A Helpful List of Chemicals to Avoid During Pregnancy
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My passion for healthy living and safe products began when I was pregnant. Suddenly, I realized that the baby inside me was relying completely on me for nutrients. Therefore, I switched over to eating organic and healthy foods and committed to researching baby products for safety. However, I was still unaware of the importance of using safe skincare on myself. That changed after I had a terrible allergic reaction to an eye cream. It is a fact that potentially harmful ingredients in skincare products are abundant. Since the skin is our largest organ, we must be cautious about what to put on it – we don’t want it to absorb nasty stuff! Plus, we must be wary about what we inhale because it goes directly into our bloodstream. In this post, I provide a list of chemicals to avoid during pregnancy, so you know what skincare to avoid during pregnancy.
List of Chemicals to Avoid During Pregnancy
Is topical retinol safe during pregnancy?
First, let us talk about retinol, a common skincare ingredient that you have probably heard about. To clarify, retinol shows up as “vitamin A,” “retinyl palmitate” or “retinoids” on skincare product ingredient lists. Products with retinol promise to improve the appearance of your skin, reduce sun damage, and improve fine lines and wrinkles. So, it is not surprising that they are so popular.
Additionally, vitamin A is in most prenatal vitamins because it’s an important nutrient for both the baby and the mother. Nevertheless, excessive intake of Vitamin A may cause fetal head, heart, brain, and spinal cord malformations.
In sum, while the quantities of vitamin A in skincare are likely to be safe, being aware of this ingredient is helpful. You may consider using fewer retinol products or choose to review your total vitamin A exposure with your doctor.
To learn about other retinol concerns, specifically in daytime skincare, visit our Non-Toxic Anti-Aging Beauty Routine blog post.
Fragrance is a mixture of ingredients to avoid while pregnant.
Although it is nice to smell nice, fragrance (aka “parfum”) is a red flag when determining what skincare to avoid during pregnancy. Being a commonly used ingredient, fragrance is difficult to avoid, even in products that otherwise appear safe.
Note that a fragrance is usually made up of a long list of chemicals to avoid during pregnancy (and any other time in life). Yet, brands can list fragrance without disclosing its exact ingredients because the FDA regulations allow them to do so.
Thankfully, fragrance is easy to spot when you quickly check the label of a product. We recommend that you put the product back on the shelf if you see “fragrance” among its ingredients.
Also, keep in mind that natural fragrance is not necessarily safer than synthetic fragrance. Indeed, brands are not required to prove that their fragrance ingredients are natural. Plus, there is no regulated definition of the term “natural” in skincare. Consequently, all we can do is blindly rely on the word of the manufacturer.
Personally, as a product researcher with a decade of experience, I don’t trust companies that do not fully disclose ingredients. Therefore, if I spot “fragrance” or “parfum” on the ingredient label, I consider it skincare to avoid during pregnancy.
What other sources state about fragrance
Furthermore, studies show that fragrances are associated with allergic contact dermatitis, respiratory distress, and sensitization. Irritation from fragrances is caused by the chemical interacting with the skin to cause a reaction like rash or redness. Although sensitizing chemicals have similar symptoms, they are different in that they excite an immune response. Following this, an allergic reaction occurs. In this situation, the reaction can range from a mild rash to life-threatening anaphylaxis.
Interestingly, in 2022, the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) listed 3,619 materials permitted in fragrances, including styrene, diethyl phthalate, and butylphenyl methylpropional (lilial). These ingredients are linked to skin sensitization, reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, and cancer. This is another reason to add fragrance to your list of chemicals to avoid during pregnancy.
By the way, although the European Commission banned butylphenol methylpropional from use in cosmetic products, US manufacturers still use it. This is one of the reasons I rely on European chemical databases and scientific reports more.
Are essential oils safe during pregnancy?
Normally, when somebody transitions out of products with fragrance, I suggest products scented with essential oils. Plus, they can be therapeutic and healing for many different skin conditions when used correctly. However, it is important to know that some people can be allergic even to small amounts of essential oils. You can learn more about that in our blog post about natural fragrance.
In addition, some essential oils may interfere with the normal processes of pregnancy. Typically, the amounts found in skincare are small, but for you it can be skincare to avoid during pregnancy.
Furthermore, the exposure to essential oils when you diffuse them is more significant (source). Remember that whatever you inhale goes straight into your bloodstream.
Besides, some oils are controversial. For instance, some studies on lavender oil refer to its benefits while others describe its potential estrogenic effects. To be on the side of caution, you might want to stay away from diffusing lavender oil while being pregnant.
