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If you're newly pregnant, you've probably already given plenty of thought to nourishing your body with healthy foods, lots of water and prenatal vitamins. But remember to consider the quality of what you're putting ON your body, too, especially when choosing a facial cleanser. As Jennifer Zartarian, a naturopathic doctor in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says, "Skin care choices are vitally important to the developing baby, as what you choose to put on your skin may be absorbed through the skin, and enter the bloodstream and reach the baby. Pregnancy is the time when only the most natural, chemical-free products should be used on a daily basis."
What to Look For
Now that you're a mama-to-be, your skin might itch, develop blotches or sting when you use your current cleanser. You want to find a better product, but aren't sure where to begin. Zartarian suggests zeroing right in on the label of a cleanser before purchasing: "When I look at a label, whether it is for a food that I am going to eat, or a cosmetic product that I am going to apply to my skin, I expect to immediately recognize the names of what is listed there. I want to see a short product list that contains the names of natural ingredients that are organically sourced." If your skin seems more sensitive now that you're pregnant, Zartarian recommends looking for cleansers with oat or aloe. Almond, jojoba or avocado oils are also gentle for skin. Cleansers with a ginger scent may ease nausea -- just be sure they're not synthetically scented.
So you've spent the better part of an afternoon wandering the aisles, and finally found a cleansing cream infused with oats and lavender. But you see a few ingredients you don't recognize, and you want to make sure they're safe for baby. You're smart to look, since there are several you'll want to avoid during these next nine or so months. In particular, Zartarian recommends avoiding facial cleansers that contain retinoids, salicylic acid, beta hydroxy acid (sometimes listed as BHA), sulfates and phthalates. As she notes, "There are many natural, whole-food-based ingredients that work equally as well and with less side effects, like excessively dry skin and hormonal effects. In general, the less chemical you put on your face, the less likely it will go into circulation and affect the baby."
With so many products on the market, picking the right cleanser for your skin may seem overwhelming -- especially when you're concerned about the health of your little bun in the oven. If you're concerned about wrinkles but aren't crazy about all the hard-to-pronounce ingredients that come with fighting them, Zartarian suggests trying MyChelle Fruit Enzyme Cleanser. As she notes, "This product produces antioxidant support to your skin as it gently removes makeup and exfoliates." For sensitive skin, Zartarian recommends Weleda Almond Soothing Cleansing Lotion: "The first ingredient on this product is water, denoting how gentle of a cleanser this is. It has a delicious natural almond scent and soothes the skin as you clean your face." And lastly, for an all-around good cleanser to use while pregnant, she likes Dr. Hauschka Cleansing Milk. "The cleansing milk nourishes your skin as it cleans off impurities, leaving you with a healthy, non-chemical glow."
Skin products for use during pregnancy have been, and continue to be, widely studied. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 2012 followed 235 pregnant women exposed to topical retinoids, and 444 women who did not use products with retinoids. Researchers found no difference in the infants' development, but included the following statement in their results: "According to current knowledge, topical retinoids cannot be advised for use during pregnancy because their risk/benefit ratio remains questionable." Another 2012 study at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that phthalate exposure during pregnancy adversely affected the mental, motor and behavioral development of 3-year-olds. Bottom line: Better to err on the side of caution and choose a facial cleanser with simple, natural and gentle ingredients while you're waiting for baby's arrival.