When I became pregnant with my first child, I suddenly realised the importance of taking proper care of my body, as I was ultimately responsible for the safety of the little human being that was growing inside me. During this precious time, it’s important to pay special attention to the various ingredients we put IN and ON our bodies, as they can affect the well-being of not only ourselves, but also our growing babies. I was very worried about which skincare to use. And I quickly realised that finding skincare products that are harmless yet still effective can be an overwhelming task, as harsh ingredients are found in most cleansers, shampoos, moisturisers and lotions. Interestingly, I was not alone with this concern – when surveying 100 pregnant women we found that their main concern when buying skincare was the safety of the ingredients found in the products.
In order to make it easier for pregnant women to work out if their current skincare is safe to use, I have made this list below. It’s a detailed list of common skincare ingredients that I would highly recommend pregnant and breast-feeding mothers to avoid:
#1: Parabens – good ol’ parabens…. cheap and very common preservatives found in skincare. Studies have shown that parabens can possibly disrupt the hormonal balance in the body, which can have an adverse impact on fertility in both women and men. Interestingly, skincare containing the following parabens have been banned in Europe since 2014; Isopropyl-paraben, Isobutyl-paraben, Phenyl-paraben, Benzyl-paraben and Pentyl-paraben. Additionally, Butyl-paraben and Propyl-paraben have been banned from leave-on products designed for the nappy area of young children, as existing skin irritation may allow increased penetration compared to non-irritated skin. Nevertheless, it is still allowed to use these preservatives in skincare in Australia!
#2: Phthalates can be found in fragrances, hair products, skin products and especially nail polish, as the phthalates are great at stabilising the fragrances, enhancing absorption and increasing the spreadability the of the final products. In the past few years, researchers have linked phthalates to breast cancer, asthma, neurodevelopmental issues, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues. Worryingly, a study published in the February 2008, found that babies whose mum had recently applied infant care products like baby lotion, shampoo, and powder were more likely to have phthalates in their urine than babies whose mum didn’t use these products. In light of these concerns, several phthalates have been banned for use in cosmetics in Australia: dibutyl phthalate, diethylhexylphthalate, diisobutylphthalate and di(methoxyphenyl)phthalate.
#3: Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives such as DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, bromol and glyoxal can irritate skin, eyes, nose and the respiratory tract. These preservatives release small amounts of formaldehyde over time. Since low levels of formaldehyde can cause health concerns, the slow release of small amounts of formaldehyde are cause for concern. A 2015 study determined that longer storage time and higher temperature increase the amount of formaldehyde released from products containing these preservatives and could ultimately lead to more severe health concerns. And a 2009 review of the literature on occupational exposures and formaldehyde shows a link between formaldehyde and leukemia.
- Quaternium-15 is highly sensitising and is found in blush, mascara, lotion and shampoo.
- DMDM Hydantoin is found in lotion, sunscreen and make-up remover and is one of the least sensitizing of these formaldehyde-releasing preservatives.
- Imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, and polyoxymethylene urea are found in shampoo, conditioner, blush, eye shadow, and lotion. They are all known human allergens.
- Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate is found in shampoo, moisturizer, conditioner, and lotion. Animal studies have shown that sodium hydroxymethylglycinate has the potential for sensitization and dermatitis.
- Bromopol is found in nail polish, makeup remover, moisturizer and body wash. Bromopol is considered safe in concentrations less than 0.1%.
- Glyoxal is found in conditioner, lotion, nail polish and nail treatment.
#4: Retinoic acid – a type of retinoid also called tretinoin, Retin-A or Atralin. This ingredient is found in products prescribed by doctors to treat acne, age spots and wrinkles. There is a long list of side effects from using tretinoin creams, but firstly it is important to know that it has been linked to birth defects. Also, please be aware that retinoic acids have been found in various makeup brands too!
#5: Hydroquinone – a common depigmenting (skin-lightening) agent. It has been estimated that 35-45% of this chemical is systemically absorbed (the amount that reaches the blood stream) after topical use in humans. Nevertheless, due to limited research, scientist don’t know if this easily absorbed ingredient is associated with increased risk of major malformations or not….so why risk it?
#6: Phenoxyethanol – a cheap and common preservative found in cosmetics. Compared to parabens, this preservative is more “safe”, as it has a lower cytotoxicity rating. However, research has found it to have a higher skin irritation rating and can easily penetrate skin. During pregnancy the skin often get more sensitive, hence it would be wise to avoid this ingredient during this time. According to FDA accidental ingestion of phenoxyethanol should be avoided, as it can be toxic and harmful for infants. Ingestion can produce depression of the central nervous system and can lead to the occurrence of diarrhea and vomiting. Further, mothers of newborns should avoid skincare that contain phenoxyethanol if they are breastfeeding, to prevent possible transmission of the chemical to the child.
#7: Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulphate (SLS/SLES) – inexpensive detergents that are very commonly used in shampoo, body wash and baby soap. SLS is a well-known skin irritant, hence it is used throughout the world for clinical testing as a primary skin irritant control. These detergents are manufactured through an ethoxylation process, which might result in the formation, and hence contamination, of the carcinogenic by-product 1,4-dioxane.
I promise to update this list, as soon as I find more peer-reviewed research papers on “scary” ingredients in cosmetic.
Now, stay calm and do your research!
ps. did you just find several of these horrible ingredients on the label of your current skincare products? Don’t worry – My Lilli Pilli can help you out. We (mums too) make skincare product specifically for pregnant and breast-feeding women. We are just about to launch several cleansers and moisturisers (YAY!) – stay tuned!