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Researching skincare products and safe ingredients can feel like climbing a mountain. It’s scary and easy to fall down a rabbit hole, especially when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Like Alice’s warped Wonderland, your decisions feel muddled by marketing campaigns and ‘expert’ influencers with no formal training – the worst! Coupled with that, there is little scientific research about how topical skincare products affect your baby.
Are you ready to pull out your hair yet? Don’t fret. I got you. As a holistic esthetician, this is what I’m most passionate about. Educating you on how to care for yourself and your skin with ease. Let’s break it down and take the stress out of skincare. With some basic info and a quick look at the ingredient list, you’ll be ready to make informed decisions.
Before we get into pregnancy and lactation specifics, it’s important to make sure none of these ingredients are in anything you put on you or your baby’s skin. These are just a few of the big ones. Most have been getting a lot of bad press lately and rightfully so!
Parabens, Phthalates, & Synthetic Fragrance are all potential hormone disrupting ingredients. We are faced with enough of these when we leave the house and handle store receipts, purchase food in plastic packaging, use hand soap in public restrooms, etc… the list goes on. Avoiding hormone disrupting ingredients at home is one of the best ways to control exposure. This lowers your overall baseline so you can live your life knowing you and your family are safe.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (and other heavy surfactants) can strip the skin’s barrier, which is our first line of defense against foreign invaders, infection, and germs. SLS can also cause disruption in our skin’s microbiome, which is a factor in our skin’s immune health. It hides in things like shampoo and dish soap. If you use products that lather and produce a lot of bubbles, check the ingredients for SLS or other harsh surfactants.
PEGs & Petroleum Based Products are both known to have potential carcinogenic contamination. Enough Said.
Wondering which products you should be using? More on that below!
Avoid While Pregnant And Lactating…
Retinol & Retinoids
Vitamin A derived products like retinol and retinoids are best avoided during pregnancy because of their association with birth defects when ingested. Hold off on using while breastfeeding to ensure topical application is not absorbed and passed through breast milk. There are a number of reasons to use topical retinol in your pre-pregnancy and post-lactation skincare routine, but during this season try using products with Vitamin C, Niacinamide, or Rosehip Oil. All three help with brightening and anti-aging.
- Products containing Vitamin C are especially helpful for treating hyperpigmentation (hello melasma!), but can be irritating for sensitive skin types.
- Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) is a good alternative if Vitamin C causes a reaction. It’s a skin stress reliever and helps maintain hydration, while also brightening.
- Rosehip Oil is prized for its fine line fighting abilities thanks to its beta-carotene content (a natural Vitamin A that’s not synthetically derived, and totally safe for moms).
Used as a skin bleaching agent, hydroquinone has long been banned in Europe due to its cell damaging effects. There is a known link between hydroquinone and birth defects in animal studies. It can possibly pass through breastmilk. It’s usually prescribed to treat hyperpigmentation. Melasma is common during pregnancy and should subside after hormone levels stabilize. To treat dark spots or melasma, try products with Vitamin C or Niacinamide.
Benzoyl Peroxide & Salicylic Acid
While there are no known consequences of using benzoyl peroxide, the risk has not been ruled out for those pregnant and lactating. There simply isn’t enough information to make a well informed decision.
It’s a similar case for topical salicylic acid in low concentrations (there are known risks in higher concentrations). Due to the lack of information, it’s best to avoid both ingredients. Typically these ingredients are used to treat acne.
If you have acne while pregnant or breastfeeding, try using products with watermelon seed oil. It may sound counterintuitive to use oil on acne, but the right oil can regulate excessive oil production. Watermelon seed oil dissolves the pore blockages that cause acne.
Or try Niacinamide. It’s an antioxidant and works wonders for relieving inflammation. By stopping inflammation there is less chance of a blocked pore, and therefore less chance of a blemish. It’s incredibly helpful for hormonal acne and healing the dark spots left after a breakout.
This one might be better suited for the “always avoid” list, but especially while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. The difference between chemical and mineral sunscreens is simple. Chemical sunscreens are applied and absorbed into the skin. They absorb the sun’s harmful rays and convert them into heat to be released by the body. Mineral sunscreens sit on the top of the skin and create a physical barrier against the sun, hence the chalky appearance.
The problem with chemical sunscreens isn’t just the environmental damage they cause. There are new studies suggesting the active ingredients in chemical sunscreens absorb into the bloodstream and cause hormone distribution. I’ll be the first to say wear your sunscreen everyday, so look for sunscreens with an active ingredient of non-nano zinc.
There’s a new trend in the beauty industry of combining mineral and chemical sunscreen ingredients for better product application. Makeup and morning moisturizers are usually the biggest culprits, so check them first. A good rule of thumb when shopping for sunscreen is if the active ingredient starts with an “O” (oxybenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, etc.) then it’s a NO!
Use With Caution…
Even a lot of natural ingredients like essential oils can provoke a reaction when your skin is dealing with fluctuating hormone levels. Most essential oils in skincare products are safe to use as long as they’re correctly diluted and in low concentrations. Because hormonal stress can make the skin more reactive it’s best to use EOs with caution.
If you’re looking for green beauty alternatives to conventional mass market products and are nervous about potential reactions, look for calming ingredients that soothe the skin instead. Plant oils, rather than EOs, help repair the skin’s barrier, lock in moisture, and promote a healthy glow. Calendula and plantain leaf work wonders for redness and reactivity. Hemp oil does not contain CBD and is a good solution for almost all skin concerns!
Acid & Enzyme Exfoliants
Over the counter alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are okay when used in low concentrations (less than 10%). Because they are water soluble, they are less likely to penetrate the deeper levels of the skin. If you want to be extra cautious, stick to AHAs with a bigger molecular size, like lactic acid.
Glycolic acid molecules, which are common in skincare, are smaller and penetrate deeper into the skin. While still safe in small concentrations, glycolic is more likely to cause irritation – especially if your hormones are causing reactivity. If you’re worried about using AHAs, use an enzyme. Enzyme exfoliants typically come from fruit like pineapple, papaya, or pumpkin, are safe to use while pregnant or breastfeeding, and generally cause less reactions than AHAs.
A Quick Note on Exfoliation
As your hormones fluctuate, it’s common for the skin to come in and out of balance. When our skin is out of balance our first inclination is to scrub the you-know-what out of it. Over-exfoliation can lead to dryness and dehydration, or even acne and increased sensitivity.
Take it easy on your skin. Stick with gentle exfoliants and don’t exfoliate more than one to two times a week. If you’re going to use an AHA to exfoliate, make sure it’s not in your cleanser, serum, and moisturizer – stick with one AHA containing product.
If you’re unsure about an ingredient in your product, or want more information on the ones I’ve listed, the Environmental Working Group* is a fantastic resource. Their Skin Deep Database** will give you insight into products, brands, and ingredients with an easy to understand toxicity rating. The EWG doesn’t just cater to skincare and has a similar database for household products, as well as consumer guides on making healthier choices.
This goes without saying, but your doctor knows best. If you’re worried about a particular ingredient, run it by them at your next appointment.
Following these guidelines can help you rest more easily knowing that you’re doing the right thing for you and your baby. You’ve got plenty of things on your mind, and stressing about skincare products shouldn’t be one of them!
Looking for more from me on how best to get your glow back after baby? Click here.
And make sure to check out our events page to see what’s coming up to support you and answer ALL of your burning questions. (And if anything is actually burning, please call your doctor or midwife!)
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