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- Hair dye
- Environmental toxins / pollution
- Bottled water
- Genetically modified foods
- Cleaning products
Pregnancy and pre-conception are a really important time in a woman's life, where the health of the woman can severely impact the health of the foetus and subsequent baby.
More and more research is coming to the fore, which has uncovered so much about the mother's health and exposure to certain elements that can adversely affect the foetus, cause miscarriage or even defects in the unborn child.
The following are defined in order to improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy with a healthy birth.
It is important to note that whatever a pregnant woman puts on her skin can ultimately end up in her unborn foetus (as it crosses the placenta and is "fed" to the foetus), which can cause a number of adverse effects to the unborn child.
Most cosmetics (either expensive or cheap) contain many chemicals which are now being deemed to be unsafe for the unborn foetus. Studies are showing these chemicals can cause a number of adverse health effects, such as:
- birth defects
- still birth
- feminisation of the males
- reduction in the number of male births
- reduction of fertility
The main chemicals that are the worst offenders and should be avoided are:
- Methyl paraben
- Propyl paraben
- Any parabens
- Sodium lauryl sulphate (or sulfate) - SLS
- Coal tar
- Mineral oil
- Synthetic colours
- Synthetic fragrances
- Dibutyl phthalate
The Environment Protection Agency in Denmark has set out some guidelines for pregnant and breastfeeding women, which advises women to reduce the number of chemicals they are exposed to and specifically to reduce their exposure to the toxic chemicals in cosmetics and other toxic substances while they are pregnant and breastfeeding to reduce likelihood of possible adverse health effects.
The Danish EPA recommend pregnant and breastfeeding women do the following:
- avoid using any cosmetics that are not deemed safe (only organics and only ones that are certified to be close to 100% organic)
- avoid using creams and lotions on their baby (unless really necessary and then only use certified organic products)
- avoid perfume and perfumed / scented products on either themselves or their baby
- avoid colouring (dyeing) their hair
- avoid products that come in spray cans (such as hair spray)
Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or who are trying to conceive should avoid using hair dyes, as they contain many toxic chemicals which can be harmful to the unborn foetus. The chemicals in the hair dyes are absorbed through the skin and can be passed to the unborn foetus which may cause harmful effects.
The best (and only) way to avoid the toxic chemicals in hair dyes is for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding to avoid dyeing their hair.
Studies show that there are a number of toxic chemicals in hair dyes, which have a number of adverse health effects, from irritation, to possible cancer links. The following are the most toxic chemicals in hair dyes and should be avoided:
- 1-naphthol: this is used as an oxidising agent. It is made from coal tar and is linked to cancer. It is also used as an ingredient pesticides
- Ammonium hydroxide: this is used as a pH (acidity) adjuster and is highly acidic on the body, with some studies showing it is linked to skin cancer
- Ethanolamine: this is used as a surfactant (which create a smooth consistency). This chemical is irritating to the whole body and may aggravate asthma symptoms. Once absorbed by the skin, it can accumulate in the liver and kidneys and if exposure is high, it can damage the central nervous system. Research shows that when this chemical is combined with other ingredients in hair dyes, it can form carcinogenic substances
- O leth-5, oleth-2: these are used as emulsifiers and surfactants (to bind the ingredients together and create a smooth consistency). They are both possible allergens (especially for sensitive people) and they are linked to breast cancer
- p-phenylenediamine: this is dye made from coal tar and it is known to be potentially carcinogenic. This chemical can cause an allergic reaction and may damage the immune system
- Propylene glycol: this is used as a solvent (to make the hair dye bright and soften the hair). This chemical is toxic to the skin and is not only absorbed by the skin, but opens the skin to absorb other toxic chemicals more easily. It is also used in hair and face care products
- Resorcinol: this is used an oxidising agent (which helps to combine all the ingredients in the hair dye). This chemical is an irritant to the skin and the European Union (EU) has classified it as an endocrine disrupter (which has potential links to cancer)
- Soytrimonium chloride: this is used as a surfactant (which create a smooth consistency). This chemical is irritating to the skin and the lungs - it can aggravate asthma symptoms. There are a number of other adverse health effects associated with this chemical
Studies also show that some of the chemicals in permanent hair dyes can cause cancer of the bladder. The European Union (RU) has banned 22 hair dye substances as of December 2007 because of the concern about the link with bladder cancer.
