Pregnant and still using mainstream beauty and skincare products? If you haven’t already, here are four of the dirtiest you’ll want to rethink before baby arrives, and some great alternatives that are kinder to baby, you, and the environment.
How much of what we put on our skin is absorbed?
In researching this blog post, I wondered how much of what we apply to our skin actually gets absorbed. Figures fly around the internet at something like 60 – 70%. Well, this isn’t true, because there is no one magic percentage.
This article explains why we don’t know how much of an ingredient will be absorbed when applied topically.
To step back a little, penetration and absorption are actually separate things – penetration is where a chemical makes it down into the deeper tissues of the body. Absorption is where a chemical actually enters the bloodstream (source). Both depend on several factors:
- The chemical being applied to the skin, and what other chemicals are present. Some ingredients drive others deeper into the skin.
- The location of skin – for example the skin of the testicles is the most permeable, skin of the foot is the least permeable.
- The individual in question.
When pregnant or breastfeeding, and because of all the unknowns, it makes sense to be cautious with cosmetic products. There are so many hidden nasties in products that appear on supermarket and chemist shelves, but there are also many healthy and conscientious alternatives. Let’s take a look.
The sale of fragrance has created a multi-million pound industry, yet it is a completely unnecessary product. I know, it makes you feel good, I get it! I loved it before I fell pregnant with Jonah.
But fragrance is typically sprayed onto parts that come into contact with baby when breastfeeding and holding, via their skin, and breathing vapours. And that’s a risky thing because typical ingredients include:
- Coal and petroleum derivatives
- Undisclosed fragrance/parfum
For example, let’s look at the best selling perfume on Amazon, Beyoncé Heat Eau de Parfum for Women. One of the top ingredients is ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate. Read about it over on EWG, where there are high concerns for biochemical/cellular level changes, and endocrine disruption. It’s just scary.
Need more convincing that perfume is bad for you and the health of your family? Check out this 2009 study “Fragrance in the workplace is the new second hand smoke“. The article discusses four major health concerns due to fragrance:
- Respiratory: both allergic and non-allergic asthma, along with reactive airway dysfunction syndrome (RADS).
- Neurological: headaches, migraines, nausea, dizziness, and mental confusion.
- Skin: itching, irritation, and sensitisation.
- Eye: irritation and inflammation.
Babies dislike strong unnatural smells. Breastfeeding babies rely on their sense of smell to find the breast. They get to know their parents through their sense of smell. Baby will thank for you not using perfume!
If your baby is over six months, then essential oils are your friend. Make sure they’re safe for babies and used at the appropriate concentration. See this awesome essential oil based perfume recipe from Wellness Mama.
Some companies are blazing the trail on healthy scents, check out Neom Organics.
And be aware that although some companies say their fragrances are “organic” or “natural”, only a thorough ingredient check will confirm that all the ingredients are safe.
Read my post on choosing natural perfume for pregnancy for some great ideas on natural alternatives to synthetic perfume.
2. Antiperspirant deodorant
Okay, so for almost everybody, antiperspirant deodorant is necessary. Nobody likes stinky pits, even if they are in the name of clean living. Some people use deodorants without aluminium because of controversy surrounding aluminium and its links with breast cancer, alzheimer’s, and kidney disease. Some studies have shown there is a cancer link, but only in mice – so it’s all very confusing. Although the fact aluminium is a neurotoxin should be concerning enough. Add to that we get exposed to enough of it through other sources.
I use an aluminium-based antiperspirant rarely, like job interview rare, and most days I go without anything on my underarms. Why would I do that? It’s not just because of aluminium, but because antiperspirants reduce the number of bacteria in the underarm.
We’re only just starting to understand how important it is to respect the natural microbiota of the skin, and how bacteria might help in controlling disease. For parents especially this is important, since we want to help our babies develop a healthy microbiome, and we parents pass our germs on to our babies.
I also don’t believe it’s healthy to suppress sweating, a natural function of the skin.
Most mainstream antiperspirants contain some unhealthy ingredients. Take Dove Original Antiperspirant Deodorant spray for example. I’ve cherry picked the worst ingredients:
- BHT: a skin, eye, and lung irritant. Has concerns for organ system toxicity.
- Tocopheryl acetate: a skin toxicant/allergen.
- Alpha-isomethyl ionone: a possible immune system toxicant/allergen.
- Butylphenyl methylpropional: another possible immune system toxicant/allergen.
- Parfum: see above. Another ingredient to avoid.
It would seem the least risky route is to swap to a healthy roll-on, or non-aerosol spray.
Healthier antiperspirant deodorants?
My personal favourite and the natural deodorant I find the most effective is Lavera Basis Sensitiv Deodorant Spray – there is also a roll on version. It contains witch hazel which is great for smelling and feeling fresh as it has astringent properties. For clarification, I should also mention that it contains naturally derived benzyl benzoate from essential oils, which is toxicant/allergen in its synthetic form.
Weleda make nice spray deodorants in sage, rose, and citrus. I find these slightly less effective than Lavera deodorant at keeping odour at bay, but they have handy travel sizes so I use this when travelling.
I also like Green People roll-ons for my “interview days” but they do contain alum salts, so I only use them occasionally.
Hairspray is typically a mix of polymers (large molecules made up of smaller repeated molecules) in a solvent, such as alcohol. Unfortunately, mainstream brands add a range of quite unhealthy ingredients to their hairsprays, including fragrance.
