Most of the women avoid alcoholic drinks and sushi when they are pregnant – all for the best of the baby. But what they often forget is the safety of the routine beauty products they regularly use. According to Andrew Healy, MD, an obstetrician at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, any substance absorbed by the skin can reach the blood stream and then cross the placenta. Hence whatever the beauty products are, some amount of caution has to be applied to avoid unwanted problems. However, very few substances are known to be harmful for women and the developing fetus during pregnancy.

If you are not sure of the safety of a particular product it is better to bring it to the notice of the doctor, says John Bailey, PhD, chief scientist for the Personal Care Products Council. Given below are some information on what is safe and what should be avoided in the beauty products when you are pregnant.

Teeth whiteners

Almost all of the teeth whiteners contain a worrisome ingredient, peroxide. If you are really concerned about its health issues, try teeth whiteners which are peroxide-free. According to Colleen Olitsky, DMD, a cosmetic dentist in Ponte Vedra Beach, the active ingredient peroxide is safe for use in adults. This remains safe even if you swallow a small amount during the bleaching process. But the effect of this ingredient on the developing fetus is still not known and hence it is best to avoid them during pregnancy, she cautions. Dayna Salasche, MD, clinical instructor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, feels that it is better to avoid using peroxide- containing teeth whiteners and opt for whitening tooth paste instead. The most important beauty regimen for a healthy teeth and smile is to brush and floss regularly.

Hair spray and Nail Polish

Phthalates is an ingredient in these products which has some health concerns. Opt for mousse or gel, or any other phthalate-free polish. A number of studies have shown a link between this chemical and increased risk of birth defects. But according to FDA the amount of evidence available is not sufficient enough to establish an association between the use of phthalates in cosmetics and health risk.

Judith Hellman, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, says that it all depends on the amount used. Anybody can use a small amount of the spray without inhaling, according to her. But if you are exposed to fumes of hairspray regularly at work, there is increased risk to the developing baby. A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2008 showed that baby boys born to women who had continuous exposure to hair spray at work had increased chances having a defect in penis. But this study could not prove that hair spray was the culprit in causing birth defect.

While wearing nail polish one can reduce the exposure by applying it while in a well ventilated area.
Once the polish dries the risk is less as nail polish is not absorbed through the nails.

But according to Healy, phthalates are not associated with birth defects in human beings. But since animal studies have shown that these chemicals to be the cause of defects in male sexual developments, it is better to apply some caution, he adds.

Sunscreen and Self-tanners

Both sunscreens and self-tanners are known to contain an ingredient oxybenzone, a chemical that can produce harmful health effects. The best way to avoid having this is to use products containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. In a recent study the results showed that absorption of oxybenzone in sunscreen is ssociated with low birth weight of girl child. But the study does not prove that the actual cause of low birth weight is oxybenzone.

Acne medication

All major acne medications contain ingredient like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, retinol and retinoid. Moreover, acne worsens during pregnancy because of the surge of hormones in pregnancy. Avoid all medications which contain the above said ingredients. Prescription retinoid products also should not be used. Jeanie Leddon, MD, PhD, a dermatologist in Lafayetto, suggests that using prescription topical applications containing azelaic acid, erythromycin or clindamycin would be a better option. Glycolic acid peels also can be used safely during pregnancy to control acne. Healy warns that salicylic acid is associated with increased risk of miscarriage when taken in the first trimester.

Hair dye

Hair dyes contain worrisome ingredients like ammonia and peroxide but the effects of hair dye on pregnant women has not been studied much. Hence many doctors recommend avoiding its usage. Jeannette Graf, MD, dermatologist in New York, says that dyes contain a number of ingredients that when ingested can be poisonous to the person. So it is better to avoid dyeing the hair when pregnant, she adds. One can opt for hair highlighting which is not applied on the scalp.

There are contradictory views as well. Leddon says that only a small amount of the substance applied for the treatment of hair are absorbed into women’s skin and hence it may not cause much issues for the developing fetus. To be on the safer side, avoid applying the hair dye during the first trimester when the fetus is susceptible. According to him, the best option is to use products without ammonia, treat the hair in well ventilated room, wear gloves and rinse immediately after the treatment. Even though it is not tested, one can use it safely throughout pregnancy as it is only a topical application, opines Salasche.


Lead and fragrance are the two unwanted ingredients in makeup products. Many women have the habit of staying with the foundation, lipstick and other cosmetics until bedtime. Pregnant women should be careful in choosing the products and the try to avoid anything extra, says Sean Gray, senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization which co-founded the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Lead added to lipstick makes it long-lasting. A study conducted in 2007 showed that most of the leading brands of lipsticks contain lead. FDA does not consider presence of lead in lipstick as a health concern as it is not ingested. But if one is concerned about the chemical, opt for lead-free lipsticks available in the market.

Anti-wrinkle cream, botox cosmetic

Many pregnant women have a tendency to go for an anti-wrinkle cream as a stretch-mark lotion. Most of the wrinkle creams contain retinol, a compound linked to birth defects. Some women go for botox cosmetic injections to smooth the furrowed brows. It is better to avoid this during pregnancy as it may be associated with miscarriage and birth defects, even though there is no conclusive evidence. As there are no well-controlled studies of Botox cosmetic in pregnant women, it is better not to have it during pregnancy, says Kellie Reagan, a spokeswoman for Allergan, the drug company that makes Botox Cosmetic. If a pregnant woman wants to use an anti-wrinkle cream, it is always better to have a word with the physician before applying it, says Healy.