How to Baby-Proof Your Skin Care Routine
You’ve probably got a lot of questions racing through your mind if you're thinking about getting pregnant, just found out you are, or recently gave birth to your first mini-me. You’re rating about average on the new-parent or almost-parent intensity scale if you find yourself doing any of the following:
- Second guessing the safety of almost everything – sushi to soft cheese
- Washing your hands way too often
- Treating everyone who tries to help you like a complete idiot (you may feel an urge to apologize to your mom a few years from now once you mellow out a little)
If you’re at all like me, you might feel like there is a brand-new world of information you need to conquer. You want to be totally prepared and get everything right – never possible, of course, but common to shoot for and can be a fairly anxiety-inducing ideal. Knowing you at least tried to brief yourself on the basic facts can boost your confidence, and getting informed can actually help you make better, healthier choices. Double win.
Since some ingredients in skin care and personal care products are absorbed into our bloodstream, and can pass through to your growing baby, it’s worth taking a closer look at what products you’re using. If you want to skip the label-reading, we've put together an edit of our favorite, safe solutions for the special needs of pregnancy skin.
Before we launch into the details, do remember that I am bringing you a roundup of online facts and am not, in fact, a doctor myself. Please always talk directly with an actual medical professional about your pregnancy concerns, whatever they are. I do think I do a good job of summing up what I've learned and limiting myself to the sources I think are the most credible. I will not be quoting any advice taken from Reddit, or my second cousin’s neighbor. I like to make it easy for you to see where the information is coming from by linking directly to my sources.
Acne, melasma, and redness are common skin concerns that can come up during pregnancy, and you may want some worry-free solutions.
Most active anti-acne ingredients simply haven’t been studied well enough to say with certainty they’re safe – kind of a bummer since hormonal acne can flare up. We know for sure you need to steer clear of Accutane, and avoid the other retinols since they are related. If you want to take the most conservative route its often recommended you avoid (or be careful about) a lot of the usual acne fighters, including:
- All the retinols (Accutane, retinol, Retin-A, retinyl pamitate) - Accutane is totally incompatible with pregnancy, but since you can only get it with a prescription you won’t accidentally get it mixed into your kit. Other forms of Vitamin A used in skin care, particularly retinal palmitate, might be added into a moisturizer or sunscreen without you realizing it, so keep an eye out
- Benzoyl peroxide - The American Academy of Dermatology gives a maybe to benzoyl peroxide, and suggests consulting a doctor if you want to use it when pregnant
- Tea tree oil - Called out by The Endocrine Society as an endocrine disruptor (more on what that means later)
- The exfoliating acids - None are well studied for safety in pregnancy, but glycolic and lactic acid are generally viewed less risky than salicylic acid. Keep in mind, too, that glycolic and lactic acid can make your skin more sensitive to the sun – which could potentially boost the odds of bringing on melasma for some people if you aren’t totally dedicated about using your sunscreen
- Lactic acid - Some doctors consider lactic acid a safer choice among the topical exfoliating acids. A recent article in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology put it this way: “2% Lactic acid is known to be used to treat gestational acne without any reported negative pregnancy outcomes” – but they also added the less the encouraging detail that “there is a lack of safety data.” Overall, not very definitive – especially considering that a 2% lactic acid solution would be unusual for a product intended to exfoliate and help reduce acne (concentrations are expected to be in the 5-10% range for effective exfoliation)
- Glycolic acid - Again according to International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, we hear “insufficient safety data” and “generally considered safe.” Several animal studies showed negative reproductive impacts from high doses of glycolic acid
- Salicylic acid (also called beta hydroxy acid or BHA) - The American Academy of Dermatology gives a maybe to salicylic acid. Some doctors instead recommend avoiding salicylic acid because it’s a cousin of aspirin
Wondering “What the hell can I have?” after that monster list of no-go’s and un-knowns?
Jojoba beads are a good, gentle alternative to the usual acid exfoliators. Our pick here is Trilogy's Gentle Facial Exfoliant. Clay masks are a great, chem-free treatment for acne. Clay absorbs oil, helps remove impurities that can clog pores, and helps with breakouts. Our favorite is the ultra-special, splurge-worthy London Mask, a great fit for wild pregnancy skin because its an amazing blend of hydrating, purifying, and skin-strengthening elements. Linoleic acid, an Omega 6 fatty acid in certain plant oils, can help you tackle acne too. We are huge fans of Brit Beauty Oil for our linoleic acid fix, a super-clean, safflower-based plant oil blend with only 5 ingredients that's 99% organic.
