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Your guide to reducing your chemical body load and living a healthier life.

30+ Everyday Chemicals to Avoid During Pregnancy

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This article, originally published by Million Marker, was written in collaboration with Natalist, in an effort to inform and provide safer products for current and future parents.

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As parents, we all strive to help our children reach their fullest potential. We send them to the best schools, feed them with the most wholesome ingredients, and foster their passions in the areas they choose. However, there is an additional way to ensure our kids stay happy and healthy, and it starts in the womb.

Chemical Exposure and Pregnancy

Research shows that many types of chemicals found in plastics and other man-made goods are linked to health risks in fetuses and infants. Two of these are called phthalates (pronounced “tha-leits”) and bisphenols. You might have heard of one type of bisphenol, BPA, the hard plastic that some reusable water bottles are made of (plastic #7). Exposures to BPA and phthalates have been linked to child behavioral issuesdiabetes, and obesity

Pregnant women would never knowingly expose their babies to harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, these chemicals are present in our everyday life and we can unknowingly expose ourselves just going about our day. 

We created this handy guide for you to use to help you select the healthiest products (by category) and to minimize your exposure to toxic chemicals. These products are free of BPA, phthalates, parabens, sulfates, glycerin from non-vegetable sources, as well as other toxic chemicals specific to each category listed below. 

Shampoos & Conditioners
Body Oils, Butters, & Lotions
Soaps and Body Washes
Deodorant
Lip Balms
Sunscreen
Hair Styling Products
Toothpaste and Mouthwash

Shampoos & Conditioners

The products you put in your hair should be free of synthetic preservatives, surfactants, emulsifiers, and chemical anti-chelating agents. Look for products free from:

  • Sodium benzoate – can interfere with reproductive functions1 when combined with the common pairing, ascorbic acid; has also been found to alter the brain with or without ascorbic acid.2
  • Dimethicone* – a silicone-based lubricant that cannot biodegrade.
  • Phenoxyethanol* – a preservative that is considered safe when used in less than 1% concentrations.3 However, phenoxyethanol has also been linked to allergic reactions.4,5
  • Sodium laureth sulfate – a known irritant that can also be contaminated with the carcinogen 1,4-Dioxane.6,7
  • Petrolatum/Petroleum jelly– may be contaminated with suspected carcinogens if not refined properly.8

Body Oils, Butters, & Lotions

Look for body oils and lotions that are free from synthetic preservatives, emollients, humectants, and surfactants. Many of these harmful chemicals are added to these products to ensure even application, smooth texture, and  smooth, shiny appearance without feeling ‘sticky.’ The best products in this category should be free of these chemicals: 

  • Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) – synthetic antioxidants used to extend shelf life. They are carcinogenic, disrupt hormones, and can cause liver damage.9,10
  • Dimethicone* – a silicone-based lubricant that cannot biodegrade. 
  • Phenoxyethanol* – a preservative that is considered safe when used in less than 1% concentrations.11 However, phenoxyethanol has also been linked to allergic reactions.12,13
  • Ethylhexylglycerin – a potentiating agent often used with the preservative, phenoxyethanol, that can damage cell membrane integrity even at sub-lethal concentrations.14
  • Propylene glycol – a surfactant with evidence of allergic and irritant contact dermatitis as well as systemic cutaneous reactions.15,16

Soaps & Body Washes

Soaps and body washes should not contain harsh detergents, chemical preservatives, toxic pesticides, or synthetic surfactants. Common soap ingredients to avoid include: 

  • Cocamidopropyl betaine – a synthetic detergent and surfactant that is possibly toxicant.17
  • Sodium hydroxide18 and potassium hydroxide19 – detergents that can be caustic when wet  
  • Triclosan– an antibacterial chemical that is toxic and disrupts hormones.20
  • Formaldehyde – an antimicrobial preservative that has been linked to cancer, allergic reactions, and brain toxicity.21
  • Glycol ethers – a group of solvents that is often found in paint and can cause reproductive damage.22,23
  • Methylisothiazolinone – a preservative that is toxic and causes skin irritation, allergies, and contact dermatitis.24,25 The EU determined it is not safe for the consumer in any leave-on products.

Deodorant

The best options for deodorant only use natural oils, waxes, clays, minerals and astringents to help fight odor and reduce underarm moisture. Instead of using aluminum26,27, as an antiperspirant, which clogs sweat glands and impairs parathyroid function, look for options that use vegetable starches and powders to absorb the moisture. In order to fight odor-producing bacteria, try a natural deodorant that employs probiotics, baking soda, magnesium, zinc and/or charcoal.

Lip Balms

Compared to other personal care products, lip balms do not need many chemical additives in order to do its job. Simple moisturizers and conditioners, such as coconut oil, shea butter and beeswax, work effectively as lip treatments. For this reason, most lip balms marketed as ‘natural’ are less likely to be contaminated with chemicals such as parabens or parfum/fragrance. 

