Pregnancy is a precious, terrifying, and thrilling time, when your hormones are jumping around like grasshoppers and everyone you know is assaulting you with well-intentioned but unsolicited advice. Between the "wisdom" being passed down from aunts you've never met to the INSANE amount of pregnancy information on the interwebs, you could work yourself into a worried frenzy before the pee dries on the stick. So, take a breath and start with this reminder: pregnancy is a time for celebration, and for learning to take great care of yourself so you can take equally great care of someone else!
First, let's touch on some of the ways in which your skin can change when you're pregnant. Here are a few pregnancy-specific skin concerns that come up frequently:
STRETCH MARKS DURING PREGNANCY
Ask your mom if she has them. That’s all that matters. You can apply shea butter to your belly to keep the skin supple and relieve itching, but if your mom had stretch marks, you may get them, too. Genetics win.
MELASMA DURING PREGNANCY
Melasma is a pigmentation change (usually darkening of the skin) that can occur during pregnancy, and is more common in people with more melanin in their skin. Huge, dorky hats and sunscreen are your best friends. For sunscreen, look for a mineral-based, unscented sunblock with no parabens, and apply daily, especially to melasma-prone areas like the forehead, cheeks, upper lip, and edges of the face. After you deliver, if you still have melasma, you can work with your dermatologist to reduce the appearance of the pigment changes.
ACNE DURING PREGNANCY
It’s so unfair. You’re moody, you feel bloated, AND you get zits? Because big guns like Retin-A, antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid are often not recommended during pregnancy, you really have to focus on cleaning up your diet, stress management, and not touching your face! (Here are some more tips for managing acne naturally.)
SKIN ITCHING DURING PREGNANCY
Skin gets itchy during pregnancy for lots of reasons. The simplest is just dry skin, easily remedied by a balanced diet (don’t skip the healthy fats), water consumption, and taking care of your skin with gentle dry-brushing and natural products. Persistent itching of the palms and soles could indicate liver issues, and hives or itchy bumps all over could indicate PUPPP (Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy), so see your healthcare provider if your itching is serious or persistent. For all itchy skin conditions, hot water will exacerbate things, so stick to lukewarm showers and baths until it resolves.
Ingredient Guidelines During Pregnancy
Of course, you want to keep yourself and your baby safe. You'll do your homework and exercise caution with sushi and unpasteurized cheeses, as you should. You'll wear sensible shoes in the wintertime, and drink extra water in the summer. And, you'll research skin care products, and probably be left scratching your head, wondering how on earth to decide what’s safe and what isn't because there's so much conflicting information out there.
The simple truth is that there is no standardized set of rules to guide you. So, I've used my doctor brain to do the homework and create some basic guidelines. I’ve analyzed the (few) available studies and the most reliable sources of information on the topic. I’ve left out fearmongering—I’ll just let the science speak for itself.
What Ingredients to Avoid During Pregnancy
This is the easy part. We have learned so much in the last decade about the effects of certain chemicals on the body. The ingredients with the most potential to harm you and your developing baby fall into a few categories, listed below:
ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS DURING PREGNANCY
Endocrine disruptors are ingredients that interfere with the normal function of our endocrine glands, which include the ovaries, testes, thyroid, parathyroid, thymus, adrenals, pineal, pituitary, hypothalamus, and pancreas. Skincare ingredients that are potentially disruptive to these glands include parabens, phthalates, BPA, triclosan, and nonylphenol. Skincare companies use these chemicals for various reasons: preservation (parabens), fragrance (phthalates), packaging (BPA), surfactants (nonylphenol ethoxylates) and antibacterial effects (triclosan). To be fair, these were not always known to be toxic, and serve worthy purposes: everyone wants a bacteria-free product that smells good! But times are changing, and we need to evolve with the science. These ingredients should be avoided in personal care products, and not just during pregnancy. Specifically, there is mounting confirmation that these EDCs (endocrine-disrupting chemicals), absorbed through the skin, accumulate in human blood and tissues over time and have hormone-disrupting effects. Some (parabens) have been shown to decrease birth weight and gestational age at birth, and to shorten menstrual cycles in non-pregnant women. Others (phthalates) have been linked to thyroid dysfunction, endometriosis, and possibly autism. * These are compelling reasons to switch to natural skin care products during your pregnancy, and beyond. (You should tell your the people with testicles in your life to stop using synthetic fragrance, too; phthalates may decrease sperm count and quality!)