The hair dyes chemicals that have been banned by the EU include:
- 2,4-Diamino-5-methylphenetol and its HCl salt
- 2-Aminomethyl-p-aminophenol and its HCl salt
- 3,4-Diaminobenzoic acid
- 4,5-Diamino-1-((4-Chlorophenyl)Methyl)-1H-Pyrazole Sulfate
- 4,5-Diamino-1-Methylpyrazole and its HCl salt
- 4-Methoxytoluene-2,5-Diamine and its HCl salt
- 5-Amino-4-Fluoro-2-Methylphenol Sulfate
- 6-Methoxy-2,3-Pyridinediamine and its HCl salt
- Acid Orange 24 (CI 20170)
- Acid Red 73 (CI 27290)
- N,N-Dimethyl-2,6-Pyridinediamine and its HCl salt
- N-(2-Methoxyethyl)-p-phenylenediamine and its HCl salt
- Solvent Red 1 (CI 12150)
The Danish EPA have recommended pregnant and breastfeeding women avoid dyeing their hair altogether.
The only hair dyes that may not have any toxic effects are those from certain plants:
- Henna - only totally natural henna straight from the source
- Walnut shells - these provide a natural dark colour
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should stay away from any type of paints, primers, paint strippers, solvents, thinners and wood stains.
Current recommendations suggest that pregnant women should avoid exposure to oil-based paint, lead-based paints and latex paints that contain ethylene glycol ethers and biocides. Lead-based paints were used prior to the 1970's, so any paint that needs to be removed should not be performed by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding due to the exposure to lead, which is implicated in lead poisoning and mental retardation in the unborn foetus and growing child.
All paints emit fumes, even the water-based ones. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to avoid painting (the house or even painting pictures on canvas) to avoid exposure to any of the toxic chemicals in the various types of paints, strippers, thinners or primers.
In addition to this, it is advisable to avoid painting the baby's bedroom after it is born. Try to paint their bedroom (but only with natural, water-based paint) when the baby is several months old and ensure it is well ventilated for about one week before you allow your child to sleep in their room. This will prevent possible exposure to the worst of the fumes.
There is mounting scientific evidence that exposure to environmental toxins and pollution produces adverse health effects for the unborn foetus, with a number of studies suggesting that women need to avoid exposure to pollution (from cars, factories and other pollution sources).
Studies show that when the unborn foetus is exposed to consistent pollution, the weight of the baby at birth is lower than normal. The research suggests that air pollution might alter cell activity in the unborn foetus, or cut the amount of oxygen and nutrients a baby receives while in the womb.
Other studies show that when a pregnant woman is exposed to lead from car pollution, this can be implicated in lead poisoning and mental retardation in the unborn foetus, which presents upon birth. Babies and infants are also more likely to be exposed to lead poisoning and lower mental growth if they live on a main road with high traffic exposure from cars.
Other studies show a link between exposure to pollution and child mortality, with babies having the highest exposure to a number of pollutant chemicals being the most likely to becomes sick and die.
Another recent study of newborns in New York City revealed that prenatal exposure to combustion-related urban air pollutants alters the structure of chromosomes (the carriers of genes) of babies in the womb. This is the first study to show a link between exposure to environmental chemicals during pregnancy and an increase in foetal abnormalities. Other studies show there is a link between these types of genetic mutations to cancer (in babies, children and adults).
There are a number of other chemicals that are emitted from car exhaust fumes, from factories and other pollution sources which have adverse effects on the unborn foetus and should be avoided as much as possible.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also steer clear of any type of pesticides, irrespective of how "natural" they may seem. The chemicals in pesticides have known neurotoxins and if the unborn foetus is exposed to them, they can cause adverse health effects, including foetal abnormalities.
