Women’s use of personal care products, particularly lipstick and moisturizers, during pregnancy may put their future children at risk of developing motor skill problems, according to a new study. 

The findings show that such products, as well as food containers and children's toys, contain chemicals that cause adverse effects on the motor function of developing babies, EurekAlert reported on Thursday.

A research team from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health said that the risk increases when expecting mothers are exposed to chemicals known as phthalates in late pregnancy. The findings, published in the journal Environmental Research, come from an analysis of the health of 209 children in New York City.

Women are exposed to phthalates through ingestion or skin contact. The researchers measured levels of phthalates in urine samples from women during late pregnancy and from their children at ages three, five and seven years.

“Almost one-third of the children in our study had below or well-below average motor skills,” said senior author Pam Factor-Litvak, professor of epidemiology at the Columbia Mailman School. She added that children with subtle motor problems face challenges in participating in daily activities of childhood and also experience low self-worth and self-esteem, high rates of anxiety and depression, and behavioral disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

“This study adds to the substantial body of evidence on the health risks of phthalates for children,” said Julie Herbstman, associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences and director of Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH). She also noted that the chemicals have been also linked to an elevated risk for asthma and cognitive issues.

The researchers then called on women to reduce the use of products containing the said chemicals during pregnancy, particularly lipstick and moisturizers. The team also hopes that policymakers and manufacturers will consider efforts to limit or eliminate the use of the chemicals in commercial products.

“No chemicals should be this widely available until they are proven to be safe,” Herbstman said. 

The study is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.