As we pregnant women keep in mind what is entering our babies' bodies through our mouths and avoiding alcohol, processed foods, mercury in fish and food additives, we should also keep in mind what could be entering our babies' bodies through our skin. When we slather creams, lotions, moisturizers and sunscreens onto our bodies, they are absorbed into our bodies via our largest organ, where they are able to impact developing babies. In our upcoming July/August issue of Natural Home & Garden, we offer a hefty, 8-page feature on healthy skin care products. Not regulated well by the federal government, laws restricting what skin-care companies can put into their products are virtually nonexistent, so it is truly up to us to become educated consumers when it comes to what we put on our bodies.
This is more crucial than ever if we're pregnant, as levels of chemicals that can be somewhat hazardous to adults can wreak greater havoc on developing systems. As doctor Debra Jaliman says on her blog on WebMD, "I can't understand why warnings for pregnant women are not on more skin care products." While I would recommend looking at the labels on your skin care products and avoiding anything potentially hazardous (using our upcoming article, which will be on newsstands in two weeks, or the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database as a starting point), one of the most important ingredients to avoid is retinol. A vitamin A derivative that encourages skin to regenerate, retinol is in a wide array of skin-care products, particularly those touted as "anti-aging." Because retinol encourages cell regeneration, it can encourage skin to "renew" itself, helping it appear younger. However, that new skin is more sensitive to sun damage, and can actually increase risk of sun damage and skin cancer when used in daytime products. Nonetheless, the desire to slap "anti-aging" on the packaging has led more and more skin-care products to contain retinol. Some studies have found that retinoids (the class of vitamin A derivatives retinol is part of) in high doses can be harmful to unborn children. Oral retinoids such as isotretinoin (in the acne treatment Accutane) are known to cause birth defects.
Found in foundations, lipsticks, sunscreens and cleansers, retinol in daytime products will "actually make skin age faster because it is more susceptible to the sun, no matter the amount of SPF protection promised on the foundation or sunscreen," Jaliman writes. Retinol is particularly not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, which includes ALL products, even those intended for use at night. Check your sunscreen! Many sunscreens contain retinol, which is a particularly hazardous use of the additive because exposure to the sun helps the product break down more quickly.
If you are pregnant and you have been using skin-care products with retinol, don't panic. No studies have definitively linked topical use of retinol to birth defects or harm to unborn infants. To be on the safe side, though, avoid skin-care products with this ingredient. Retinoids can be listed as a variety of names on labels. Watch out for these: Differin (adapelene), retin-A, renova, tretinoin, retinoic acid, retinol, retinyl linoleate, retinyl palmitate, tazorac and avage, tazarotene. You can read more on this subject on the BabyCenter website.