Pregnancy is a time of happy expectation, but you might also feel a growing sense of responsibility that prompts you to reconsider certain aspects of your life, such as your diet and the types of products you use on your skin. The skin is the largest organ in the body and absorbs up to 60 percent of the substances it touches, including chemicals like solvents and phthalates—common ingredients in cosmetic products—that have been linked to potential health problems and fetal abnormalities. Advises dermatologist David Bank of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery in Mount Kisco, New York, "Organic products do not contain any harsh chemicals or preservatives, which is why pregnant women should use them. Whenever possible, try and avoid chemicals and preservatives, because chemical exposure can affect a baby's health, especially during early pregnancy when the fetus is developing."
According to Dr. Adam Cirlincione, a podiatrist and cofounder of Dr.'s Remedy Enriched Nail Polish, "Certain chemicals can be risky during pregnancy, such as formaldehyde, DPB and toluene, which are often found in traditional nail polish." Formaldehyde is a carcinogen that can be absorbed through the nails, and toluene is a solvent that can irritate skin and lungs.
Phthalates are also a concern when using nail polish. Louisa Graves, author of "Hollywood Beauty Secrets," says that "the Department of Health and Human Services and the EPA have classified phthalates as a 'probable human carcinogen,' and the Centers for Disease Control confirmed that humans can accumulate phthalates." Phthalates can mimic the effects of the hormone estrogen, causing hormonal imbalances and affecting fetal growth. Some research studies have also linked phthalate absorption to childhood obesity.
Nail polishes that are free from chemicals and contain natural ingredients with moisturizing, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties -- such as wheat protein, tea tree oil, lavender, and garlic-bulb extract -- are a safer choice for your pregnancy mani-pedis.
Pregnant women should avoid skin-care products like moisturizers and serums that contain retinol. Dermatologist Debra Jaliman, author of "Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist," warns that "retinol is a Vitamin A derivative that is related to retinoids like Retin-A. They are rated pregnancy category 'X', which means that they could cause fetal abnormalities." Jaliman also recommends avoiding products that contain salicylic acid, which is related to aspirin—a drug that is not permitted in pregnancy because of an increased risk of miscarriage.
Instead, look for moisturizers that contain natural ingredients such as soothing chamomile, aloe vera gel and grapeseed extract. Choose skin-care products from reputable brands such as Dr. Hauschka, and those that carry the BDIH seal confirming them as "Certified Natural Cosmetics."
As a general rule, when choosing organic body-care products, look for items carrying the Organic Consumers Association seal, which certifies that they are 100 percent organic. "Don't put anything on your skin that you couldn't eat!" suggests Aimee Raupp, a certified acupuncturist and herbalist and the author of "Yes, You Can Get Pregnant."
Pregnancy can sometimes trigger skin breakouts or acne during the first trimester. Choose reputable mineral makeup brands like Advanced Mineral Makeup or Mineral Fusion that use only organic ingredients for products such as foundations, primers and powders. Mineral makeup is oil-free and noncomedogenic—it lets your skin breathe more effectively than conventional products and is often made from natural and organic ingredients without the use of synthetic colors and fragrances and chemicals such as petroleum and parabens. Parabens can disrupt the normal function of hormones such as estrogen, which is vital for maintaining pregnancy and triggering fetal growth. "Most conventional makeup contains parabens, which can mimic estrogen and have been found in the breast tissue of women with breast cancer," says skin care and makeup aesthetician Annie Mayo, president of Advanced Mineral Makeup.