skin are from melanoma, WHICH ARE USUALLY NOT OPENLY EXPOSED TO THE SUN!!!! They are in private places. They just are a marker for when something is going wrong metabolically. And usually, that is nutrient deficiency related. Your body normally fights cancer all its life, but your cells need the building blocks of nutrients to keep the invaders at bay. Provide them with optimal dose 90 essential nutrients and your body will heal. I have seen this work. Even with a 70 year old lady allowing the docs to inject her with chemo. Chemo alone, was killing her. I added nutrients and she 0vercame that burden and got well. I saw it. For more on this see Patrick Quillin, (MD) and Barry Lynnes, The Cancer Coverup.

  2. I wish I had this information before I was pregnant. Daily moisturizers often throw in spf 15 or 30 with chemical sunscreens. There is so much information out there and things to avoid as a pregnant person. I think the article is slightly worded as if someone might choose to use chemical sunscreen on purpose knowing it’s possible side effects. I used a moisturizer thinking it’s low ingredient list made it safer. I threw it out the second I found chemical sunscreen was unsafe. I wish the labels would state the possible side effects. One sad mommy over here but I’m glad I found out at 5 weeks. I will now be spending my whole pregnancy with this in the back of my mind.

    1. Carolyn @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Congratulations on your pregnancy Jenny! There is so much information out there regarding pregnancy and health, I know it can be really overwhelming! I’m glad this was helpful to you!

  3. Good news! The level of oxybenzone is safe. Heck, hydrogen dioxide will kill you if you drink enough of it!

    Now, skin cancer… that’ll kill you!


    1. Hi John,
      Your link isn’t showing a very readable version of whatever you were shooting for, but I understand your concern. No one is promoting unsafe or unprotected sun exposure here, to be fair. We’re just saying let’s be careful – the levels of oxybenzone in sunscreen alone, according to your link (I think), may not be toxic yet, but we are exposed from so many sources that for me, it’s better safe than sorry. And switching to zinc oxide based sunscreens, which are broad spectrum with just the one active ingredient, is so easy and safer in so many ways. It’s a no-brainer for me, even before this research made a correlation with Hirschsprung’s.
      Best, Katie

  4. Hi, Katie. As a mom of a child with Hirschprung’s Disease, I’ve been affected by your article here. While I do not feel responsible for my daughter’s disease (and successful surgery at 5 days old with minor lingering effects), I fear that the way this information is presented is overly dramatic and based in fear. I spoke with my dermatologist just this morning during my early skin check and he confirmed that, while there are studies out there that purport to find links between oxybenzone and hormone disruption, the way the studies are carried out on animals and at unrealistically high dosages, the danger to humans is far less severe than presented in your article. He did promote shade, UPF clothing, and zinc oxide (or similar) methods as preferable, but stated it would be more harmful to get a sunburn than to not wear an oxybenzone product from time to time.

    I have enjoyed your blog for years, but this article has struck a cord with me… Presenting opinions and other findings in a more positive light, with positive psychology at work, might reach your audience in the same, but more uplifting, way.

    1. Hi Jill, I’m so sorry you had such a medical crisis with your newborn; how terrifying! 🙁 I completely understand how you felt about the presentation here and hope you’ll allow me a few words to explain more.

      First, your dermatologist probably wasn’t familiar with this research as it literally just came out at the end of March; also, being a skin expert, he would certainly be biased toward the skin diseases and not the birth defects. It’s just the way information works because he’s immersed in skin info and sees skin disease, so like your antennae went up when you saw this post, his go up when it comes to skin. One of the studies mentioned here is specifically on pregnant women, finding a correlation between high levels of oxybenzone contamination in pregnant mothers’ urine and Hirschsprung’s. So it’s not entirely unfounded that there’s a correlation (which isn’t necessarily causation but those studies are unethical so this is all we have).

      Second, I would never EVER say that a mom was at *fault* for her baby’s birth defect – unfortunately we all take collective blame for that with what we put in the environment. But we can often only control our own surroundings, so I have to speak to pregnant women.

      On the tone, I wish I could write an encouraging article and have anyone care, but I’ve learned that if I don’t bring in the C-word (cancer) or make something sound scary, no one pays any attention, even though I dislike the strategy. 🙁 I’ll never overstate facts or stretch the truth, but sometimes I have to use tough words for anyone to care. I’m so sorry it felt as if I was placing blame on you for your baby’s birth defect though; definitely not my intent. I don’t think Hirschsprung’s is widely recognized enough as it is, so people still didn’t really get into it. Have you ever seen other advice on how to help moms avoid this one, or is the common wisdom just, “Things happen, nothing you can do?” I always want to think there’s something I can do, just my nature as a teacher and a fixer. So if it’s as easy as avoiding some chemical ingredients, I want to shout it far and wide to improve our collective environment.

      I hope you can see my intent, and I’m more than happy to continue the dialogue. Thanks so much for opening it up respectfully!
      Hugs, Katie

  5. Thank you for this valuable information, I will be sharing this information with my family and friends!

  6. Megan Saxbury

    Just tan. Everyone can unless you have the disease Micheal Jackson had. Read for how to do it. I find most people go out for an hour first time. Dumb! Short time. 5 to 15 min and increase slowly. Even a red head will tan if slow enough. My brother does. Mom was as smart as

    1. Hi Megan! In other posts I explore the balance between getting safe sun exposure and using sunscreen; however for the purposes here, there’s a lot to avoid and many people will hear the “just tan” advice and start an argument that wouldn’t serve the purpose of this research study. Sometimes you need a lotion, like going to Florida on spring break and trying to be at Disneyworld all day — you don’t get the option of 5-15 minutes to slowly work up, even if you wear hats. Everyone needs to know multiple safe options so they can make the best choice for their family for a given situation. But – I do agree that there’s a place for safe sun exposure, so I’m not disagreeing with your thoughts, just that they aren’t always a fit. Thanks! Katie

  7. Hi Katie! The link you give at the end of your post does not lead to an ‘entire research study,’ only to what looks like a brief overview. When I searched for the actual study, it has been removed from Science Direct.
    Any idea why it got removed?

    1. Hi Valerie, Sorry for the delay – spring break got me! 🙂 Yes, actually, I do know that it was removed from Science Direct only because it was accidentally published before the release date. It took a few days for the cogs to move after the official release date, but it’s back there now at the same link you shared. The study is only a few pages though, so I think the original link to the galley proof PDF should have been complete. Thanks for checking! 🙂 Katie

  8. I just picked up two packages of sunscreen from Costco that do not contain the oxybenzone and the other “O” ingredient, forget what it is. I plan to share it with my family. I’m glad I read your last article about it so that it caught my eye when I saw it at the store.

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