Pregnancy-safe beauty
WellBeing|WellBeing #196
Your skincare regime may make you feel great, but beauty products often hide a large amount of harmful chemicals. Natural beauty columnist Ema Taylor shares her guide to the ingredients you should avoid while you’re expecting.

Pregnancy is a time of momentous change, and with change comes learning. One of the first things women learn when pregnant is what foods to avoid in order to minimise any risk of bacteria or other toxins, such as mercury, coming in contact with their growing baby. What can often be overlooked are other harmful substances found in our everyday environment, some of which reside in personal care products. Several of these substances have the potential to impact the health of a mother and baby.

Surveys have found that some women use between 12 and 15 personal care products a day, with a typical teenager using between 17 and 20. Many of the ingredients in beauty products are known allergens and irritants. Some ingredients are known endocrine disruptors and have the ability to impact the way hormones communicate in the body. Others are neurotoxins, which impact the health of the central and peripheral nervous system or are classed as mutagenics, which are substances that can change the genetic makeup (DNA) of an organism.

If a mother is exposed to these substances, so is her baby through the umbilical cord. While reading this may be confronting at first, it is not meant to instil fear, but rather empower you to become clear about what personal products are safe for you and your baby. Being conscious of what you put on your body is just as important as what you put in your body.

Getting ingredient-conscious

Skin is our largest organ, accounting for more than 10 per cent of body mass, and is made up of three layers: the epidermis, dermis and subcutis. Skin is porous, which means it has the ability to absorb what is applied to it, and the areas with the thinnest epidermal layers such as the face, armpits and genitalia are generally the areas of highest absorbency. While the skin plays an important role in keeping unwanted substances out, it isn’t foolproof and there are a number of factors that can result in chemicals penetrating to a deeper dermal level or being absorbed into the body, bloodstream and baby’s umbilical cord. These factors include:

• the structure, size and concentration of molecules

• the skin integrity (damaged versus intact)

• the location of exposure (area, thickness and water content of skin)

• the temperature of skin

• the duration of exposure

Preservatives, stabilisers, mineral pigments, dyes, shines, fragrances, metals and numerous other substances are added to products to enhance their effectiveness and shelf life. Many of these chemicals are known to be allergenic or irritating, or have potential endocrine-disrupting effects.

Endocrine disruptors work by mimicking or partly mimicking naturally occurring hormones in the body by binding to cell receptors and blocking hormones from doing their job. They can interfere with the way hormones are made or controlled and may lead to potential developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune complications. Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals can be associated with foetal growth retardation, thyroid dysfunction and neurological disorders leading to lifelong adverse health consequences.

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