Is self-tanner safe to use when you're pregnant? What about over-the-counter acne medications? We took your questions to New York City dermatologist Dr. Diane Berson, who gave us the lowdown on maintaining a beauty regimen while you are with child.
Her first advice: Always double-check any questions you may have with your obstetrician who is, after all, your primary medical provider during pregnancy. And keep in mind, doctors tend to follow the "better safe than sorry" rule and very often are conservative when giving advice. Most cosmetics ingredients are probably safe for pregnant women, Dr. Berson says, but to be on the safe side, it's wise to avoid those that penetrate the skin and have not been studied for use in pregnant women.
What Pregnant Women Should Avoid:
- Avoid oral antibiotics often prescribed for acne. If you have a severe inflammation, ask your doctor about oral erythromycin, which is considered the safest for use during pregnancy. Usually, this medication is reserved for those who have very painful and inflamed lesions.
- Avoid daily use of benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. "If you need to dry out a pimple now and then, dab on benzoyl peroxide," says Dr. Berson. "Just don't slather it all over your face every day. As for salicylic acid, no studies have been done." In both cases, she says, it's safe to use in a cleanser, which is rinsed off the skin.
- Avoid products that contain vitamin A and it's derivatives (retinals, including Retin-A, and retinoids). A vitamin-A derivative in Accutane, which is taken by mouth, has been shown to cause birth defects.
- Avoid alpha-hydroxy acids in creams you leave on your face.
- Avoid depilatories (cream hair removers) because the chemicals seep into the pores and loosen hair follicles. Shave while you're pregnant.
- Avoid self-tanners. They are probably safe, but require leaving the chemicals that dye skin cells on your skin for several hours. "Better safe than sorry," says Dr. Berson.
- Avoid hair dyes that cover your entire head as the dyes usually saturate the scalp and could be absorbed into your system. Theoretically, these are safer towards the end of your third trimester, but Dr. Berson cautions against hair dye because there are even safety questions about hair dye for non-pregnant women.
What Is OK for Pregnant Women:
- Nail polish remover that is used on the nails and immediately washed off is OK. Ditto for nail polish that is only wet for a short amount of time and is usually not applied more than once a week. Neither polish nor remover are absorbed by the nail plate.
- Sunblocks are more than just OK, they are required! Look for sunblocks that contain transparent zinc oxide, micronized zinc oxide or titanium dioxide -- the products that contain these ingredients contain fewer chemicals. Protecting your facial skin from the sun is essential during pregnancy to prevent a condition called melasma, which is known as the mask of pregnancy. The brown patchy skin that can crop up on your outer cheeks and outer forehead is caused by a combination of your hormones and sun exposure.
- Highlights or hair painting are OK if the dyes don't touch your scalp.
- Moisturizers and skin-soothing oils and creams are great to treat dry skin and avoid uncomfortable itching where your skin is stretching. There is no proof they prevent stretch marks, but some women swear by them!
- If you have no major skin problems, cleanse with a mild cleanser and use a light moisturizer at night; apply a moisturizer with a sunblock in the morning.
- If you have a skin condition, whether it's acne, rosacea or eczema, inform your dermatologist you are pregnant when discussing treatments and check your dermatologist's prescriptions with your obstetrician.