That being said, you still want to double check that your lip balm is free of: 

  • Petroleum jelly – may be contaminated with suspected carcinogens, such as PAHs, if not refined properly.28
  • Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) – synthetic antioxidants used to extend shelf life. They are carcinogenic, disrupt hormones, and can cause liver damage.29,30

Sunscreen

Common sunscreens not only contain chemicals specifically engineered to combat UV radiation but also chemicals that plague many commercial lotions for smooth application. Look for a sunscreen option that is free of: 

  • MEA/DEA/TEA31 – ethanolamine compounds have been found to be hepatocarcinogenic,32 alter sperm functioning,33 and inhibit fetal brain development.34
  • Octyl methoxycinnamate/Octinoxate35 – a sun blocking agent that is a potential hormone disruptor.36
  • Oxybenzone – UV ray absorber linked to hormone disruption.37,38
  • Benzophenone39 – a fragrance ingredient that prevents UV light from damaging scents and colors, but is linked to cancer and hormone disruption.40
  • Para-Aminobenzoic Acid (PABA) – UVB filters that can alter endocrine activity.41,42

Hair Styling Products

Hair styling products may contain preservatives, thickeners, foaming agents and/or fragrance that are contaminated with toxic impurities. Avoid these ingredients:

  • Triclosan – an antibacterial chemical that is toxic and disrupts hormones.43
  • Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing substances – an antimicrobial preservative that has been linked to cancer, allergic reactions, brain toxicity.44
  • Cyclopentasiloxane – a silicone lubricant solvent that cannot biodegrade and is particularly toxic in aerosols.45
  • Dimethicone* – a silicone-based lubricant that does not biodegrade.
  • PVP/VA Copolymer* – a synthetic vinyl polymer used as a binder; the CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) states it is not toxic, however Australia’s National Industrial Chemical Notification and Assessment Scheme has found hazardous impurities.46
  • Polyethylene glycol (PEGs) – a silicone thickening agent that can be contaminated with carcinogenic impurities and by-products, such as ethylene oxides and 1,4-dioxane.47

Toothpaste & Mouthwash

Avoid toothpastes/powders and mouthwashes that contain fluoride, artificial sweeteners, coloring agents, harsh abrasives, thickeners, or surfactants. The packaging tubes and bottles should also be BPA-free. When looking for a toothbrush, make sure it does not contain BPA or phthalates in either the bristles or the handle. Overall, these are the ingredients to avoid in oral care products:

  • Fluoride* – See discussion under “Watch List” below.48
  • Saccharin* – an artificial sweetener that has been linked to bladder cancer.
  • Sorbitol* – an artificial sweetener that keeps toothpaste from drying out, but is also a laxative.
  • Triclosan– an antibacterial chemical that is toxic and disrupts hormones.49
  • Carrageenan*– although extracted from seaweed, there is conflicting evidence about whether food-grade carrageenan can cause gastrointestinal complications.50,51
  • Propylene glycol – a surfactant with evidence of allergic and irritant contact dermatitis as well as systemic cutaneous reactions.52,53
  • Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate* – a synthetic surfactant that can break down into cancer-causing chemicals, such as nitrosamines.54
  • Cocamidopropyl betaine – a synthetic detergent and surfactant that is possibly toxicant.55
  • Hydrated Silica* – abrasive particles added to toothpaste to polish and whiten the teeth; the same particles commonly found in “Do Not Eat” packets.

Million Marker has inspected dozens of products to create a list of Approved Products that don’t contain the ingredients listed above. Products have been cross-checked with health and environment databases such as the EWG’s Skin Deep, Environment Canada Domestic Substance List, MadeSafe, and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ web list. Million Marker errs on the side of caution when evaluating these ingredients given the lack of safety data and scientific evidence. For this reason, we still lend weight to substances supported by case-studies or studies with small sample sizes. We update our list according to the newest research and strive to be transparent with the findings. Check out the Approved Products list here.

*Watch List Chemical. For more information about the Watch List chemicals, click here.


1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871628/
2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4362157/
3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31588615
4https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20815317/
5https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26346708/
6https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.3109/10915818309140713
7https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11417628/
8http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/petrolatum/


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9http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/butylated-compounds/
10https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006291X00937100?via%3Dihub
11https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31588615
12https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20815317/
13https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26346708/
14https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27783695
15https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29059092
16https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21611683/


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17https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18627690
18https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/MMG/MMG.asp?id=246&tid=45
19https://www2.atmos.umd.edu/~russ/MSDS/potassium_hydroxide.htm
20https://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2017/06/triclosan-not-safe-not-effective
21https://www.epa.gov/formaldehyde/facts-about-formaldehyde
22https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ajim.4700140503?casa_token=lP92VQZ06BsAAAAA:XDoV8gq4mgdVlI2mwx3wyl8zC1y8UMDVPSKSkjSuDQtwgl6RmqJ4tTQz5uI8p70a8xOdFF6p37DrAA
23https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0300483X83900148
24https://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_committees/consumer_safety/docs/sccs_o_145.pdf
25https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(88)70051-1/pdf
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26https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0085253815511575
27https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016648096900817


Back to Deodorant


28http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/petrolatum/
29http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/butylated-compounds/
30https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006291X00937100?via%3Dihub


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31http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/ethanolamine-compounds/
32https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18812577/
33https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2305050013601463
34https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1574370/
35http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/octinoxate/
36https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/abstract/10.1055/s-0029-1224153
37https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0166445X06002700
38https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240241/
39http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/benzophenone/
40https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1519124/
41https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166445X06002700
42https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240241/


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43https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6126357/
44https://www.epa.gov/formaldehyde/facts-about-formaldehyde
45https://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_committees/consumer_safety/docs/sccs_o_174.pdf
46https://www.cir-safety.org/sites/default/files/vinylp062018rep.pdf
47https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4505343/


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48https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5651468/
49https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6126357/
50https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1242073/
51https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12389870
52https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29059092
53https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21611683/
54https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11358107/
55https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18627690


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Have questions about toxic chemicals and your health? Contact Million Marker!

Jenna Hua, RD, MPH, PhD, is the founder of Million Marker, a service for people to measure personal exposure to everyday environmental chemicals in their body. Jenna is a registered dietitian and environmental health scientist by training, Jenna’s past research has focused on how our surrounding environment impacts our behaviors and health. An ardent believer in disease prevention, she wants to provide personalized preventive strategies to everyone to lead a healthier life.

Link to Original Post: https://www.millionmarker.com/blog/30-everyday-chemicals-to-avoid-during-pregnancy

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