This is one of the most common questions I get asked by patients, friends and family about pregnancy and trying to conceive. The easy answer is “use as few products as possible and keep things as natural as you can.”
But while everyone wants to be safe, no woman wants to give up her beauty routine if she doesn’t have to. Thankfully, there are many great beauty products that are safe to use in pregnancy.
So what are the big beauty no-no’s for pregnancy? And what can you keep using without having to worry?
- Isotretinoin (Accutane) – This product is an absolute no-no if pregnancy is even a remote possibility. This is actually one of the few Category X drugs out there. Category X means that studies of the drug in animals and humans have provided evidence of fetal abnormalities and fetal risk.
- Retinoids – Products such as Retin A haven’t been proven to be harmful, but even applied topically can be absorbed into the bloodstream and could potentially cause problems.
- Salicylic acid – While it is a common ingredient in many acne treatment products, salicylic acid also absorbs into the bloodstream and is potentially harmful to a pregnancy.
- Soy skincare products – Some products have been shown to cause skin coloration changes known as pregnancy mask. “Active Soy” seems to be ok.
- Botox – The injections include a toxin that is placed under the skin. Definitely avoid this in pregnancy.
- Color – Opinions on dying hair during pregnancy are mixed, but most agree that in the first trimester, it is best to avoid permanent color that sits on the scalp. Highlights, which are pieced in and have less contact with the scalp, are generally thought to be ok. Make sure you talk with your hair stylist about your pregnancy and ask to be in a well-ventilated area.
- Chemical straighteners – These often contain harsh chemicals and should be avoided (just think of how toned your arms will be after blow-drying and straightening, instead)!
- Sunscreen – Sun protection is even more important during pregnancy. In addition to reducing the risk for skin cancer, sunscreen can help prevent melasma, or hyperpigmentation, which is a common condition during pregnancy. There are some ingredients common to sunscreen to watch out for, including oxybenzone, homosalate, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, octocrylene and para-aminobenzoic acid. It’s best to stick to physical or mineral sun blocks, such as those containing zinc. For now, most experts also caution against products with “nano-particles,” as little is known about how safe these products are.
- Hair removal – Waxing is safe, but you may find that your skin is more sensitive and that waxing is less comfortable than before pregnancy. There isn’t any good safety data on the use of laser or electrolysis for hair removal in pregnancy. It is generally recommended that women avoid these methods for both the unknown effect on the fetus and for potential skin reactions. Creams and depilatories have not been studied in pregnancy, but most doctors recommend that these products be avoided.
- Tattoos – The pigment can be absorbed into your skin, and with any procedure involving needles there is a risk of contracting diseases like hepatitis or HIV. Another important consideration is that your changing shape could lead to stretching or distortion of your new artwork.
- Spray tanning – Most spray tans are nontoxic and react only with the outer layer of the skin. Be prepared, however, that your skin may react differently while pregnant. It is best to test a hidden area of skin first.
- Heat – Pregnant women should avoid anything that heats the body above normal body temperatures, such as hot tubs, saunas, steam rooms, heating pads and hot yoga. High temps can be damaging to the developing cells of an early pregnancy and can cause dangerous drops in your blood pressure as well. Stay away!
- Massage – Many massage techniques are not only safe but are very helpful for relieving the discomforts of pregnancy. Just make sure to let your massage therapist know that you are pregnant and seek out someone with experience in prenatal massage. Warning: Many massage tables have heating pads or warming blankets on them – just ask for these to be turned off or set to low.
- Polish – Traditionally, nail polish has contained some chemicals that cause concern, including toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). With increasing restrictions on these chemicals, it’s getting easier to find brands free of those big 3. These compounds are also found in a variety of other personal products – it’s always a good idea to check out some of the resources below for info on your favorite brands.
Helpful resources for looking up specific products:
The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database (they even have a helpful app)
The California State Cosmetics Program Product Database.