Originally published in Body Sense Magazine, Winter 2013
It’s no secret that pregnant women love massage.
Feet, neck, hips, legs…and did I mention feet? Toward the end of my first pregnancy, I had become a regular at my neighborhood nail salon just to take advantage of the leg rubs that came free with all pedicures. I also indulged in my fair share of prenatal massages, which were both gifted to me and by me (we all deserve a treat now and then).
At the time, I knew all about the benefits of massage for health, relaxation, mood, you name it. I figured that a more relaxed mom would lead to a lead to a less stressful in utero environment for my developing baby. What I didn’t know was that my go-to resources for pampering – massage, lotions, bath oils, candles, etc. – were directly impacting my health and that of my developing child.
Looking back now, I still wonder sometimes why no one told me any of this.
As a family therapist, how could I not have known? The truth is that the science around product safety and the health effects from what you put in, on and around yourself is still emerging. What we know for sure today is so much more certain and available than the information we had even five years ago.
For example, we can all agree that products containing parabens should be avoided. But do you know why exactly? Here’s a clue: hormone disruption. Used as preservatives, parabens are frequently found in water-based products like shampoos, conditioners, facial creams, body lotions and scrubs. They can also be absorbed through the skin, our body’s largest organ, and into our blood and digestive system.
It’s known that these chemicals disrupt hormone function, which impacts every system in our bodies. Additionally, parabens have been linked to breast and other cancers, reproductive disorders, immune system function, and neurotoxicity ~ yikes!
Here’s another fact I wish I’d known during my pregnancy.
‘Fragrance’ is just a fancy term for ‘undisclosed, trade-secret chemical cocktail.’ Double gulp. On average, fragrances contain a minimum of 14 toxic chemicals, which can cause everything from skin irritation and immune system damage to hormone disruption and neurotoxicity, especially if they contain phthalates.
What’s a phthalate you say? Often found in ‘fragrance’ ingredients and scented products like candles, lotions, and air fresheners, phthalates are a class of synthetic chemicals linked to reproductive and fertility problems in both men and women. Think reduced sperm count, hormone imbalance, etc.
Moving right along, let’s take a look at some insider information on essential oils. Essential oils are at their safest when naturally extracted and undiluted with fillers or solvents. Even then, it’s important to use them correctly. Pure essential oils are very potent and highly concentrated – it can take more than 12,000 roses to produce just 5 mL of rose oil! – and too much can quickly become irritating. However, appropriate amounts of properly processed essential oils are a natural way to make life smell deliciously sweet.
You may be asking yourself at this point whether choosing only products with the terms ‘all natural’ or ‘organic’ on them is the way to go. The short answer is both yes and no.
Ideally, all brands would be honest in their marketing claims and free of questionable ingredients.
Unfortunately, since the government doesn’t require safety testing of personal care products, brands can make greenwashed claims like ‘all natural’ while still using almost any chemical or synthetic ingredient they want, regardless of safety. The key is to always read the fine print on product labels, and if there’s an ingredient you’re not familiar with check it out through sources like Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database.
Armed with all this important information, what’s a lotion-loving, pamper-craving mama to do? Simply follow this handy cheat sheet of tips and tricks. After all, who can remember a thing when you’ve got baby on the brain?!
- First and foremost, keep in mind that the choices you make today will impact your developing baby for a lifetime. Studies have revealed a shocking average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood. The truth is that while you’re pregnant, your body is not your own anymore ~ it’s your baby’s too.
- Avoid products containing ingredients with the word “parabens” in them like propylparaben, butylparaben, and methylparaben ~ some of the worst offenders.
- Choose products scented naturally with pure essential oils and organic extracts, and avoid the ingredients ‘fragrance’ and ‘parfum.’
- Purchase your pampering essentials from brands or shops you can trust to make your health and safety a top priority. I’m biased, but my go-to favorite is TrueGoods.com.
- Finally, with your arsenal of trusted products in hand, bring these safety-conscious alternatives along with you to your must-have massage appointments. Your therapist and your baby-to-be will thank you.
Now take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy yourself ~ that’s the whole point.
- Parabens: Fact Sheet. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
- Secret Scents: The Hidden Chemicals In Fragrance. HuffPost: Healthy Living. March 19, 2013.
- Body Burden: The Pollution In Newborns ~ A Benchmark Investigation of Industrial Chemicals, Pollutants and Pesticides In Umbilical Cord Blood. Environmental Working Group, July 14, 2005.
- Fact Sheet: Tips to Avoid Toxic Chemicals Before, During & After Pregnancy. Women's Voices for the Earth, April 2014.