SKIN IRRITANTS DURING PREGNANCY
This category comes down to three words: sodium lauryl sulfate. While this ingredient may have been fine for your skin for most of your life, it can suddenly start to cause irritation to your skin during pregnancy. As someone who has suffered with and become an expert in perioral dermatitis, I can tell you this pesky chemical causes more trouble than you can imagine—and it’s in everything that foams. It’s found in laundry detergent (even natural brands!), toothpaste (even natural brands!), shampoo (even… okay, got the idea?), face wash, and body wash. It causes, contributes to, or exacerbates dermatitis (all forms), eczema, and psoriasis. Sometimes you’ll see sodium laureth sulfate, a gentler form of this surfactant, but don’t be fooled: not only does it also cause dermatitis, it has been ethoxylated. (See next paragraph for why that's a bad thing.)
ETHOXYLATED INGREDIENTS DURING PREGNANCY
When I think of toxic things that could sneak into the skin care routine of even the most label-conscious consumer, I think of the word ethoxylation. It’s a hard concept to explain without substantial risk of boring you to death, but ethoxylation involves being treated with ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen. The reaction creates a by-product called 1,4-dioxane, which is a likely contaminant in any ethoxylated ingredient. 1,4-dioxane is not only a potential carcinogen for you and your family, it’s a bio-accumulative, environmental toxin on par with microplastics and nanoparticles. (It’s harder to pronounce, so it doesn’t get as much press.) By using ethoxylated ingredients, you’re not only putting yourself at risk, you’re impacting the environment every time those ingredients wash down your drain. The easiest way to avoid them is to avoid ingredients that end in “eth” (sodium laureth sulfate), have dashes and numbers (polysorbate-20), or have the letters PEG in the name. Also, look for an ingredient called Emulsifying Wax NF—even some of the companies using it probably don’t know it’s ethoxylated!
OTHER INGREDIENTS TO AVOID IN PREGNANCY
Synthetic colors and petrochemicals are two categories I recommend avoiding, but the evidence is not as strong. FD&C colors are under investigation for links to behavioral disturbances and allergy syndromes, but hard data remains to be established. (The anecdotal evidence is concerning, though.) Regarding petrochemicals, there is sufficient evidence to support avoiding the obvious ones like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (think gasoline, coal, tar) during pregnancy, but no evidence that a little petroleum jelly or mineral oil will harm a developing fetus. This choice may involve more lifestyle considerations than toxicological ones.
OSMIA UNSCENTED PRODUCTS FOR PREGNANCY AND NEWBORNS
These products contain no essential oils.
Oh So Soap
Oh So Detox Soap
Naked Body Oil
Naked Body Mousse
Detox Exfoliating Mask
Purely Calm Gel Toner
Naked Unscented Hand Cream
OSMIA PRODUCTS GENERALLY CONSIDERED SAFE DURING PREGNANCY
These product contain low concentrations of pregnancy-safe essential oils or rinse-off applications.
All body soaps
All facial soaps
Purely Simple Face Cream
Restore Facial Serum
Brighten Facial Serum
Balance Facial Serum
Purely Gentle Mud Cleanser
Himalayan Body Buff
Nectar Nourishing Drops
Recovery Salt Bath
Lavender Body Mousse
Water Body Oil
Sunset Body Oil
Night Body Oil
OSMIA PRODUCTS TO USE SPARINGLY DURING PREGNANCY
Some of these oils are cautioned against, although there are no significant studies to support the warnings, so it's a personal decision! Here's a guide to help you decide.
Spotless Blemish Oil
Light Body Oil
Rosemary Body Mousse
A Summary of skincare during pregnancy
Use beautiful, natural skincare, and stick to a less-is-more philosophy. Your body is experiencing huge, internal chemical shifts during pregnancy, so try to be gentle and consistent with your skin. If you’re looking for a quick, effective way to decrease the number of chemicals you’re being exposed to, start with the products that cover the largest surface area: switch from body wash to a natural bar soap, and from body lotion to body oil on wet skin. Why? Read this.
Last thing: remember that your mom probably used some less-than-pristine products while she was pregnant with you, and you turned out just fine. Use these rules as a guide, don't stress too much, do all things in moderation, and focus on the miracle in your belly—it’s one of the the coolest things a human body can do!
With much love for your growing belly,
A version of this article was first published in Well + Good.
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