Pregnant Woman with baby blocks on her belly

It is not uncommon for women adapt their lifestyle when they fall pregnant by cutting out alcohol, cigarettes, certain foods and specific exercises. However, you don’t often hear of women changing their skincare routine, which seems more than a little strange to us. Your skin absorbs a lot of what is put on it and there are a number of common skincare product ingredients that can have potentially harmful effects.

In small doses, the adult human body can easily shrug the damage of these ingredients off but same cannot be said of the still-developing body of an unborn child. If the skincare products you use contain any of the following ingredients, you may want to consider replacing them for the duration of your pregnancy. To avoid any of the potential risks, the same 15 ingredients should also be given a wide-berth by breast-feeding mothers.

Aluminium Chloride Hexahydrate – Often found in spray and roll-on antiperspirants, links have been made between aluminium build up in the body and anemia, lethargy, bone disease and other conditions. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration have classed Aluminium Chloride Hexahydrate in Pregnancy Category C, suggesting it is potentially harmful to unborn babies and should be avoided if possible.

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) – A man-made antioxidant commonly found in cosmetics and food, BHA can cause skin irritation and is also suspected of being carcinogenic. Typically labeled on food packaging as E320, you’ll find BHA in many popular brands of moisturisers and lipstick as a preservative agent.    

Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) – BHT is similar to BHA in so far as it is also used in foods and cosmetics as a synthetic alternative to natural antioxidants like Vitamin E. Labeled as E321 on food packaging, some studies have shown BHT could potentially cause an increased risk of cancer and asthma.   

Diethanolamine (DEA) – A popular skincare ingredient used to create smooth textures, bubbles or foam, DEA can irritate the skin and research suggest it could also have carcinogenic effects. Also listed as diethanolamine, oleamide, lauramide and cocamide, a 2006 study found DEA inhibited the cognitive development of unborn baby mice when applied to the skin of their mothers.

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) – A prominent ingredient in many fake tanning solutions, DHA is safe when applied externally but can be harmful and possibly cancer-causing if inhaled. Accidentally inhaling DHA may not be as unlikely as you think considering many self-tanning products come in spray form, so why risk it?     

Formaldehyde – Another potentially carcinogenic ingredient used as a preservative, you will find formaldehyde listed on the side of many soap, lotion and deodorant packages. In addition to increasing the risk of developing certain forms of cancer, Formaldehyde can also irritate the skin, eyes, nose, and throat.

Gluten – One of the most commonly undiagnosed allergens, gluten-intolerances range from being extremely mild to severe. Perhaps not as harmful as some of the ingredients listed, pregnant women with Coeliacs disease or who suspect they are gluten-sensitive may want to avoid skincare products with gluten in as it can be absorbed through the skin. It is also worth noting that gluten is often listed on skincare and cosmetic packages as ‘Triticum Vulgare’.  

Mineral Oil – Also known as ‘Paraffin Oil’, ‘Petrolatum’ or ‘Petroleum Jelly’, Mineral Oil is a byproduct of the distillation process used to produce petrol from petroleum. A standard component of many anti-stretch mark oils and creams, Mineral oil clogs pores up and makes it difficult for the body to get rid of toxins. What’s more, if mineral oil has not been refined properly then it is known to be carcinogenic.

Parabens – Known collectively as ‘Parabens’, together methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben are the most widely used preservatives in the world of skincare. Recent studies have shown exposing skin to parabens on a daily basis can lead to an increased risk of developing skin cancers; such as malignant melanoma. Because of the danger they pose to young children, countries like Denmark have banned some parabens from skincare products for children under 3 years of age.   

Phenoxyethanol –  A low-cost chemical with preservative and antibiotic qualities, phenoxyethanol can be derived through natural or synthetic means, allowing it to be listed as an ingredient in many “organic” products. Also referred to as ethylene glycol phenyl ether or ethylene glycol monophenyl ether, phenoxyethanol is a proven skin irritant and research has suggested it may also affect the brain, nervous system, and bladder, as well as being carcinogenic.

Phthalates – Apparent linked to obesity, high blood pressure, endocrine disruption, diabetes, and breast cancer, it is little wonder why phthalates are one of the most reviled skincare product ingredients. Capable of making fragrances more potent and helping lotions penetrate the skin, there are also concerns that phthalates may cause abnormal feotal development. Pregnant women trying to avoid exposure to phthalates should look out for the following terms on product labels: DBP, DNOP, DiNP, DEP, BBzP, DEHP, DiDP, DnHP, DMP, DnOP, and BPA.

Retinol/Retinoids – Appearing on product ingredients as retinoic acid, retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, adapalene, tretinoin, tazarotene and isotretinoin, retinoids reduce wrinkles, unclog pores and smooth out skin. As a result they have become an active ingredient in a wide range of acne treatments, anti-aging products and certain medications; despite their being a well-established link between retinoids and an increased risk of cardiovascular and craniofacial  birth defects. What’s more, retinoids can be toxic in high quantities; resulting in painful swelling, extreme weight loss, blurred vision, severe headaches, hair loss and swelling of the liver and spleen.

Sulphates – Known to irritate even the most resilient skin, sulphates are commonplace in cosmetic and skincare products such as toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo and soap. Often included for their ability to help to create foam and bubbles, links have also been suggested between sulphates and birth defects, not to mention between sulphates and some cancers.   

Toluene – Often accompanied by phthalates and formaldehyde, you’re most likely to find toluene in nail polishes and nail polish removers. Toluene is a suspected carcinogen and exposure may negatively affect the liver, kidneys, lungs and immune system, as well as certainly affecting the brain and nervous system. To avoid toluene completely, you must also avoid ‘Methylbenzine, ‘Toluol’ and ‘Antisal 1a’.

Thioglycolic Acid – Banned from making up more than 5% of any product by the EU law, thioglycolic acid is a widely used ingredient in hair removal creams. Also known under the names ‘acetyl mercaptan’, ‘mercaptoacetate’, ‘mercaptoacetic’ and ‘thiovanic acid’, there have been no definitive studies proving Thioglycolic Acid is unsafe but completely safe alternatives are certainly out there.

Every product in the Unity Beauty Essentials Pregnancy Collection is free from the ingredients listed above. This is our way of making sure that all mums-to-be can treat themselves without having to worry that they are doing so at their baby’s expense. To learn more about the ingredients that do and don’t go into our products, visit The Ingredients page on the Unity Beauty Essentials website.