Best Face Forward: Safe Beauty Products for Pregnancy and NursingBeth M. Iovinelli, RN, BSN, IBCLC
From the moment most women discover they are pregnant, they are acutely aware of everything they put into and onto their bodies—including products used in the pursuit of beauty. The skin can absorb these products which can then enter the bloodstream. And while some products are not safe to use in pregnancy, the good news is there are plenty of alternatives and plenty of products that are safe to use. Below is a list of the most common products women have questions about.
Sunless Tanning Lotion
With skin cancer on the rise, it is best to skip the tanning bed and sitting in the sun. Using a sunless tanning lotion is becoming more popular and is the safest alternative for achieving a healthy glow. These lotions and sprays stay mostly on the surface of the skin with only minimal absorption, which makes them safe for you to use during pregnancy or while you are breastfeeding.
Sunscreens are definitely safe and in order when spending time outdoors. Always wear a hat, sunglasses, and drink plenty of water. It’s best to avoid the 10AM to 4PM time period when ultraviolet rays are the strongest. And here’s an important tip: Make sure to reapply sunscreen every two hours.
Acne Treatment & Wrinkle Creams
Acne, a common complaint for many expecting women, is an unfortunate and common side effect of the hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy.
Small amounts of toners or creams containing beta hydroxy acids, such as salicylic acid, applied to the skin once or twice a day are considered safe. Steer clear of products that cover more surface area or sit on the skin for longer time periods—they are more likely to be absorbed into your skin. Products such as peels or masks containing salicylic acid are best avoided altogether.
Dr. Leslie Baumann, PhD, the author of The Skin Type Solution and a professor of dermatology at the University of Miami, says a facial cleanser for acne that has two percent or less salicylic acid is safe for use. Products containing alpha hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid, are also safe.
Are you fighting both acne and wrinkles? Many wrinkle-reducing creams have something called retinoids on their list of ingredients. Retinoids are a type of vitamin A that protects collagen from breaking down. Most experts agree that pregnant and nursing women should avoid products containing retinoids. When used in large quantities (according to research on the use of vitamin A), retinoids can cause dangerous levels of Vitamin A for the baby.
Oral retinoids, such as Accutane (used for treatment of acne), are known to cause birth defects and should not be taken under any circumstance. There is no research to show that topical use (skin) poses a danger to your baby, but doctors prefer to err on the side of caution and advise women to avoid them.
See a dermatologist for unusual changes in your skin or with questions for safe ways to deal with skin-related issues.
Good news! When used according to the instructions on the package, hair removes and depilatories (such as Nair or Neet) are safe for women to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding—a relief to many women, since shaving during pregnancy can be especially difficult.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid or severely limit exposure to products that contain DEET (Diethyltoluamide). As with anything that is applied to the skin, especially in large doses, DEET can be absorbed through your skin and enter the bloodstream. There is not enough research showing DEET’s effects on human pregnancies, but DEET has been shown to cause problems for some animals.
A good alternative to DEET is citronella oil, which is thought to have natural ability to repel insects. There is not enough research on its use in pregnancy, so to be safe and apply it to your clothes. This should help keep the bugs away.
Body Products with Soy
Products containing soy are generally safe to use, but “Soy can make the ‘mask of pregnancy’ (dark splotches on facial skin) worse, as can oil of bergamot, which is in many organic products,” says Dr. Baumann.
Hydrocortisone and Benadryl Cream
These creams used for rashes or itching are safe for use in pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Cosmetics & Hair Care
Don’t worry, you don’t have to go without makeup! However, doctors agree that you should avoid products containing retinoids or salicylic acids.
Using a small of amount of a salicylic cream for acne or using a toner once or twice a day is safe. Many foundations and creams that cover a larger area and are not washed off can be more readily absorbed and are best to avoid.
Glycols and phlates (two chemicals found in shampoos and many cosmetics) are causing concern among researchers, and it is recommended that you check your product labels and steer clear of these two ingredients. When possible, use sparingly or not at all.
Also, avoid hair dyes, dandruff shampoos with coal tar, and retinol. When in doubt use simple, natural products and check with your doctor.
During pregnancy your skin may be sensitive, and products you have used before pregnancy may now cause irritation. Discontinue use of anything that causes irritation or rash and consult with your obstetrician or dermatologist. Always ask your doctor or midwife if you are unsure about a specific product.