BEAUTY TREATMENTS AND MEDICATIONS
In a previous post on Pregnancy do’s and dont’s, we analysed what is allowed and what discouraged during pregnancy concerning food, beverages, alcohol and cigarette (see here). This second part will deal with beauty treatments and medications. A third part with more do’s and dont’s will follow…
Pregnancy comes with many body changes: weight gain, swelling…. And on top of that, hormonal shifts causing mood swings… You want to look beautiful! But is it possible to be both pregnant and beautiful? Of course! You will just need to be a little bit more careful and avoid certain things, either because there is some concern that they may be harmful for you baby, or we do not have enough evidence to prove their safety. This guide will help you be both beautiful and safe…
- Artificial tanning
- Botulinum toxin (Botox)
- Essential oils
- Hair dye, perms and straightening treatments
- Hair removal
- Insect repellents
- Nail beauty
- Skin care and cosmetics
- Spa visits
- Teeth whitening
1. Artificial tanning
Fake tan products are generally safe to use during pregnancy; they contain Dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which is not absorbed into the body when applied to the skin as cream, mousse or wipes. But avoid spray tans as the effects of breathing in the spray are not known.
You should stay away from tanning pills, they might be toxic to your baby (they are banned in several countries but they are sold online).
Solarium’s /Tanning Beds: we do not know whether they may affect the unborn baby, but they have been related to skin cancer, so better avoid them. The risk of overheating during pregnancy should also be considered (see below).
Anyhow, keep in mind that your skin is more sensitive while pregnant, therefore some products may cause skin irritations, or you may get burnt more easily.
2. Botulinum toxin (Botox)
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Botox injections, used to smooth wrinkles are not recommended in pregnancy, unless they are done for medical reasons. Although no risk has been demonstrated, there are no adequate studies to prove its safety. In any case, don’t worry on this one, your wrinkles will get naturally smoother as your pregnancy progresses!
3. Essential oils
Essential oils are highly concentrated substances coming from plants. They are used in aromatherapy, either in massage or put in a vaporiser to breathe them in. While some essential oils are safe for use in pregnancy, other can be harmful, either by causing contractions, bleeding or eventually birth defects. Consequently, you should be extremely careful with their use, and always ask advise from your physician or someone specialised in aromatherapy. For a more detailed list of essential oils allowed and discouraged in pregnancy, click here.
4. Hair dye, perms and straightening treatments
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It is not clear whether the chemicals used for hair dying are completely safe during pregnancy, although the risks are likely to be low. Some studies have linked the use of hair dye with a rare type of cancer in babies (neuroblastoma); however, other studies have not corroborated this finding. To be extra cautious, it is usually advised to avoid them during the first trimester. To limit exposure to chemicals, you may prefer highlights. Vegetable dyes may be a good alternative, but be aware that many of those contain the same chemicals than the regular ones.
Regarding perms and straightening treatments, they seem to be safe during pregnancy. Again, it seems wiser to avoid them during the first trimester. You should better stay away from keratin treatments (also called Brazilian keratin treatments) as they contain formaldehyde which might be harmful to the baby (and to you).
- There seems to be an increased risk of miscarriage in woman working at a hair salons. If you work at a hair salon and you cannot avoid exposure to chemicals, take the same precautions stated for nail salon workers (see below).
5. Hair removal
There are no studies that evaluate the safety of electrolysis and laser. Electrolysis uses 2 types of currents, thermolysis and galvanic; while the former seems to be safe, galvanic electrolysis should not be used in pregnancy. Laser use during pregnancy has not been evaluated properly, although it seems to be safe. Most specialists will propose to avoid it throughout the whole pregnancy due to lack of information about its safety.
Waxing is safe and should be preferred to creams. Creams and depilatories contain barium sulfide powder and calcium thioglycolate. There is no evidence that they are harmful for pregnancy, but no studies have been conducted to prove their safety.
6. Insect Repellents
When used as recommended, most insect repellents are considered safe during pregnancy. Since there are different types of active ingredients (pesticides) in insect repellents, read the label carefully. The chemical DEET (N, N-ethyl-m-toluaminde or m-DET) is the most effective and best studied product, and is very good at preventing mosquito and tick bites. Both animal and human studies found no increase in babies’ defects, survival, growth, or development in the first year of life. In any case, try to minimise exposure by using a product with the lowest concentration of DEET needed for your protection. When possible, apply the pesticide to your clothing rather than directly to your skin.
Some insect repellent products contain citronella oil. While the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers citronella- containing repellents safe for use, in Europe citronella use is banned due to some concerns on toxicity.
7. Nails beauty
Gel nails, shellac nailpolish, acrylic nails, nail art… so many ways you can adorn your nails… But are they safe? Let’s see in detail…
Nail polish: it is fine to use nail polish every now and then. There are three, potentially toxic substances in nail polish: Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Toluene and Formaldehyde. Of particular concern is DBP; the European Union has banned its use, but it is still being found in some nail polishes. Formaldehyde and Toluene should not be a problem if used occasionally, but it may be an issue for pregnant women regularly exposed to them, such as those working in a nail salon. If you want to be on the safe side, use chemical-free products and make sure you paint your nails in a very well ventilated room.
