During pregnancy and while breastfeeding, it is common for women to be concerned about the safety of their personal care products. Even if you used makeup, facial cleansers, and nail polish without any thought of product safety for yourself, this may all have changed when you learned that you were pregnant. We are surrounded by chemicals and chemical containing products every day of our lives. It would be virtually impossible to avoid all chemical exposure. There is a lot of good (and bad) information on the internet, and that you may hear from well-meaning friends.
Below are some tips and resources to help keep you and your baby safe, while realizing that there is still much that we don’t know about the potential long-term impact of chemicals. When in doubt, leave it out (don’t use it) until you talk to your obstetrician or your Certified Nurse Midwife, and have a better understanding of its safety or potential risks.
Also, the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database as well as their EWG Healthy Living free phone app are great resources if you want to learn more or see how your favorite products are rated for safety. They have information on sun protection, skin and hair care, makeup, fragrances, and home care products. They even have a section on products for babies. It can be challenging to try to understand the chemicals that we are exposed to daily with what we put on our bodies. The EWG’s evidence-based and up-to-date information makes it easier. They also have a free Healthy Living EWG app for your phone that you can use and take with you to the store. It allows you to scan the barcodes of products to see ratings of their ingredients. The EWG also has an EWG verified symbol that you can look for on products when you shop. Last, just because a product is safer for you, does not necessarily mean that it is expensive. Many of the products that are safe to use are about the same price as products you are likely already using. Some may be more expensive but you can likely find others that are inexpensive. It just takes some exploration and willingness to sometimes try new things.
- Insect repellant
- Topical “EPA-registered bug sprays with DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, paramenthane-diol, or 2-undecanone” are safe when used as directed, for pregnant and breastfeeding women according to American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Consider wearing long shirts and pants to minimize exposure or staying indoors when possible to avoid insect bites. WebMD has more information about this topic if you would like to learn more.
- Do not spray these and avoid contact and exposure while pregnant. If they are used outdoors, minimize exposure by closing windows, doors and any way that outdoor air enters your home. The CDC has more information on this topic for you to read if desired.
- Phthalates are in many personal care products that are scented, and some studies have linked them to neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and ADHD, though more research is needed. You can help to limit exposure by looking for phthalate free or fragrance-free personal care products. However, even “unscented” products may still contain phthalates. Use the Environmental Working Group’s Healthy Living app or Skin Deep website to check product safety.
- Personal Care Products and Cosmetics
- The list of ingredients in most of our personal care products and cosmetics is long. They likely contain chemicals that are difficult to pronounce. Many of these chemicals and ingredients have not been fully researched regarding safety and there is little regulation around these types of products in the United States. Cosmetics often contain parabens which help are used as a preservative, but there is some new research showing that they may be connected with a risk of problems in offspring related to weight and feeling full, but research is in its infancy and more research is needed. If you want to read more, WebMD has more information on this topic.
- Use the EWG’s Healthy Living app or Skin Deep website to check for product safety of your favorite products. If your favorite products are not listed or they are not shown to be safe, consider finding an alternative product to use that is listed as being safer. Try to avoid cosmetics and personal care items that contain phthalates, parabens, oxybenzone, formaldehyde and triclosan during pregnancy.
- Facial cleansers and Acne Products
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that OTC products with topical benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid, topical salicylic acid, and glycolic acid are safe to use during pregnancy. Products with ingredients not on the list above should not be used for acne treatment without talking to your health care professional.
- Products containing topical retinoids or isotretinoin should NOT be used during pregnancy due to the risk of birth defects such as cleft lip and palate, heard defects, hearing problems or missing ears, very small head- microcephaly, intellectual disability as well as other severe health problems.
- Hair growth products
- Scalp hair loss is normal about 3 months after having a baby. Hair usually grows back in 3-6 months. While you are waiting for your hair to grow back, consider talking to your hair stylist to try a different style that helps you feel better about how your hair looks. You may also enjoy wearing fun hats, scarfs, or headbands to accessorize. Last, remember that this is temporary and that having thinner hair for a few months is annoying but will not last forever. Your pre-pregnancy hair should return before your baby’s first birthday. Rogain is not recommended during pregnancy nor is there enough safety data to ensure safe use postpartum.
- Skin lighteners
- Skin lighteners often include endocrine-disrupting chemicals which are not safe during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. These chemicals have been associated with an increased risk of preterm birth. Do not use these skin lighteners during pregnancy nor while breastfeeding.
- Chemical hair straightening treatments
- Chemical hair straightening products likely include endocrine-disrupting chemicals which are not safe during pregnancy or lactation. They can affect hormone sensitive organs as well as shorten the duration of gestation (increased preterm birth). Do not use these while pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Hair dye
- Data on hair dye safety are limited and most of the research is in cosmetologists, where there may be an association with pregnancy loss and low-birth weight, though it is not known if this is from long work hours or from chemical exposure. Minimal hair dye chemicals are believed to be absorbed systemically. ACOG presumes hair dye use during pregnancy to be safe, but if you want to be cautious, you could just have your hair highlighted which likely involves less systemic absorption of chemicals than all over hair dyes.
- Smoking, Nicotine in any form, Vaping, Alcohol, Illicit drug use
- Do not use any of these substances while pregnant as they are associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes. There is no safe level of use for any of these substances during pregnancy. Alcohol is associated with fetal alcohol syndrome and may cause physical, mental, and intellectual disabilities.
- If you are using any of these substances, reach out to your obstetric healthcare practitioner (CNM, OB, FP) as soon as possible and get help with cessation. Tobacco use increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, SIDS, and other health problems. Also, second-hand smoke is unhealthy for everyone and increases the risk of SIDS- sudden infant death syndrome. Avoiding second-hand smoke at all times throughout the lifespan is important, but especially while pregnant, breastfeeding, and to avoid exposure for infants and children. For more information from the CDC on this topic you can read content on this webpage.
Remember, many women experience some confusion and anxiety while pregnant as they attempt to keep both themself as well as their baby as healthy as possible. Try to follow the advice listed above and also talk to your pregnancy health care provider about the products that you are using and come in contact with while pregnant. They know about you and your health and can give you advice that will support both yours and your baby’s wellbeing during this special time.
This information is not intended to replace medical advice. Every pregnant or breastfeeding woman should talk to her CNM or Obstetrician to determine if use of a specific product is safe for you and your baby.