Consider this list of essential oils the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy suggests avoiding throughout pregnancy, labor, and breastfeeding:
|Essential Oil||Latin Name|
|Basil ct. estragole||Ocimum basilicum|
|Parsley seed or leaf||Petroselinum sativum|
Is salicylic acid safe during pregnancy?
Should salicylic acid be on your list of chemicals to avoid during pregnancy, and skincare with salicylic acid – on your list of skincare to avoid during pregnancy? Let’s see.
Salicylic acid arouses controversy because it’s a metabolite of aspirin that can be harmful to the baby in high doses. Nevertheless, most doctors allow low-dose aspirin during pregnancy as well as topical application of salicylic acid.
According to the European Chemicals Agency, salicylic acid is suspected of causing damage to the unborn child. But they do not take into account doses or routes of application.
Conversely, the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety concluded that salicylic acid should not be classified as a reproductive toxicant. Hence, they restrict salicylic acid to a concentration of 3% in rinse-off products and 2% in all other products. For your reference, acne skincare often contains 1-3% of salicylic acid.
Next, while the EU SCCS believes salicylic acid is not a sensitizer, the US Poison Control and the FDA reported several life-threatening allergic reactions to acne products containing benzoyl peroxide and/or salicylic acid. However, they did not mention other ingredients used in the products in combination with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. It’s possible that other ingredients, such as fragrance, caused these allergic reactions.
With all the debate around salicylic acid, I have put it on the list of chemicals to avoid during pregnancy. But, please, consult with your doctor before adding skincare with salicylic acid to your list of skincare to avoid during pregnancy.
Ethanolamine in permanent hair colors to avoid while pregnant
Ethanolamine, commonly found in permanent hair dyes, is last on the list of chemicals to avoid during pregnancy. Function-wise, it opens a hair shaft for the hair dyes to penetrate.
The European Chemicals Agency states that ethanolamine may cause respiratory irritation and skin reactions. In addition, it is suspected of damaging fertility or the unborn child. Further, if inhaled in larger quantities, it may cause allergy or asthma symptoms or breathing difficulties. Take this into consideration if you work or spend time in such an environment as a hair salon.
Another reason for concern about the use of ethanolamine is potential formation of potentially carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds, as reported by the 2015 Cosmetic Ingredient Review. Moreover, the EU Commission has even placed several restrictions to prevent the formation of carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds. As consumers, we can’t know whether manufacturers have taken the precautions. Therefore, I put ethanolamine on the list of chemicals to avoid during pregnancy.
By the way, in our Permanent Hair Color Rating List, we specify which colors use ethanolamine so you can avoid them. Yet, we still don’t recommend dyeing your hair even with ethanolamine-free hair colors.
Chemicals and Skincare to Avoid During Pregnancy Summary
First, use caution with retinol products because too much vitamin A is concerning. Consider the cumulative amount in all your products, including prenatal vitamins. Thus, there is only one product with retinol we recommend on our website, Marie Veronique Night Serum.
Second, we do not promote any products with fragrance, parfum, or undisclosed natural fragrances or scents. As noted, essential oils are preferred, but please double-check the ingredient label with the essential oil table above to ensure they are pregnancy safe.
Third, in our opinion, it is best to avoid salicylic acid during pregnancy whenever possible. Indeed, there is some concerning evidence about its safety in different concentrations and applications. However, if you wish to continue using a product containing salicylic acid, please consult your doctor first. We believe that the safest skincare line with salicylic acid is Pure Haven Clear Up Skincare Set.
Finally, in our opinion, ethanolamine in permanent hair dyes is definitely on the list of chemicals to avoid during pregnancy. Therefore, it is best not to use it during pregnancy (or any other time). View the options of relatively safer permanent hair colors in our Permanent Hair Color Rating List E-Book.
Best products during pregnancy
In our opinion, the best products during pregnancy are non-toxic products that do not contain allergens, endocrine disruptors, and carcinogens. Such products are safe to use at all times, pregnant or not. Luckily, you can find toxin-free products that we vetted for safety using our rigorous 5-Step Research Method in the shop section of our website. Thus, for expecting mothers looking for safe baby products, we have an entire Healthy Baby/Kids Products section.
Next, we have gone beyond simply listing skincare to avoid during pregnancy! Indeed, take advantage of our research into the best stretch mark creams and oils for pregnancy. You may also be interested in non-toxic makeup as you make efforts to reduce toxins while you are pregnant.
By the way, if you want to learn an unprecedented shortcut method to estimate a product’s safety in a matter of just a few seconds, check out our popular Savvy Consumer Superpower E-Book. Most importantly, enjoy your pregnancy (I know it is not always easy)!
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