Is your skin care routine harming your unborn baby?
Pregnancy is a time when we as women start to prioritise our health. Whilst a medical professional can answer our questions about caffeine intake, alcohol intake and avoiding certain foods, this is also the perfect time to become more aware of what we are putting ON our skin each day.
Of course, it’s vital to be conscious of skin care ingredients at all stages of life, however, when it comes to skin care during pregnancy and skin care for babies and young children, the importance of choosing natural products becomes heightened. In 2011, ‘toxic baby’ documentary film maker Penelope Jagessar Chaffer discussed the scientific evidence that some of the most commonly used preservatives in skin care (and particularly in baby products) mimic oestrogen once they enter the human body. As many of us know, we absorb an estimated 60% of what we place on our skin. Research shows that these chemicals do pass through the placenta, and therefore we are often unwittingly exposing our unborn babies to an array of toxic chemicals. In fact, you and I have between 30,000-50,000 chemicals in our bodies than our grandparents did not have.
President of the Environmental Working Group (a not for profit environmental advocacy organisation based in the US) Ken Cook explains “We’ve measured hundreds and hundreds of toxic chemicals in the blood of babies that are still in the womb.” Testing conducted by five laboratories in the U.S., Canada and Europe found up to 232 toxic chemicals in the 10 cord blood samples. Among other things, these toxic chemicals are from personal care products like shampoos and makeup. The EWG studies confirmed that this toxic chemical load exists in women and children, regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic status.
Babies and young children are less capable of eliminating toxins from their system after exposure, as their immune systems are still developing. This does sound frightening and I often get asked the question ‘why do companies continue to put chemicals in skin care products, when they are unsafe?’ Unfortunately, it is not always the case that we can rely on government legislation to protect us, or on product manufacturers to be honest in their disclosures and marketing claims. In terms of skin care, it is simple to decrease the toxins you are placing on your skin by knowing a little information about labeling and ingredients.
Becoming label savvy:
In Australia, it’s a legal requirement that when listing ingredients, they appear in descending order calculated by either mass or volume. So, the first ingredient that appears on the label is what makes up the largest part of the product. This is useful information to have, because a product may make a claim that is it ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ on the front, however, when you look closely at the ingredients you could find that the natural part of the cream (for example certified organic rosehip oil) appears toward the very end of the ingredient list and is preceded by a host of long chemical sounding names (which are more than likely synthetic and potentially harmful). This may indicate that the product is primarily water, plus some synthetic (and potentially toxic) ingredients, with a very small percentage of a natural or certified organic ingredient included, so that the word ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ can feature on the packaging.
Decreasing a child’s exposure to chemicals from day one, and even whilst they are still in the womb, could mean a lower risk of a whole host of illnesses, allergies and chemical sensitivities, and importantly, a lower risk of cancers. The best products to look for during pregnancy are those where the ingredients are recognisable to you. Ingredients like cocoa butter, shea butter, rosehip oil and jojoba oil. Products should ideally be preservative free, or use a natural preservative system. Products that are certified organic or contain a large percentage of certified organic ingredients will also ensure that you are reducing your (and your developing baby’s) exposure to pesticides and fertilisers.
If you are ever unsure, always contact the company and ask them questions.
Top 5 tips when selecting skin care for pregnancy and baby:
- Buy scent free products, or those that are scented with essential oils only, rather than those that use fragrances
- Buy products that are free from preservatives or use a natural preservative system
- Select certified organic products, or those with a high percentage of certified organic ingredients
- Keep in mind that ‘naturally derived ingredients’ are not the same as ‘natural ingredients’, so select products with all natural (or a very high percentage of natural) ingredients.
- Once you change to natural products, stick with them! It’s not only important when we are pregnant or breastfeeding.