Mum-of-one and beauty writer PAMELA MCINTOSH quizzes skin and health experts on body treatments, and what (if any) should be avoided during pregnancy
Tips for a pregnancy-friendly beauty regime
Three trimesters of baby-growing brings on a multitude of variations to your routine, diet and general awareness of wellbeing. Our skin absorbs everything we put on it, and with the health of an unborn baby top of mind, thoughts creep in and questions arise: What’s ok? What is potentially dangerous? It’s time to dispel the myths and get mindful.
Q Are there any ingredients I need to be mindful of that could be in hair styling products?
A “A lot of cosmetics and toiletries currently contain a preservative called methylisothiazolinone (MI), which can cause rashes and eczema in babies and adults, explains Victoria. “It is being banned in some countries but we still see it commonly in products on the shelves in New Zealand. Dermatologists generally recommend all people (regardless of pregnancy) avoid products containing MI because we are seeing an epidemic of people reacting to it. It can even be found in baby wipes so it is always worth checking the ingredients label.” Additionally, Sheena warns that hair straightening products may contain the well-known harmful carcinogen formaldehyde, also known as methanal, methylene oxide, oxymethyline, methylaldehyde, oxomethane and other names, and advises to “seek out formaldehyde-free products”.
Q Is it safe to have my hair coloured during pregnancy?
A “There is very little research into this,” says Dr Victoria Scottlang, head of dermatology at Christchurch Hospital. “The limited data available suggests that the chemicals in permanent and semi-permanent hair dye are not highly toxic and are safe to use in pregnancy. However, some women choose to avoid dying their hair altogether during pregnancy, despite lack of concrete evidence that it does harm. Others may choose to use natural dyes. Highlighting the hair would theoretically cause less chance of absorption through the scalp and so could be another way to minimise exposure to chemicals.” Naturopath Sheena Hendons’ view is that ammonia and other chemicals, such as resorcinol, parabens, and PPD (paraphenylenediamine) are the key chemical nasties found in many hair dye formulas. “These ingredients may irritate the skin and lungs,” she warns.
Q Can I continue my prescribed or over-the-counter acne cream during pregnancy?
A Unfortunately, pregnancy can often flare up acne and some women are plagued by it during this time. “The vast majority of acne drugs are not to be used in pregnancy, which makes treatment choices very limited,” explains Victoria. “The only acne treatments that are generally recommended in pregnancy by dermatologists are benzyl peroxide and fruit acids, eg salicylic acid, glycolic acid and azelaic acid. Very rarely oral antibiotics can be used for severe acne, but we try to avoid using drugs where possible.”
Q I love a regular manicure and pedicure. Can I continue my favourite pamper treatment?
A Kauri Healthcare dermatologist Dr Louise Reiche suggests avoiding the use of UV lamps (often used for manicures where gel formula is used) because “artificial UV light increases skin cancer risk in the nail bed”. She also advises to not be tempted to push back cuticles, saying, “it’s nature’s sealant to prevent infections in and around the nails”. Be mindful of nail salons where nail infections may be transmitted, requiring strong medications to clear – which may not be used during pregnancy.
Q I love wearing fragrance, but is it safe for me and baby?
A Victoria says there is a great deal of uncertainty about the risk of chemical exposure during pregnancy. “The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists state that currently it is impossible to estimate the risk, if any, of exposure to low levels of chemicals during pregnancy,” she explains. “They recommend that pregnant women may wish to consider minimising their risk of chemical exposure by limiting use of fragrance and personal care products amongst other steps – whilst stressing that ‘it is unlikely any of these exposures will be truly harmful for babies.”
Q Can I stick to my usual hair-removal regime?
A “The active ingredient in hair removal products is usually some form of thioglycolic acid,” explains Sheena. “And many of the more popular brands list ‘fragrance’ which may contain phthalates. No studies show that thioglycolic is unsafe during pregnancy, but there are also no studies showing it is safe. I would ditch hair removal creams or depilatories during pregnancy and breastfeeding and opt for the safer waxing or old-fashioned razor options instead.”
Q Self-tanning during summer helps me look and feel great, but should I be concerned about the ingredients?
A “It is generally considered safe to use fake tan creams during pregnancy because the main ingredient dihyroxyacetone (DHA) is not absorbed by the skin (it sits on the outer layer), explains Victoria. “Spray tans are best avoided because of the possibility of inhaling DHA – the effects of which are unknown.”
Q I know there are chemicals in sun protection products. What do I need to know?
A “Many women prefer to use physical blocks in pregnancy, like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide-based sunscreens, rather than those containing chemicals. Sunscreens containing oxybenzone may be safe but given the uncertainty with regards to chemical exposure in pregnancy, it may be safer to stick to physical blocks. Women often develop increased skin pigment during pregnancy and being strict with protecting the skin for UV exposure will help minimise this. This is particularly relevant for New Zealand where we have significant levels of UV exposure all year round, particularly high in December and January.”
Q Are saunas ok to use while pregnant - what should I be mindful of?
A “No,” says Louise. “Increased body heat from saunas are not safe for you or your baby during pregnancy. Skin blood vessels dilate when you get hot, diverting blood flow away from your head (making you feel faint) and your placenta (making baby feel faint).”
Q Should I continue any appearance medicine treatments while pregnant or breastfeeding?
A Emma Lindley, Skin Institute national appearance medicine trainer and registered nurse, advises against any corrective appearance medicine treatments while pregnant or breastfeeding, such as Botox, dermal fillers, some facial peels, IPL or laser treatments, saying, “The main reason we don’t advise having any of the above treatments is due to their cosmetic nature and it’s appropriate to avoid any use that is not medically related while pregnant.”
SHEENA SAYS The more chemicals our unborn child is being exposed to, the greater the danger of toxic overload. So, although one product may have a minimal amount of a certain toxins, when you combine several beauty products with other numerous environmental and food chemicals we are exposed to on a day-to-day basis, there may be a cumulative deleterious effect
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