Surprising personal care products that are no-nos during pregnancy

I’m currently 17 weeks pregnant, and over the past few months, I’ve done a ton of research about what I should and shouldn’t be doing to protect my baby. Admittedly, I’ve been pretty frustrated that the care from my doctor has focused so much on testing and risks — which might be because I’m 35 and considered a “geriatric” birther — and much less on the day-to-day decisions I make that really define my overall health.

When my partner and I first started to think about even thinking about conceiving, I asked my doctor what I should be doing to prepare my body. She said “take prenatal vitamins.” End of list.

Similarly, I’ve been advised by my doctor to stay active, hydrate and rest, but honestly I would’ve done those things anyway. Don’t get me wrong; I love my doctor. Her bedside manner is incredible, and I never feel rushed or silly asking her questions. But I have been disappointed with the overall healthcare system and its lack of a more holistic approach.

An enormous body of knowledge exists ranging from diet during pregnancy to which positions to sleep in to advice on the best exercises to prepare you for childbirth. One category that was a huge aha moment for me was the safety of personal care products.

Switch to clean personal care products

Over the past few years, I’ve made a conscientious effort to switch to clean products. If you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend that you consider it, particularly if you’re planning a future pregnancy. Based on everything I’ve read, you should make this change prior to getting pregnant to give you body time to process the chemicals and toxins before conceiving.

Go through your bathroom cabinet

Aside from whether your products are clean or not, you should evaluate everything in your beauty arsenal through the lens of pregnancy. I can’t tell you definitively what is and isn’t right for you, but there are a few products that you should be aware of so that you can make an educated decision for yourself. I wish someone had given me this list when I first started trying to conceive!

  • Sunscreen — Skin protection is incredibly important to maintain throughout pregnancy. You might want to consider switching from a chemical- to a mineral-based formula. I found this article helpful in understanding the risks.
  • Any type of skin or teeth bleach — Many women see a rise in skin discoloration during pregnancy and turn to skin brighteners. Be really careful with the treatments you choose. One active ingredient in skin lighteners and dark-spot treatments that should be avoided is hydroquinone.
  • Retinoids — You’ve probably heard that retinol isn’t safe to use during pregnancy; this goes for oral as well as topical treatments.
  • AHAs and BHAs — Most alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are considered unsafe during pregnancy, except for glycolic acid (7% concentration or lower) and lactic acid (5% concentration or lower). AHAs that shouldn’t be used during pregnancy are mandelic acid, malic acid, and tartaric acid. Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) is the category of acids that classifies salicylic acid, which you should avoid during pregnancy.
  • Sunless tanner — I haven’t been able to find conclusive answers one way or another on the safe use of sunless tanners during pregnancy. Some sources say that sunless tanner sits on top of the skin and isn’t absorbed, so it’s safe. I’ve found other sources that say dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, could penetrate the skin. Without long-term studies that indicate otherwise, I’ve decided to avoid sunless tanner altogether.
  • Nail polish — The good news is, many mainstream brands are now offering 3-free nail polish, which means they omit DBP (dibutyl phthalate), toluene and formaldehyde. Each of these chemicals has been shown to be dangerous to both birther and baby. Here’s a great reference on brands and formulas that are okay to use.
  • Essential oils — This is another controversial topic because there haven’t been enough studies to indicate whether or not essential oils are safe during pregnancy. But there are a few things to keep in mind. First, pure essential oils are highly potent and effective therapeutic treatments; just because they’re natural does not mean they’re safe to use for everyone. Be sure to do your research before using them while pregnant or breastfeeding or around children and pets. According to Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, an Introductory Guide, you should avoid essential oils completely during the first trimester of pregnancy and consider avoiding them throughout your entire pregnancy. Anecdotal evidence links some oils to miscarriage, and the hormonal content of some oils can disrupt a pregnancy or affect the development of a fetus. That said, I’ve listened to podcasts of very experienced doulas and midwives who swear by the use of essential oils to treat morning sickness and various aches and pains throughout pregnancy. Bottom line: Do your research and decide what’s right for you.

When in doubt, check with your dermatologist

I read this tip from the blog Chronicles of Frivolity, and I thought it was so smart. She recommends that you make an appointment with your dermatologist as soon as you find out you’re pregnant so that you can check the safety of the products you’re using with a professional. Reading tiny product labels with confusing 18-syllable chemical formulas is incredibly overwhelming, particularly when you feel like one wrong move could have a serious impact on your growing baby. Do yourself a favor and book that appointment!

This is by no means an exhaustive list, so I encourage you to do what I’ve done: when in doubt, Google. I can’t always find the definitive answers I’m looking for, but I usually can decide whether a specific product is questionable, and if it is, I stash it away in my dedicated “open after breastfeeding” bathroom drawer.

I hope this helps as you’re navigating your own pregnancy beauty routine!

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