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Are Salon and Spa Treatments Safe during Pregnancy?

When Hildee Weiss, of Beachwood, Ohio, was expecting her first child, she was so concerned about harming her baby that she wouldn’t go near a spa or salon for anything other than regular hair trims. Weiss’ feelings aren’t uncommon. Many women worry about the safety of procedures such as facials, highlights, and even massage during pregnancy.

Prenatal Massage

Prenatal massage can be a terrific idea, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, an OB-GYN and clinical professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale University school of medicine, as well as the author of A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Health. However, attention must be given to positioning during the massage. After around 18 weeks of pregnancy, you shouldn’t lie flat on your back since the heavy uterus may compress a large blood vessel called the vena cava, causing a drop in blood pressure.

Most therapists trained in prenatal massage have special cut-out tables or pads that will allow a pregnant woman to lay belly-down. Others will prop you on your side with pillows. Either is fine, as long as you’re comfortable, says Dr. Minkin. In addition, avoid any procedure that will raise your core body temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

“It basically comes down to making sure you’re with [a massage therapist] who knows what they’re doing,” says Stacy Denny, owner of Barefoot and Pregnant, a day spa dedicated to expecting and new moms in Mill Valley, California. “Research where you’re going and make sure they have therapists certified in prenatal massage.”

Aromatherapy

There’s no real research on the use of aromatherapy (or essential oils) during pregnancy, or on whether they are or are not contraindicated, says Denny. “Basically, it’s a general rule that you want to go more with flower and herb oils, and that an essential oil should never be used directly on the skin.”

If you do decide to try a procedure that involves aromatherapy, make sure the scent involved agrees with you. Denny advises her pregnant clients to smell the different essential oils offered beforehand, to see what—if anything—smells good to them. “A lot of times [it’s best] to just use an oil that’s altogether unscented,” says Denny.

Facials

Whether you’re looking for pure relaxation or a healing treatment, facials can be wonderful. But as with many salon and spa procedures, pregnant women should proceed with a little extra care, notes Tiffany Bastedo, LPN, LE, an esthetician in Tucson, Arizona. “A pregnant woman’s skin becomes more sensitive as she advances in her pregnancy and it is [usually] best to calm and soothe the skin rather than increase circulation further,” says Bastedo. Due to this increased sensitivity, facial peels and microdermabrasion are not often recommended for expecting moms.

Waxing

First, the bad news: due to physiological changes, waxing is more painful during pregnancy, says Denny. The good news is that it’s generally safe to have even large areas of your body waxed. Just be sure your esthetician is sensitive to your comfort level during the waxing—and if you need to take a break and regroup, don’t hesitate to speak up.

“Believe it or not, we have clients come in every day who have never had a Brazilian wax before and want one while they’re pregnant,” says Denny. She offers a tip for women in early pregnancy: “If you know you’re going to want [bikini or Brazilian] waxing when you get further along, start doing it now and keep it up. The first time is usually the worst!”

Permanent Makeup

Any soon-to-be mom can imagine the benefits of lipstick and eyeliner that remain fresh all the time, even during those 3:00 AM feedings; however, if you’re considering permanent cosmetics, it’s better to wait until after your baby is born, says Kristanne Matzek, PhD, of the American Institute of Permanent Color Technology in Tustin, California. “There’s no data out there to indicate one way or the other [whether permanent cosmetics are safe],” says Dr. Matzek. “So our industry does not endorse [pregnant women having permanent makeup applied].”

The good news is that permanent cosmetics are fine for new moms, even if you’re breastfeeding, adds Dr. Matzek. So while you do have to wait, you don’t have to wait long.

Coloring, Perming, and Straightening Hair

“My husband and I had a gigantic row about coloring my hair during my first pregnancy,” says Mary Parker, of Chicago, Illinois. “He finally relented.”

But Parker’s husband wasn’t alone in his concern; chemically treating hair during pregnancy has long been a subject steeped in controversy. While there haven’t been any conclusive studies done, most healthcare providers will suggest waiting to color or perm hair until after the first trimester, minimizing any possible effect on the developing fetus. In addition, changing your hair color or texture can be a smelly business, and sensitivity to fumes is usually at its peak during the first trimester.

Manicures and Pedicures

Towards the end of your pregnancy, a salon pedicure may be more necessity than luxury—after all, it’s hard to polish toenails you can’t reach! Fortunately, there’s no need for concern about the safety of having either your feet or your fingernails done. While many expectant women worry about chemical fumes from the products used, it really isn’t too much of an issue, says Dr. Minkin. Simply make sure that you have your manicure and pedicure in a well-ventilated room.

Karen Spring kept herself feeling pretty during her twin pregnancy with massages, hair highlights, and lots of manicures, even having a French manicure done shortly before her C-section. “As my nail girl said, ‘At least your nails will look great,'” says Spring, of Deptford, New Jersey.

Tanning Beds

While there’s no hard evidence that tanning beds can harm your baby, there is overwhelming evidence that they can be quite bad for you. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, tanning beds expose your skin to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can cause skin cancer. Skin that is stretched out—common in pregnancy—is also more easily damaged.

In addition, pregnant women are prone to a condition called chloasma (often described as “the mask of pregnancy”), in which the facial skin darkens in patches. Exposure to UV rays may aggravate this condition.

Spray-on Tans

There’s good news if you prefer to “fake” your golden glow. The spray-on or “airbrush” tans available in many salons are considered safe for external application during pregnancy. Their active ingredient is dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a sugar derivative that stains the surface of the skin.

However, according to the FDA, DHA has not been proven safe for ingestion or inhalation. So take precautions when choosing a salon. If the salon doesn’t offer protection for your eyes, mouth, nose, and ears while you’re in the spray-on tanning booth, go somewhere else.

Tooth Whitening

A brilliant white smile is white-hot right now, but tooth whitening just isn’t recommended for pregnant or lactating women, says Nicholas Davis, DDS, 2005-06 President of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. There’s no data to indicate whether tooth whitening procedures are safe, so expectant moms should err on the side of caution.

In addition, notes Dr. Davis, hormone changes during and soon after pregnancy often affect gum tissue, leading to a condition known as “pregnancy gingivitis”—swollen, tender, and sometimes bleeding gums. The bleach in tooth whiteners can aggravate this condition. To keep your smile bright during your pregnancy, Dr. Davis recommends practicing good oral hygiene: brushing, flossing, and keeping up with scheduled dental visits.

Whatever salon treatment you’re considering, never hesitate to ask your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about whether the procedure is right for you. And have fun getting pampered—you deserve it!

Remember Hildee Weiss? After having four more kids, she has relaxed considerably. “By the time I was pregnant with my fifth, I even went so far as to have my obstetrician write a prescription on his notepad for my husband, allowing me a ‘refill’ of highlighting and haircuts,” says Weiss.

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