Melasma is extra pigmentation that sometimes appears during pregnancy. If you’ve never heard of it or seen it, imagine a whole bunch of new freckles showing up in a cluster (often on the cheeks and upper lip). This can be hormone-related, and fade after pregnancy, but sun is also a trigger and can make matters worse. A good zinc-based sunscreen is your best friend when trying to keep melasma away. Zinc sunscreens are the safest, most effective and least likely to irritate skin. More on this in a minute, but we recommend skipping the chemical sunscreens because they are often made with chemicals flagged as endocrine disruptors that are potentially problematic for developing babies. If melasma strikes, doctors suggest you hold off on trying to treat it until after your baby is born. It may fade on its own – plus hydroquinone, a skin-lightening ingredient often used to treat melasma, is not viewed as a safe choice when pregnant. (We think it’s always a good idea to avoid hydroquinone anyway, baby-on-board or not).
REDNESS AND SENSITIVITY
Skin can sometimes become more reactive than usual during pregnancy. The best approach is to use gentle products and stick to a simple routine.
1) Be dedicated about washing your face. Morning and night. Keeping skin clean means dirt and pollution won’t get as much chance to settle into skin, and trigger redness and irritation.
2) Keep protected with a moisture layer. Properly hydrated and moisturized skin makes a stronger top barrier layer. Cracks in your barrier layer are what let environmental stressors penetrate your skin and cause inflammation.
3) Put on sunscreen, every single day. Even though we’ve all heard the sunscreen lecture about a thousand times, it can take a lot of reminders to make daily sunscreen a habit.
One final tip: look for products with low or no essential oils. It’s a good policy for sensitive skin in general, and as bonus you can avoid some essential oils – like lavender oil – that aren’t considered the best for pregnant women anyway (without having to think too much about it). All the products in our pregnancy collection are carefully chosen for being both sensitive skin-safe and baby-safe.
BABIES-IN-BELLIES HATE ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS
Endocrine disruptors aren’t exactly a health boost for any of us, but developing babies are especially sensitive to them and other toxic chemicals. Endocrine disrupting chemicals to steer clear of include:
- Phthalates – often not listed on labels, but frequently used in fragrance
- Parabens – a very common preservative and found in staples like Cetaphil and Lubriderm
- Chemical sunscreens, especially oxybenzone, also common in top brands like Neutrogena Kids Sunscreen Spray
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explains whole lot about why pregnant women and toxic chemicals don't mix in its 17-page report Exposure to Toxic Environmental Agents. The main take-aways for me were:
- Exposure to endocrine disrupting chemical is extra bad during important stages of human development – including the prenatal period and puberty
- Toxic chemicals can be absorbed into the mother's bloodstream, and into the body of the unborn baby
- By studying the problem for the past 15 years, scientists have become more and more certain that endocrine-disrupting chemicals can cause health problems in unborn babies that can last a lifetime
- There are a lot of crap chemicals out there and more endocrine-related illnesses than ever
- “Endocrine-related” health problems suck (cancer, fertility issues, obesity, diabetes)
I picked out a few direct quotes for you so you can get a feel for exactly how they phrase it.
“Robust scientific evidence has emerged over the past 15 years, demonstrating that preconception and prenatal exposure to toxic environmental agents can have a profound and lasting effect on reproductive health across the life course…”
- "The human reproductive system is especially vulnerable to environmental chemicals when exposure occurs during ‘critical’ or ‘sensitive’ windows of development...Critical and sensitive windows include before and after conception, pregnancy, infancy, lactation, childhood, puberty…”
“A 2013 review of endocrine disrupting chemicals published by the World Health Organization identified 3 key concerns: 1) increasing incidence in some regions of the world of endocrine related diseases and disorders i.e low semen quality, genital malformations, adverse pregnancy disorders, neurobehavioral disorders, endocrine related cancers (breast, endometrial, ovarian, prostate, testicular, thyroid), early breast development, obesity and type 2 diabetes 2) the existence of almost 800 known or suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals in commercial use 3) the high and increasing prevalence of human exposure through food, water, air and consumer products."
Personal care products aren’t the only place we get exposed to concerning chemicals, but they are part of the equation. Along with other lifestyle choices like not smoking and avoiding pesticides, using nontoxic personal care products is one of the ways we can lower the level of chemicals in our bodies, and in the bodies of growing babies.
None of us should have to sort out the mess of chemicals in personal care products alone – and we don't :) We can do it together.
A big part of our mission in creating our store, Begins with Skin, is to make great, safe products as easy to find and buy as crappy products. We read all the labels so you don’t have to. Everything we sell is free of toxic chemicals like phthalates, parabens and oxybenzone. A health-focused nonprofit called EWG is a great resource, too. Its SkinDeep database is a tool you can use find about more about the safety of over 70,000 cosmetic products from over 2,000 brands. We all have better ways to spend the afternoon than standing around in a drugstore trying to buy a lotion or some sunscreen. Like how bout kicking back on the couch with a well-deserved plate of nachos or taking a hammock nap?