Beauty for Two
Pregnancy is famously a time of lifestyle choices, such as skipping mouthwatering ceviche and glasses of pinot, that will ensure a healthy mom and baby. But moms-to-be should also scrutinize their personal care products—from soaps to stretch-mark creams—for ingredients, both synthetic and natural, that can harm a developing baby inside.
Fetuses are highly vulnerable to and defenseless against toxic chemical exposure, because the blood-brain barrier, which prevents many harmful substances from entering the brain, doesn’t develop fully until after birth. In addition, fetal blood contains lower levels of certain proteins that bind to and help neutralize harmful chemicals. The rapid cell division that fetuses undergo also increases sensitivity to chemicals.
“The fetus is going through crazy-rapid development in which changes are guided by hormone signals,” says Rebecca Sutton, PhD, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group (EWG). “Even trace chemicals could disrupt and tweak the system.”
A 2009 EWG study found hormone-disrupting synthetic musk fragrances, present in soaps, perfumes, and cosmetics, in seven of 10 umbilical cord–blood samples tested. This chemical can also damage the body’s defenses, letting more toxins enter the cells, the EWG reports.
Another 2009 study from the Washington Toxics Coalition (WTC) discovered phthalates (additives in nail polish and bodycare fragrances) in the blood and urine of all nine pregnant women tested. “We’re mainly concerned about male reproductive development,” says Erika Schreder, a WTC staff scientist who managed the study. “Animal studies have shown that fetal exposure to phthalates decreases sperm and testosterone production and results in smaller testes.”
In addition to musk fragrances and phthalates, the biggest chemical offenders include the antibacterial triclosan and oxybenzone, an active ingredient in sunscreen. Triclosan, commonly found in liquid soap and toothpaste, can make thyroid hormone levels shift, potentially dangerous to a fetus’ developing neurological functions. As for oxybenzone, also called benzophenone-3, “a recent study showed that women with high levels of it in their bodies tend to give birth to girls with low birth weights and boys with high birth weights,” says Sutton.
Besides artificial chemicals, there are even a few natural ingredients pregnant women should avoid. For example, the FDA notes that aloe vera in products used orally, such as toothpaste, can stimulate uterine contractions. Pregnant women should also steer clear of certain essential oils, namely juniper, pennyroyal, and goldenseal, because they can disrupt the fetus’ hormonal balance or even encourage preterm contractions. “The first trimester is the most dangerous in terms of harm to the developing fetus,” explains Alan M. Dattner, MD, a holistic dermatologist in New York City. “And essential oils are so powerful, especially if used straight.”
To avoid the potential harmful effects of these synthetic and natural ingredients, choose products with short ingredient lists, says Alexandra Zissu, coauthor of The Complete Organic Pregnancy (Collins, 2006). “If you can’t understand what an ingredient is by reading it, avoid it,” she suggests. Remember that, in the end, you’ll be making the right choice for your baby.
Erinn Morgan penned Picture Yourself Going Green (Course Technology, 2009).
The Mother Lode
Motherlove Pregnant Belly Salve
An organic mélange of marshmallow root, rose hips, lavender, chamomile, calendula, apricot oil, and scar-healing shea butter keeps skin soft and elastic. ($18, 4 oz; motherlove.com)
Weleda Pregnancy Body Oil
Essential fatty acid–rich almond oil, soothing organic arnica extract, and nourishing wheat germ oil condition skin and stop stretch marks from forming. ($22, 3.4 oz; weleda.com)
Earth Mama Angel Baby Natural Nipple Butter
This organic balm made with calendula and cocoa, shea, and mango butters softens parched nipples. Safe ingredients mean there’s no need to rinse off before nursing. ($10, 1 oz; earthmamaangelbaby.com)
Mother’s Special Blend Skin Toning Oil
Apply this preservative-free blend of almond oil, coconut oil, cocoa butter, and vitamin E to tummy, thighs, breasts, and buttocks during pregnancy and post-delivery. ($18,
8.5 oz; mothersspecialblend.com)
EO Organic Lavender Hand Sanitizing Spray
Cut off harmful germs at the pass with this hand sanitizer made from organic lavender, echinacea, and no triclosan or artificial fragrances. ($5,
2 oz; eoproducts.com)
Motherlove Sitz Bath
This post-labor lifesaver uses a blend of witch hazel leaf, yarrow, uva ursi, and sea salt to soothe sore perineal muscles and reduce swelling. ($18, 6 oz; motherlove.com)
MyChelle Sun Shield SPF 28
Free of oxybenzone and phthalates, this non-eye-irritating, zinc oxide–based sunscreen is safe for babies and moms-to-be. Organic aloe and antioxidant soybean oil heal and moisturize. ($19,
2.3 oz; mychelle.com)