Pregnancy No No’s: The Dilemma of Beauty and Safety

When you find out you’re expecting a little bundle, your entire view of the world instantly changes. You begin to wonder if everything you come in contact with on a daily basis could possibly have a harmful effect on your growing baby. That’s especially true when it comes to your daily beauty regimen. Suddenly that long list of ingredients on the back of your shaving cream (many hard to pronounce) can cause you an enormous amount of worry. And what about all those new skin conditions you’ve developed since you conceived? What is the safest way to treat those? Read on to find out what skin conditions pop up during pregnancy, what ingredients you can feel good about using and the ones you should be sure to avoid.


Skin Conditions During Pregnancy

Thanks to an influx of hormones, many unwanted skin conditions do happen while you’re expecting because of a surge in sebum production. When you add in the fact that you’re dealing with morning sickness and fatigue on top of it, there’s little energy left to care for your skin properly, leading to an excess of dead skin in the pores. In some cases, the stress of pregnancy can also raise cortisol levels and contribute to unwelcome skin conditions. For instance, weight gain during pregnancy, along with the swelling in your tissues, called edema, can make skin more sensitive as its being stretched. Since blood flow increases trifold during pregnancy, spider veins are common on the legs and can even show up on the face, nose or chin. Another common problem is melasma or the mask of pregnancy. This unwanted mask causes brown or gray spots to appear most commonly on the cheeks, forehead or across the chin or above the lip. Severe acne can pop up during pregnancy. During gestation, your immune system is lowered and this can lead to a condition called PUPPP which stands for pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy. PUPPP’s tell-tale sign is an itchy, bumpy rash. Pregnant moms-to-be may also experience stretch marks over various parts of their body or linea nigra, which is a dark line that traces from the pubic area to the belly button.


The Road Map for Healthy Skincare

With all the possible skin conditions that can arise during pregnancy, there’s also the dilemma of treating those conditions and caring for the skin in a way that is effective, yet most importantly, safe for a growing baby. How can you find a balance between both? There are three important aspects that you should think about when choosing a skin care product during pregnancy. The first is that the product should not irritate your skin, next there should be as little crude oil byproduct in the product as possible and lastly, there should be no hormone-like effect from the product. Let’s decode these areas a bit further:


Irritation-Free Skincare

This is where things get tricky. When you see a product that’s labeled hypoallergenic, it claims to be safe for sensitive skin or has been tested for allergies. But as of 1978, the Federal Drug Administration (responsible for cosmetics and beauty products) has not regulated the term “hypoallergenic” and companies can throw it about as freely as they wish. There is also the trouble of the organic vs. natural debate. The FDA does not regulate the term “organic,” however the United States Department of Agriculture does regulate organically grown food products which are used in some beauty product. Either way, it’s best to be aware of the true nature of these claims on skincare products. So how can you find a product that doesn’t irritate your already sensitive skin during pregnancy? Most people are looking at Essential Oils as a good, natural way to combat many skin conditions but there are several that you should avoid during pregnancy. It’s always best to check with your healthcare provider before using any essential oils.

While pregnant, DO NOT use the following as they may cross the placenta and reach the baby, may cause irritation and some can even cause contractions.

  • Arnica (the non-homeopathic version), Basil, Birch (sweet), Bitter almond, Boldo leaf Broom, Buchu, Calamus, Camphor (brown or yellow), Cassia, Cedarwood/thuja, Chervil, Cinnamon, Clary sage, Clove (bud, leaf or stem), Coriander, Costus, Deertongue, Elecampane, Fennel, Horseradish, Hyssop, Jaborandi leaf, Juniper berry, Melilotus, Mugwort, Mustard, Nutmeg, Origanum, Parsley (large doses), Pennyroyal, Pine (dwarf), Rosemary, Rue, Sassafras, Savin, Savory (summer), Tansy, Thyme red (large doses), Tonka, Wintergreen, Wormwood

Natural or synthetic fragrance found in lotions and sprays could also be irritating during pregnancy. People tend to let down their guard when it comes to natural ingredients but in fact, many namely “natural” fragrances such as Linalool, Citronellol, Geraniol, Limonene, and Citral are actually synthetic!


