Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1245, (7 - 13 May 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1245, (7 - 13 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Staying healthy while pregnant

Some cosmetics may harm pregnant women and their babies, writes Mai Samih

Al-Ahram Weekly

Some pregnant women use cosmetics without looking properly at their ingredients, even though they may contain substances that could harm their babies. A study conducted at London’s Imperial College, reported by The Independent newspaper, has found that the use of some types of hairspray by pregnant mothers may be linked to a birth defect called hypospadias, in which the opening of the urethra is not properly located.

Amr Hassan is a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology in Cairo. He is the founder of the “You Are More Important Campaign”, which aims to raise women’s awareness about their health.

Hassan gives examples of some of these harmful substances. “In the first three months of pregnancy, the months of embryogenesis, women are not allowed to use any type of hair dye as chemicals that enter the body could lead to congenital anomalies, or birth defects in the baby,” he said.

“After the first three months, a mother to be can use a special type of dye for pregnant women that is ammonia-free. This can be found in pharmacies and can be used without problems,” he said.

“There are some things that should be remembered when the dye is being applied to the hair. A pregnant woman should be in a well-ventilated place in order not to breathe in any harmful substances and possibly harm her baby.” Says Hassan.

“Also, after she applies the dye she should wash her hands properly, in order not to leave traces, and she should try not to go to the roots of the hair so the dye does not reach the blood vessels.”

According to experts, the list of chemicals in some hairsprays that are potentially dangerous to pregnant women includes parabens, a preservative, and phthalates, which can affect hormones and foetal growth.

In some types of nail polish there is formaldehyde, DPB (dibutyl phthalate), and toluene, which can irritate the skin and lungs. Salicylic acid, used to treat acne, should also be avoided.

Some of these chemicals are found in nail polish and most of them are found in perfumes. They can lead to congenital anomalies if ingested, Hassan said.

“During the first three months of pregnancy no chemicals should be taken through the mouth, by breathing or through the skin. A mother-to-be may have acne during pregnancy as oil secretions increase, but she should be careful of the drugs used to treat it as these could cause problems.”he adds.

“Drugs which contain retinoic acid, a substitute for Vitamin E, can be harmful when applied to the skin and could cause multiple congenital anomalies. If a pregnant woman has a case of acne she should tell her dermatologist before he gives her any medication, just to be on the safe side,” Hassan said.

“The hormones produced during pregnancy also increase the hair on the head to the extent that a pregnant woman could shoot an advertisement for shampoo. However, the hair on her body may also grow, and she may be tempted to remove this extra hair by using chemicals.

“However, it is better to use wax or shaving than laser or chemical methods, as lasers can increase pain and pigmentation during pregnancy. Facial scrubs or skin peels are also harmful,” he added.

“Another problem during pregnancy is stretch marks, which are related to the abdominal extension that occurs when a mother’s abdomen becomes bigger to accommodate the child. There are creams that can be applied to the abdomen to get rid of these marks, but these should not be used during pregnancy and, in any case, the marks will tend to disappear after the woman gives birth.”

Hassan explains how these substances can harm babies. “Most of the things that a pregnant woman puts on her skin and in her hair can penetrate the skin and enter the blood stream, which means that they could reach her placenta, the barrier between the baby and the mother.

“If this happens, the chemicals can reach the baby, and if that happens during the first three months of pregnancy problems can occur. So a mother to be should avoid any type of cosmetics or medication during the first three months of pregnancy,” Hassan said.

He lists alternatives to cosmetics that can be used when a woman is pregnant. “For every common cosmetic there is something that can be used during pregnancy, and in big perfume shops there are sections for pregnant women.”

“There is a type of perfume that is alcohol-free, and there are alternatives for hair dye like henna, which is safe from the first day of pregnancy. However, it should be of good quality as sometimes henna is mixed with other substances. If a pregnant woman wants to use sun block, she should choose what is called a ‘physical’ sun block, not one that contains chemicals.”

 According to Hassan, prevention is better than cure, so a mother-to-be should avoid such substances before problems occur. “A mother-to-be should be alert. She should be selective and look at the ingredients of the creams she uses and the perfume she wears, and ask a doctor if they are safe.”

“She should wash her face regularly and avoid direct sunlight as this increases oil secretions which can lead to acne. She may not need any cosmetic products during her pregnancy anyway if she eats a well-balanced diet that includes vegetables and fruit, drinks plenty of fluids and avoids stress. This in itself will help maintain her health and beauty,” he said.

If a pregnant woman leads a healthy life she can maintain her beauty. “If she practices sports she can maintain her shape and this may be important for her psychological health. The hormones produced in pregnancy may make her nervous and sensitive, so she may cry more easily over little things,” he added.

A mother-to-be should make sure that her extra weight is no more than an average of 12 kg during pregnancy to avoid stretch marks.

“Non-pregnant women, as well as pregnant women, should always look out for good products, not cheap ones, as the latter may contain unknown ingredients of bad quality that could be harmful,” Hassan concluded.

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