Why is it important to look after our skin?
Despite all the wonderful functions it performs for us many of us take our skin for granted. It protects us from the environment, keeps us waterproof, and it synthesis chemicals to keep our cells regenerating and repairing damage. It even converts sunlight into Vitamin D. This is really important as Vitamin D is crucial to our overall health, especially before and during pregnancy as we
need it to build our baby’s bones and teeth.
And our skin is absorbent like a sponge. This means that whatever we put onto it will either nourish or damage it. That’s why it is important for us to be aware of what we’re exposing our skin to, through such as personal care products, cleaning products and the environment.
What happens to our skin during pregnancy?
Some women experience breakouts during pregnancy due to the changes we experience in hormone levels. These changes can cause the sebaceous glands in your skin to get bigger and boost production of an oily substance called sebum. This extra sebum, combined with the shed skin cells that line your hair follicles, blocks your pores, creating an environment in which bacteria can rapidly multiply. All this can eventually lead to the inflammation and skin eruptions of acne. This can lead women to search for new products to counter-act these changes. And this is where it is really important for us to know what we’re using.
“Everything you eat, apply, or come into contact with may affect not only you but also your baby,”
So what should you avoid putting onto your skin to be on the safe side, during pregnancy and breastfeeding?
Different product ingredients that are applied onto your skin will be absorbed into your bloodstream to different extents, so there can’t be a blanket approach to all skincare products, unfortunately. And generally it’s difficult to say with certainty the effect o
f specific ingredients on the unborn baby. Clinical trials during pregnancy are quite rare for ethical reasons, due to the risk of harm to the foetus. However, consensus among several dermatologists and health professionals that have written on this topic includes recommendation to avoid:
- Retinoids – a form of Vitamin A often used in anti-aging products. This hasn’t been found to be unsafe for topical use (i.e. applied to skin) but also hasn’t been found to be completely safe. Therefore better to avoid. Oral intake of retinoids is known to cause a variety of birth defects including craniofacial defects, heart defects, and nervous system defects.
- Salycylic acid – often used in acne products. This mild acid is used to treat certain skin disorders, including acne. You can find it in a number of skin products, such as cleansers and toners. High doses of the acid in its oral form have been shown in studies to cause birth defects and various pregnancy complications. Salicylic acid is used commonly in pregnancy in low doses to prevent preeclampsia, however, and low doses ingested orally have been proven to show no adverse affects to the foetus. Therefore, the use of topical salicylic acid in pregnant women is considered safe. However, it’s better to avoid intensive face and body peels containing salicylic acid as they’re said to be equivalent to taking one or more aspirin when pregnant.
- Hydroquinone – found in skin lightening products. Skin lightening agents that contain hydroquinone are best to be avoided in pregnancy because the skin absorbs a lot of this (30-40%) with topical use. Even though it has not been well studied in pregnancy and no adverse effects have been reported, because of the high rate of absorption, it is considered best to avoid skin-lightening agents.
- Certain aromatherapy oils – generally it is safe to use some aromatherapy oils during pregnancy as long as you’re careful not to over-use them as they can be incredibly powerful and concentrated. However if you have certain conditions (see here) it is best to avoid them completely. Once inside your body, essential oils work in the same way as drugs or medicines. Because essential oil molecules are very small, there is a possibility that they may cross the placenta and reach your growing baby’s circulation. Specific oils to avoid are listed on the final page.
- Sunscreens – these are deemed safe to use as they only penetrate the skin in very small concentrations. Even better to use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide based screens as they create a physical barrier and don’t penetrate the skin.
- Comodogenic products – Many makeup products can be comodogenic meaning that they clog pores. Look for those marked ‘noncomedogenic’ (don’t clog pores). Minerals-only makeup is great during pregnancy as they tend to include ingredients that primarily sit on top of the skin and don’t cause irritation for most people. Skincare products including petroleum based ingredients such as mineral oil can also block pores so best to avoid these. See last page for ingredients to watch out for.
- Endocrine disrupting agents – such as parabens and phlalates. Parabens are used as preservatives (also derived from petroleum) to help keep products maintain a longer shelf-life. Phthalates are used to help lubricate other substances, help lotions penetrate and soften the skin, and help fragrances last longer. Both of these have been classed by research as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), or chemicals that interfere with the production or activity of hormones in the endocrine system. These can impact on our reproductive health and our unborn baby’s future health.
- Formaldehyde-donating preservatives – often found in nail polish, nail glue, eyelash glue, hair gel, hair-smoothing products, baby shampoo, body soap, body wash, cosmetics. These are banned for use in personal care products in several countries. Formaldehye is considered a known human carcinogen.
- Soy – This is most relevant to those who experience ‘the mask of pregnancy’ i.e. dark patches on the face as soy can increase these patches, as can oil of bergamot, which is in many organic products.