You’ve probably grown up with synthetic fragrance. They are most commonly found in perfumes and nail polish, among other cosmetic items. The biggest concern for the use of these synthetic fragrances during pregnancy is that they may contain Phthalates and Toluene. The most common phthalate used today is called diethyl phthalate (DEP) and is most often found in nail polish. Toluene is also a chemical used in paint products that can have long-term effects and is being studied by Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It’s found in nail polish and hair dye.


Limit the Crude

When you’re expecting you’ll want to look for products with as little crude oil byproduct as possible. How does the crude oil byproduct make into onto the shelves? At an industrial plant; crude oil is taken and refined into other products through a heating and gas process. It’s then refined into other products like gasoline and kerosene. Crude oil products are also refined into products that are found in many of your skincare products. These crude oil byproducts are found as mineral oil, petrolatum, paraffin, dipropylene glycol, butylene glycol, Disodium EDTA, Tetrasodium EDTA, trisodium EDTA, and polyethylene. If you’re expecting, one of the first things you were told to switch was your nail polish and hair dye. This is because most beauty bloggers and those in favor of living a more natural lifestyle have been talking all about the harmful effects of crude oil byproducts in beauty care products. But in reality, the small amount used in these products isn’t enough to harm you or a growing fetus. Still, pregnant women most likely will worry about potential contamination and the possible irritation that can come from using these products. As far as breakouts go, mineral oil, petrolatum, and paraffin are occlusive agents and could potentially clog pores. Dipropylene glycol and butylene glycol are humectants which help hydrate the skin. Though they aren’t toxic, they may cause irritation at a high concentration. Both Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate could be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which is a byproduct of the chemical process when making cosmetics. Since the 70s, the FDA has been regulating how much make it into products and say there is a decline since manufacturers began using a technique called “vacuum stripping” which reduces the amount of 1,4-dioxane byproduct. Long story short. When you’re pregnant, the fewer ingredients found in a product, the better.


The Hormone Effect

Another element to be aware of while you’re expecting is the use of preservatives in your skincare. They aren’t all bad and can prevent mold buildup in water-based solutions. But several preservatives should be avoided during pregnancy. They include the following:

  • Parabens-Starting in the 90s, these preservatives were known to act as xenoestrogens, which means they mimic estrogen and have been linked to certain breast cancer studies and studies with reproductive health. Since then, the general consensus has been to limit the use of them as much as possible. Studies on the flip side are ongoing though.
  • Formaldehyde-In the late 80s, the Environmental Protection Agency classified the formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen.
  • Oxybenzone-Common in sunscreen and used to block damage from UV light in certain beauty products, studies have shown adverse allergic reactions triggered by sun exposure.
  • Ethanolamines (DEA/TEA/MEA)-An ingredient used in many beauty products that act as a solvent or helps bind other ingredients together. They are found commonly if products that foam, like bubble bath or shampoo. Studies have linked them to liver and kidney cancer.

When pregnancy hormones have breakouts running wild, it’s hard to know what is safe to use on your face. In addition to the above ingredients, you’ll also want to avoid the following products which can enter the bloodstream and reach the placenta. While pregnant, avoid using Retinol, Benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and willow bark extract, hydroquinone, arbutin and bearberry extract. This can be a tough feat, as most beauty products that work to treat breakouts contain one of the latter ingredients. Instead, try drinking plenty of water and using a gentle cleanser and moisturizer. Most skin conditions clear up on their own after your little bundle arrives. In the meantime, if you’re having a hard time with acne or inflammation, there are several prescription medications available from your dermatologist that are just right for pregnancy.

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