Hairspray will occasionally end up on the skin, but for mothers and babies there is the concern of unintentional contact. This could happen through breathing in lingering hairspray particles, or transfer from clothes or hair onto baby’s sleep area.
Let’s have a look at some of the ingredients of a popular mainstream brand, L’Oreal Paris Elnett Normal Strength hairspray.
- PEG/PPG-18/18 dimethicone: may be contaminated with ethylene oxide (concerns for developmental and reproductive toxicity, and an irritant) and 1,4-dioxane (carcinogenic, and an irritant).
- Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate aka octinoxate: high concerns for biochemical/cellular level changes, and endocrine disruption. Mimics hormones in lab animals. Is found in breastmilk so passes through to baby.
- Aminomethyl propanol: high concerns for contamination with nitrosamines (carcinogenic), and irritation.
- Benzyl alcohol: toxic and allergenic but can be naturally occuring.
- Benzyl benzoate: the synthetic version of this is a possible immune system toxicant/allergen.
- Alpha-isomethyl ionone: a possible immune system toxicant/allergen.
- Parfum: see above. Another ingredient to avoid.
Goes to show how important it is to read labels and check ingredients carefully.
For some healthier natural hairsprays, do take a look at my post on natural hairsprays.
Lavera used to make a fantastic hairspray, but they recently discontinued it. Obviously me telling you this isn’t very helpful. I mention it because it makes me sad! 🙂
Or try John Masters Organics Hairspray, a plant-based hairspray that contains aloe vera and bergamot, and is suitable for coloured hair.
Also you could try making your own hairspray using this simple three ingredient recipe. Who knew?
KellyMom, a well respected breastfeeding resource site, states that very little sun care product applied topically to mum makes it into breast milk. I have to say that I disagree with this statement given evidence from other sources.
A study by a Swiss national research program called Endocrine Disruptors: Relevance to Humans, Animals and Ecosystems found endocrine disrupting UV filter chemicals in 85% of breast milk samples. Furthermore, EWG notes hormone-mimicking octinoxate, a sunscreen ingredient, showing up in breast milk (see below).
Whether or not chemicals end up in breast milk, another concern is unintentional contact with babies and toddlers who are in such close skin to skin contact.
Here are some unhealthy sunscreen ingredients to avoid that can be found in UK and US brands of sun product. I’ve also included ingredients that can be found in US brands as these can be bought through Amazon. Products checked were 15 to 30 SPF sunscreens.
- Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate aka octinoxate: I mentioned it earlier since it’s an ingredient in hairspray. Reiterating: it has high concerns for biochemical/cellular level changes, and endocrine disruption. It mimics hormones in lab animals, and it is found in breastmilk, so passes through to baby (can be found in Korres sunscreens).
- Retinyl palmitate or retinol: reproductive toxicant, increases the incidence of tumors developing on skin. Not commonly used in UK suncreams, but can be found in US brands (Banana Boat, Hawaiian Tropic, Neutrogena).
- Oxybenzone: high concerns for biochemical or cellular level changes, moderate concerns for endocrine disruption (luckily, most UK brands do not contain this ingredient, but EWG lists Hawaiian Tropic, Banana Boat, Kiehl’s, and Neutrogena as containing them).
- Octocrylene: this is the most commonly used UV filter in UK sunscreens, but it may cause allergic reactions, and has been flagged as a possible DNA damager (Ambre Solaire, Nivea, Boots Soltan, Piz Buin, Eucerin, JASON, L’Oreal, Banana Boat, Avon, Kiehl’s, Hawaiian Tropic, Korres, Neutrogena).
- Phenoxyethanol: links with reactions and nervous system function, especially in infants (Ambre Solaire, Nivea, Boots Soltan, Piz Buin, Eucerin, Korres, Neutrogena, JASON, Banana Boat, Hawaiian Tropic).
- BHT: a skin, eye, and lung irritant. Has concerns for organ system toxicity (Neutrogena, Banana Boat).
- Parabens: well publicised endocrine disruptors (Nivea, Boots Soltan, Nivea, Banana Boat, Hawaiian Tropic).
- Parfum: as above, almost all mainstream sun care products contain artificial fragrance and should be avoided.
Why take the risk? Here are some ideas for healthier alternatives.
I’m a big fan of Green People sun care products. Along with conventional adult offerings, which can be used on children of six months plus, they sell scent-free children’s sunscreens as well.
Green People sunscreens block UV light using naturally occurring UV filters. Green People claim the sunscreens increase collagen, and they contain antioxidants to help prevent UV damage. Green People sunscreens take thirty minutes to start to work, so there is some wait time.
I also like Organii SPF 50 Sun Milk. This sunscreen starts to work immediately so is great if you’re in a hurry, or the sun makes a sudden rare appearance. It does contain alumina (aluminium oxide) which I’m not happy to use daily, but I feel is fine for occasional use.
We holidayed in Spain for a week with Jonah and used both Green People and Organii sunscreens, and we found they worked really well.
Read my review of several sunscreens for families.
You can also try making your own sunscreen. I have to try this!
Natural sunscreen through diet
Wellness Mama has written this fantastic article on how you can increase your resistance to the sun through your diet – well worth a read.
I used many unhealthy brands before I began my clean product journey. I just didn’t realise how harmful many of the ingredients are. I didn’t look up ingredients because I assumed whatever I could buy in a shop would be safe.
I urge you to check ingredients of everything you use and choose healthy brands that you can trust for you and your baby.
There is so much we don’t know about how chemicals are absorbed into our skin, and what they do once they’re there.
When healthy alternatives exist, why take the risk?