Do I really need to worry about what I put on my body during pregnancy?
Maiya Ahluwalia, RD, MAN, BASc & Paige Pieczonka
There is an abundance of information available to pregnant women and new mothers in general health & wellness, however, there seems to be a missing piece; toxins in personal care products. This topic may seem overwhelming, as we know that we are exposed to toxins daily, and some we may not be able to control, such as air pollution. However, we wanted to give women a guide to toxins in a simplistic form, while explaining why some of these may be dangerous to you and your baby.
Small toxin exposure can lead to small changes, which can then lead to chronic disease in your fetus and follow into adulthood. In fact, everyday exposure to toxins can actually be seen in the umbilical cord blood of newborns (1). This means that whatever mom is exposed to, so is baby. Why is this a problem?
Our skin is our biggest organ, seeping in everything we are exposed to in the run of a day, from pollution to cleaning products, to what we wash our hair and face with. These toxins are then released into the bloodstream and affect our endocrine system. Our endocrine system is composed of hormones, or chemical messengers, which relay signals to the rest of our body. These hormones regulate everything from fetal development, to puberty, to metabolism, etc. Some of these toxins can actually mimic our natural hormones and block their activity (1). This should not be happening.
Doesn’t it seem silly that there are recommendations to mothers while pregnant on what products to use, but they are fine after birth? There seems to be a gap. If a product is not safe for you and your fetus, why would it be good for you after birth?
Let’s take retinoids for example. Retinoids, a derivative of vitamin A have been linked to teratogenic effects (disruption of embryo/fetal development) such as craniofacial, cardiovascular, and central nervous system abnormalities (2). It is recommended that pregnant women do not use skin care products or consume acne medications containing retinoids, so why use them post-natal? If this can seep into the umbilical cord, it is quite possible to also do the same during lactation.
Some other toxins to watch out for:
As more research comes out, showing the detrimental impacts chemical sunscreen may have for the average individual, it has also become apparent that pregnant women should especially avoid them. BP-3, an ingredient found in chemical sunscreens, used as a UV filter, has been highly detected in the urine of pregnant women (3). Exposure to this toxin has been associated with Hirschsprung’s disease, which causes a neonatal intestinal abnormality (3). I don’t know about you, but this is not something that I would want to see in a future child of mine.
Parabens are used in cosmetic products as preservatives and can be easily absorbed through the skin. This toxic ingredient, similar to BP-3, has been detected in the urine of pregnant women (4). Parabens have also been researched to show an association between topical use and increased risk for weight gain and overweight infants/children. In addition, parabens have been shown to alter leptin mechanisms in the body, leading to increased satiety (aka increased food consumption) and therefore, increased fat mass in the baby (4).
This ingredient is also used as a preservative in personal care products. Research shows that it may be linked with spontaneous abortion, congenital malformation, low birth weight, and premature birth (5). Not only during pregnancy is this toxic ingredient important to avoid, but it is also a known carcinogen, therefore, it is best to avoid it overall (6). I suggest checking your personal care products and household products for hidden signs of formaldehyde. A great resource for looking into your products that I love to use is “The EWG Skin Deep” app. For more information on hidden sources of formaldehyde visit: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredients/702500-formaldehyde/
Hydroquinone is a topical treatment often used to correct dark marks and hyperpigmentation in the skin. This ingredient is not recommended, especially to pregnant or lactating mothers, as it has a high absorptive rate into the skin (8). There is minimal research to determine what the effects of this toxin does to pregnant women and their babies, however, because of the substantial absorption, it is most often recommended to avoid using products with this ingredient in it. Instead of using Hydroquinone to get rid of dark marks during pregnancy, a high-quality Vitamin C serum is most likely safe. For a safe Vitamin C serum, check out this one from Beautycounter: https://www.beautycounter.com/all-bright-c-serum
I know this can be overwhelming especially if safe skincare is new to you, so we only wanted to include some key ingredients to avoid. Although these are the main ones to consider, we always recommend eliminating all toxic chemicals from your life entirely, during pregnancy or not. This is because if ingredients are unsafe during pregnancy, we probably shouldn’t be using them in the first place. Head over to the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep tool where you can search your products and determine its safeness. For a full list of ingredients that everyone should always avoid, email us (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com) or click here for Beautycounter’s “Never List” of ingredients they NEVER use:(https://www.beautycounter.com/en-ca/the-never-list).
(5) Haffner, M.J., Oakes, P., Demerdash, A., Yammine, K.C., Watanabe, K., Loukas, M. and Tubbs, R.S. (2015), Formaldehyde exposure and its effects during pregnancy: Recommendations for laboratory attendance based on available data. Clin. Anat., 28: 972-979. doi:10.1002/ca.22623