Image: Audi insperation, Flickr
Decades ago, when chemists were churning out new discoveries and industry was making "better living through chemistry," the belief was widely held that chemicals do not cross the placenta. We now know that mother's chemical exposure can affect her baby's chances for a normal, healthy life, especially in early pregnancy when a fetus' growth is being carefully regulated by a host of natural chemical messengers in the womb.
Should you worry? Well, first of all, women have been giving birth joyfully for decades after the advent of industrialization. It is a thrilling, suspense-ridden process with no certain answers -- with a high probability that you will have created the greatest treasure of your life. Don't let fears overwhelm your enjoyment of nine months of miracles. But do use common sense, and a little dose of facts, to help protect your little bundle of joy as much as you can. Look at the tips in bold for some easy suggestions.
1. Luxury Bath Products
Image: Limpciano, Flickr
This is good news for women who do not want to waste money buying expensive organic products for themselves during pregnancy: Tests by German green consumer magazine Öko-Test (Eco-Test) found that cheap shower creams were composed of safer ingredients. The high-end products used more exotic ingredients, frequently including chemicals that can cause allergies, even roaming into riskier territory such as cancer-causing ingredients. So leave the stuff with the fancy names on the shelf and stick with a classic low-end soap for the shower.
Baby Yourself: Buy products especially formulated for infants and children. Manufacturers make more effort to avoid questionable ingredients in these products.
2. Nail Care
Working in a nail salon made Time magazine's list of the worst jobs in America. Anecdotes about health problems experienced by workers include stillbirths, birth defects, and developmental issues -- although no studies have been published on birth defects among nail workers. A North Carolina study did find an increased risk of spontaneous abortion among nail salon employees. Consumer campaigns prompted by these concerns have forced suppliers to reformulate and reduce the "toxic trio:" dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde and toluene. But nail products continue to include many ingredients that are inadequately tested or which have raised concerns about reproductive toxicity. If you are just having your nails done once every couple of weeks, is that a "safe dose?" The fact is, no one knows. Better safe than sorry.
Nicer Nails: Even if your friends know you for having the most flamboyant painted nails, wear naked nails with pride when you are pregnant. Treat yourself to a manicure and/or pedicure without using any chemicals. Be sure to select a well-ventilated salon if you have it done professionally.
3. Spray-on Tanning
The Food and Drug Administration has approved Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) for use in chemical tanning. The DHA works by reacting with the dead layer of surface skin in much the same way bread browns when toasted. It has been shown not to absorb into the living skin below the dead layer, and is therefore considered safer than suntanning -- which is known to cause cancer. However, these approvals do not take into account the risks of inhaling the particles of spray that get into the air during "tanning".
Studies suggest that DHA may be mutagenic and can cause primary DNA damage. There is no test data publicly available on development toxicity. Bottom line: spray-on tans may be healthier when applied with proper protections on healthy adults, but it's not worth the (mostly unknown) risk to your developing fetus.
Tan Teetotaling: elevated body temperature can also be dangerous to your unborn baby, so tanning beds are not a good option either. Spin your skin as "porcelain" not "pale."
4. Skin Whitening
Skin lightening products contain chemicals that interfere with enzymatic processes that lead to production of melanin, which darkens the skin. This drug-like action has earned lightening products the nickname "cosmeceuticals." Typically hydroquinone or glutathione are used as the active ingredient; mostly mercury has been eliminated from whitening products. Alternatives claiming to be safer are appearing as safety concerns have led to calls for bans on ingredients like hydroquinone.
Unfortunately, pregnancy often induces darkening of the skin, and can lead to a pigment "mask" on the face, making the urge to action stronger. In all cases, doctors recommend waiting until after your pregnancy before considering any skin lightening treatments.
Safer Solutions? Take care. Alternatives often simply have less testing evidence of problems, not more proof of safety.
5. Chemical Hair Removal
The active ingredient in hair removal products is usually some form of thioglycolic acid. There are no studies showing that this chemical is unsafe on the skin during pregnancy. But there are also no studies showing it is safe. The EU limits the ingredient to a maximum of 5% (as thioglycolic acid) in depilatories (hair removal products). In the US, independent panel the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) found it to be safe up to levels of 15.2% (as thioglycolic acid). The thioglycolic acid reacts chemically with disulfide bonds in hair. Because these ingredients are aggressive enough to react chemically, and no studies have been done to detect potential reprotoxic effects, we recommend the precautionary principle: Leave these on the shelf until after the pregnancy.
Shave Sharing: Get your partner involved. Create a special bond as he helps you shave those places you can no longer even see, much less reach.