Pregnancy is a time when many women focus more on the quality of products they use on their face and body. They are ultimately responsible for the safety of their unborn child and their choices are influenced by understanding exactly which ingredients are safe to use on the skin. The skin is a highly absorbent surface and the average woman absorbs over two kilograms of potentially toxic ingredients through her skin each year. It is therefore essential to cut through the media myths and understand the truth behind safe skincare during pregnancy.
Here are the broad rules
Ingredients not recommended for human application due to their questionable safety profile
If it is not safe for a non-pregnant human, then it is not safe for a pregnant woman. Many studies have been performed on various skincare ingredients that may be potentially dangerous. Whilst it is not necessary to panic if you have been using them, I personally choose NOT to formulate with them. This list includes, but it not limited to:
- Parabens and other formaldehyde donor preservatives
- Chemical sunscreens
- Artificial colour
- Artificial fragrance
- Propylene Glycol
- Sodium laureth sulphate/SLS foaming agents
A note on phthalates:
Phthalates are solvents and fragrance additives. They are often not listed on labels as you are only required to list: ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’, and not the individual constituents of a fragrance. There have been findings that excess exposure phthalates during pregnancy can cause male infertility and ADHD in children. This is added to artificial fragrance to make the scent last longer. It is also used on hairsprays to make hair more bouncy and less ‘stiff’. Rest assured, I do not use phthalates or artificial fragrance in my formulations as I only use essential oils.
Ingredients specifically not recommended during pregnancy
It is important to note that whilst many ingredients are not recommended during pregnancy, this is often a purely a precautionary approach. Many women are more sensitive to skin irritation during pregnancy so it is wise to avoid ingredients that may be potentially irritating or drying such as alcohol based products and highly perfumed products.
Scientists are not ethically permitted to test ingredients on the skin of pregnant women. Many of the findings and recommendations of ingredients which are safe during pregnancy are based on anecdotal evidence, assumption and animal studies. Animal testing for cosmetics and skin care is now banned in many countries including Australia.
Retinoids (Vitamin A derivatives)
Retinoids are one of the most popular active ingredient categories and are known for regulating cell renewal, addressing visible ageing and reducing sun damage.
Some scientific studies concluded that high doses of Vitamin A taken orally (not topically) during pregnancy can be harmful to an unborn child. However, there is no data that these ingredients used on the skin during pregnancy are harmful. As a scientist, I believe caution is the best approach. However, please do NOT panic if you discover you are pregnant and had been using retinoid based skin care. Following is a list of commonly used Vitamin A ingredients:
Medical (prescription only) retinoids:
- Differin/ Adapelene
- Retin-A/ Renova /Tretinoin (medical prescription only)
- Tazorac /Tazarotene(medical prescription only)
- Retinoic acid(medical prescription only)
- Retinol (most powerful nonprescription retinoid if in a stabilised form)
- Retinyl palmitate
Salicylic acid/Beta hydroxy acid(BHA)
Salicylic acid is an exfoliating BHA (beta hydroxy acid) and is excellent for unblocking pores in acne and addressing skin redness. There is currently no evidence to suggest that products containing salicylic acid applied topically, harm a developing foetus. Any concerns with salicylic acid during pregnancy are based on high dose systemic ingestion of the drug aspirin. The use of topical salicylic would not translate to high levels in the bloodstream. In addition, even aspirin taken internally is considered safe at low doses and is prescribed to help prevent pre-eclampsia.
It is, therefore, safe to use salicylic products on the skin to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, if an individual is allergic to salicylates (aspirin) they are advised to not use products containing salicylic acid whether pregnant or not.
Note: AHA’s (alpha hydroxy acids) such as lactic acid, malic and mandelic are perfectly safe during pregnancy.
Soy is an estrogenic ingredient which can influence hormonal levels. Whilst soy is not dangerous to the unborn child, if you are prone to melasma (large dark pigmented patches on the face), soy products may worsen this condition during pregnancy.
It is therefore wise to avoid:
- Soy based skincare
- Textured vegetable protein
Essential oils are extremely powerful botanical concentrates that have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. These oils must be treated with respect and it is best to avoid using high levels of essential oils over large areas of the body during pregnancy.
I always ensure I formulate with low concentrations of essential oils so this is not a concern in any Synergie products. It is considered safe to apply low concentrations (less than 0.3%) of essential oils in skin care products on the face only or in rinse-off products such as shampoos and cleansers. I suggest you avoid using essential oils on large areas of the body (over 10% of the body surface) during pregnancy and never apply essential oils undiluted directly on the skin.
Safe essential oils during pregnancy in low concentrations and on small areas of the body:
- Ylang Ylang
- Tea tree
- Rose Geranium
- German chamomile
Avoid the following essential oils during pregnancy in large doses:
- Almond – bitter
- Black pepper
- Clary sage
- Stinging nettle
The ideal makeup for pregnancy is mineral makeup. Choose brands which are free of artificial colour and parabens. The natural zinc oxide will act as a broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) and IR sun protector which is also essential during pregnancy. Minerals basically sit on top of the skin and do not contain ingredients which penetrate the dermis or enter the bloodstream and may be potentially damaging to cells.
There are some questions regarding the effects of chemical sunscreens which absorb into the skin. Tests have shown these chemicals to be present in the bloodstream just a few hours following application. Many chemical sunscreens have also shown to produce irritant skin reactions. It is wise to choose zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (mineral) sunscreens as these protect from both UVA and UVB rays.
Common chemical absorbing sunscreens include:
- Octyl Benzophenone
- Para-aminobenzoic acid / PABA: banned in many sunscreens due to irritation
- Avobenzone /Parsol
- Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC)
The skin is often even more vulnerable during pregnancy and requires nurturing, hydration and sun protection. Naturally-derived oils, Vitamin B (niacinamide), Vitamin C, lactic acid and hyaluronic acid are all recommended to replenish the renew skin during pregnancy. There are many excellent products available for pregnant women. In general, avoid ingredients that are ‘questionable’ and use natural mineral based sunscreens. Most importantly, relax and enjoy this magical period of your life!