However ‘active soy’ products are fine to use as the estrogenic components in ‘soy’ have been taken out.
See the last page for a handy printable table including what to look out for on product labels
So how can you protect and invest in your skin health especially during pregnancy?
- Inform yourself about the products you’re applying to your skin:
There are lots of good, safe skincare options available today. Read the labels on what you’re using and make a more informed choice.
When I learnt that toxins could be absorbed through the skin and were in so many retail products I switched all my personal care products to a brand I trusted that didn’t include any unnecessary or harmful ingredients such as parabens, formaldehyde donating preservatives, petroleum-based ingredients. I made this choice as I wanted the reassurance that I wasn’t overloading my body with toxins through face and body washes, creams and deodorant etc. And it gives me peace of mind using safe products for my daughter.
- Nourish your body with good quality foods:
The biggest impact I’ve seen on my skin and overall health has been through adjusting my diet.
We all know that eating well, drinking plenty of water, not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation and avoiding too much (unhealthy) stress are important for our general health. We may also know that all of these link to our skin health more specifically. But not everyone makes this connection necessarily. I didn’t for a long time.
Often problems occurring on the surface of the skin – such as breakouts – are a sign of an internal imbalance, for example hormonal changes. This was the first warning sign for me a few years ago when (mid-thirties) my health began to change.
I now use my skin to indicate how my general health is. It’s become my health map or sorts. And I’m enjoying transforming my health from the inside out.
For good skin health (and overall health!) it’s important to replace too much caffeine, refined sugars and processed foods with good quality, organic whole foods, including plenty of good fats, and plenty of water.
Why is your nutrition so important during pregnancy especially?
During pregnancy our bodies change rapidly. We need our body to be at its best to support us and our baby. And there are lots of studies these days looking into the impact of what a mother eats and drinks before conception, during pregnancy and just after birth on our babies’ (and even their babies!) long-term health:
“Increasing epidemiological evidence suggests that maternal nutrition and environmental exposure early in development play an important role in susceptibility to disease in later life. In addition, these disease outcomes seem to pass through subsequent generations.”
I find this field of research fascinating and also very empowering. Since becoming a parent I’ve become much more aware of the impact my behaviours, especially eating habits have on my daughter’s behaviours and health. This motivates me to make healthier choices.
To your informed and glowing health!I’ve also learnt that trying to process too much information can be very stressful and counter-productive on my journey to great health and peace of mind. So without getting too overwhelmed by the science behind what I put on and inside my body, I know that if I use pure products and eat good quality, organic, unprocessed foods as close to nature as possible, my body, and my family, will thank me for it.
|What to look out for on personal care product labels especially during pregnancy|
|Salycylic acid and other ingredients found in Acne products
Beta hydroxy acid
Generally ok but better to use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide based screens as they create a physical barrier and don’t penetrate the skin.
|Skin lightening agents
|Certain aromatherapy oilsto avoid:
Nutmeg, Rosemary, Basil, Jasmine, Clary sage, Sage, Rose, Juniper berry
Laurel, Angelica, Thyme, Cumin
Aniseed, Citronella, Cinnamon leaf
DBP (dibutyl phthalate)
DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate)
DiNP (diisononyl phthalate)
DEP (diethyl phthalate)
BBzP (benzyl butyl phthalate)
DEHP (di 2-ethylhexl phthalate)
DiDP (diisodecyl phthalate)
DnHP (di-n-hexyl phthalate)
DMP (dimethyl phthalate) DnOP (di-n-octylphthalate)Bisphenol A (BPA) is another plasticizer
other ingredients ending in –paraben
|Comodogenic and petroleum based products i.e. those that clog pores. Look out for the ‘non-comodogenic’ label. Paraffin Wax, Mineral Oil, Toluene, Benzene, Phenoxyethanol. Anything with PEG (polyethylene glycol)Anything ending in ‘eth’ indicates that it required ethylene oxide (a petrochemical) to produce e.g. myreth, oleth, laureth, cetearethAnything with DEA (diethanolamine) or MEA (ethanolamine). Butanol and any word with ‘butyl’ – butyl alcohol, butylparaben, butylene glycol. Ethanol and word with ‘ethyl’ – ethyl alcohol, ethylene glycol, ethylene dichloride, EDTA (ethylene-diamine-tetracetatic acid), ethylhexylglycerinAny word with “propyl” – isopropyl alcohol, propylene glycol, propyl alcohol, cocamidopropyl betaine. Methanol and any word with ‘methyl’ – methyl alcohol, methylparaben, methylcellulose. Parfum or fragrance – 95% of chemicals used in fragrance are from petroleum|
This blog is based on my own reading and experience about my skin health during my pregnancy and beyond. I’m not a dermatologist or trained medical professional. I hope you’ll find it helpful!