The most toxic plastic that all women who are either pregnant, breastfeeding, or considering getting pregnant should avoid is plastic # 3, which is probably better known as PVC or vinyl.
PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) is considered by many experts to be the most toxic, carcinogenic plastic ever created, as it cannot be recycled and will continue to emit toxic, carcinogenic fumes forever.
Results from animal studies show that being exposed to vinyl chloride (by breathing it in or drinking it in water) at moderate levels (100ppm) may increase the risk for liver cancer.
The US Department of Health and Human Services has determined that vinyl chloride is a known carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that vinyl chloride is carcinogenic to people and EPA has determined that vinyl chloride is a human carcinogen.
Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or considering getting pregnant should especially avoid this plastic. PVC is found just about everywhere: packaging materials, in shower curtains, infant products, children’s toys, packaging and fashion accessories.
The other plastics which should be avoided are:
- # 6 (Polystyrene): Polystyrene is another plastic which is used in disposable hot drink containers, food trays, egg cartons, carpet backing, shoes, take-away containers, opaque plastic cutlery and other disposable take-away items. The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) warns that even short term exposure to this plastic can cause a number of nervous system effects and long terms exposure can lead to liver and nerve damage and cancer.
- # 7 (Polycarbonates and Others): these are plastics which are used in plastic baby bottles, the lining of metal food cans (even in some organic foods), sports water bottles, and other items. Bisphenol-A (BPA) is used to make polycarbonates and BPA is a known endocrine disrupter, which can leech from the polycarbonate plastics when they are used. This BPA is breathed in, is ingested from the liquid in the plastic containers or is absorbed through the skin. Many studies are now showing that even low level exposure to BPA is laboratory animals caused significant adverse health effects, including alterations to brain chemistry and structure, mood and behavior problems, the immune system dysfunction, as well as adverse effects to both the male and female reproductive systems. In addition to this, long term exposure to BPA is associated with a number of cancers, especially breast and endocrine cancers, allergies, asthma, as well as heart disease.
Plastics should be totally avoided when pregnant, breastfeeding or when trying to conceive, but if exposure is unavoidable, use the products with the following numbers only:
- # 1: PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) - Used for clear beverage bottles. Widely recyclable; generally considered safe, with some precautions.
- # 2: HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) - Used for colored or cloudy bottles and jugs, yogurt containers, and other tubs. Widely recyclable, but consumers need to verify with local recyclers whether tubs and bottles (which are made differently and can’t be recycled together) need to be separated. Generally considered safe, with some precautions.
- # 4: LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) - Used for garbage bags, food storage bags, and some cling wrap and bottles. Not widely recyclable; generally considered safe, with some precautions.
- # 5: PP (Polypropylene) - Used in butter tubs, some baby bottles, and other rigid containers. Not widely recycled; generally considered safe.
This will ensure a better chance of reducing exposure to the worst of the carcinogenic and other detrimental effects that the toxic plastics can cause.
Due to the concern about Bisphenol A, the US Government is now cautioning women against using hot food in plastics that may contain Bisphenol A.
The USA Department of Health and Human Services has recently produced a guideline for women with babies and infants regarding Bisphenol A exposure.
A recent investigation by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in the USA in 2008 determined that the bottled water they tested was either no better than tap water, or it had significant pollutants in it, at levels much higher than the limits set for bottled water.
The pollutants that were found in the bottles of water were:
- Bromodichloromethane - a known carcinogen
- Trihalomethanes - disinfectant by-products
- Pharmaceuticals - such as Tylenol, antidepressants and birth control pills
- Fertilizer residue - such as nitrate and ammonia
- Heavy metals and minerals - including arsenic
- Industrial chemicals - such as solvents, plasticisers
Pregnant and breastfeeding women (and even women trying to conceive) should avoid bottled water and only drink filtered (or unfiltered) tap water.
A recent study by the Austrian government on laboratory mice has shown that genetically modified (GM) crops pose serious threats to reproductive health. This long term study, sponsored by the Austrian Ministries for Agriculture and Health was presented at a scientific seminar in Vienna, Austria in early November 2008.