Nail polish remover: It is OK if you use it occasionally. It usually contains acetone, a substance naturally produced by our body (in very small amounts). If you are regularly exposed to large amounts of acetone, there is a slight possibility of increasing your changes of having a miscarriage or a baby with some birth defects. To play safe, you may use acetone-free products.
Acrylic nails: concerns have been raised both on the glue used to stick the nails, and on a substance the nails may contain (methylmetacrylate or MMA, now mostly replaced by a supposedly safer EMA). Again, it should not be a risk if you do it occasionally, in a very well ventilated area. Moreover, you should know that fake nails have been related to higher chances of getting bacterial and fungal nail infections or nail deformities.
Gel nails: gel nails are applied as a gel to the nail, and then set by a UV lamp, or by the application of a chemical. Like acrylic nails, they contain methacrylate monomers, which may be dangerous for pregnant and non pregnant women. In addition, the UV lights used to dry the nails have been linked to skin cancer. The other problem is their removal: you need to keep your hands for 20 minutes in acetone. While the small amount of acetone used to remove the common nail polish seems to be harmless, this extended exposure raises some concern. So, if possible, stay away from gel nails.
Shellac nail polish: Shellac is a resin secreted by a bug, which is applied on the nails and then dried with an UV lamp. While no specific pregnancy-related risks have been observed due to its application, there has been a report on increased risk of skin cancer due to the UV exposure. In addition, the removal needs acetone for 20 minutes (see gel nails). Therefore, you best avoid it.
- An issue to consider with these more “permanent” techniques is that, in case of an emergency or hospitalisation, where we may need to check the oxygen level from your thumb, permanent nail polishes will not allow us to do so, as hospitals usually do not have the means to remove it!
- Some studies have shown an increased risk of miscarriages in salon workers. Therefore, if possible, you could ask a colleague to take over some of your work while you’re pregnant. If inevitable, take the following precautions:
•wear a face mask and rubber gloves
•work near a window
•take regular breaks for fresh air
8. Skin care and cosmetics
In general you can keep using your usual make-up and skin care regime as there’s no evidence that any cosmetics will be of any harm to your baby, with the exception of some anti-ageing creams (see below).
Cosmetics are covered by very strict safety laws, so you can be quite reassured that your moisturiser, serum, foundation or lipstick are safe to use when pregnant.
Acne medication and anti-ageing creams are related because they can both contain retinoids (a type of vitamin A). Retinoids are known to cause birth defects when taking orally. The main concern is the acne drug isotretinoin, which can be extremely harmful for the baby if taken during pregnancy. Retinoids are also used in some anti-ageing creams as they can speed up skin’s renewal, so stay away from them.
9. Spa visits
You can indulge yourself at a spa, get a massage, make a facial, get a manicure or pedicure. There are certain things, though, that you should avoid while visiting a spa:
- steam rooms
- tanning beds
- hot springs
- whirlpools, hot tubs and spa baths
All the above mentioned pose a risk of overheating, dehydration and fainting; there is a slight possibility that excessive heat may affect your baby’s development. If you are exercising in water, the temperature of the water should not exceed 32 0C, otherwise check that the water temperature is below 35 0C.
Sunscreens are perfectly safe for use in pregnancy. Some of them do not penetrate the skin and others get absorbed but in very low amounts. Sunscreens containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide may be preferred as they are powerful physical sun blockers and do not penetrate the skin.
11. Teeth whitening
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Teeth whitening involves bleaching your teeth to make them lighter through a peroxide-based whitening agent or a laser. According to the British Dental Health Foundation, teeth whitening in pregnancy is best avoided as we are unaware of the potential side effects on babies.
Few medicines have been established as safe to use in pregnancy. Medications in general should be used as little as possible during pregnancy and should be limited to circumstances whether the benefit outweighs the risk.
It is very important that you mention to your doctor any medicine you may be taking or you take occasionally. Some medicines may harm your baby and will need to be replaced by safer ones, whereas others are indispensable for you and you should keep taking them.
As a rule, do not take unnecessary medications during pregnancy, and this is particularly important during the first trimester, which is the period when the baby’s organs are formed.
“Natural” is not a synonym of “safe”, so do not assume that because something is natural or alternative is devoid of risk…
The only herbal medicines that have been assessed in trials and seem to be safe are ginger (used for nausea and vomiting in pregnancy) and red raspberry leaf (used to tone the uterus). The latter in several studies did not prove to be effective, but some experts propose, just in case, to use it only during the third trimester. You will find a list of herbal medications that seem to be safe and those that are better avoided here.
American Family Physician: Evidence-Based Prenatal Care: Part I. General Prenatal Care and Counseling Issues. April 2005, USA. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2005/0401/p1307.html
NICE: Antenatal Care- Routine Care for the Healthy Pregnant Woman. March 2008, UK
HAS: Comment mieux informer les femmes enceintes? Avril 2005, France