A statement from Greenpeace about the implications of this study: "This study clearly demonstrates that GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have a lot of unknown environmental and health risks and that the safety of GMO crops can not be guaranteed. This is not the first GMO to have been discovered to pose serious health risks, and it will not be the last."
While there have not been many studies published on the health effects of GMO crops (adverse or beneficial), the majority of the studies published do show that genetically modified crops have adverse effects on the laboratory animal's reproductive health.
Pregnant women should avoid the following, to ensure they reduce their consumption of foods with possible contamination of genetically modified organisms:
- Cottonseed oil
If a food is certified organic, even if it does contain the above ingredients, it should be fine.
Greenpeace's True Food Network provides a list of foods which are safe (do not contain GMO) and ones which are not safe - take this list when you go shopping.
Women who are pregnant especially, but also those women who are breastfeeding are advised to avoid using cleaning products, as the fumes from the chemicals in these products can adversely affect the growing foetus.
The skin can absorb the fumes from the chemicals in cleaning products, which can then transmit these toxic chemicals to the unborn foetus and this may cause foetal abnormalities. The higher and more consistent the exposure, the more likely the damage to the foetus.
There are a number of chemical-free ways to clean the home, which should be adopted to avoid exposure to harmful chemicals.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women who cannot avoid exposure to cleaning products must wear gloves when handling these products, use them in a well ventilated room (open the windows) and exit the room as soon as possible after completion to avoid further exposure to the fumes and possible absorption through the skin to the unborn foetus.
- Begoun P, Barron B. Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me, 7th edition. Beginning Press, 2007
- Co-op America: Greener Paths for Plastic, Jan/Feb 2006. Accessed 21 November 2008
- Department of Health and Human Services: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) - Polystyrene, Toxological Profile. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp53-c2.pdf - accessed 30 December 2008
- Department of Health and Human Services: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) - Vinyl Chloride, Toxological Profile. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp20.html - accessed 30 December 2008
- Environmental Working Group. Bottled Water Quality Investigation: 10 Brands, 38 Pollutants. October 2008. Accessed 21 November 2008
- Greenpeace. Austrian Study Finds Eating GE Corn May Reduce Fertility. 12 Nov 2008. Accessed 30 December 2008
- Hansen, C., Neller, A., Williams, G.M. and Simpson, R. (2007) Low levels of ambient air pollution during pregnancy and fetal growth among term neonates in Brisbane, Australia. Environmental Research, 103 3: 383-389
- Jaakkola JJK, Knight TL. The Role of Exposure to Phthalates from Polyvinyl Chloride Products in the Development of Asthma and Allergies: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Environ Health Perspect. 2008 July; 116(7): 845–853, accessed 20 November 2008
- Marshall A. GM soybeans and health safety--a controversy reexamined. Nat Biotechnol. 2007 Sep;25(9):981-7
- MotherLove.com - Bodycare Ingredients to Avoid. Accessed 28 November 2008
- Skin Deep, Environmental Working Group, searchable database with safety ratings for body care product ingredients - http://www.ewg.org, accessed 21 November 2008
- Šrám RJ, Binková B, Dejmek J, Bobak M. Ambient Air Pollution and Pregnancy Outcomes: A Review of the Literature. Environ Health Perspect. 2005 April; 113(4): 375–382. Accessed 21 June 2009
- The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics http://www.safecosmetics.org, accessed 21 November 2008
- The Green Guide. Safe, Not Sorry, Hair: The Case for Nontoxic Shampoos, Conditioners and Colors. http://www.thegreenguide.com, accessed 29 November 2008
- The Organic and Non-GMO Report. Government Funded Austrian Study on GM Crops Reducing Fertility. December 2008. Accessed 30 December 2008
- Winter R. A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients: Complete Information About the Harmful and Desirable Ingredients Found in Cosmetics and Cosmeceuticals. Three Rivers Press; 6 Rev Upd edition, 2005