Grace Lee, founder of the natural hair- and bodycare brand Nine Naturals, knows just how it feels to, as a pregnant woman, stare down an aisle of products and cosmetics and feel utterly paralyzed. “It’s crazy that you basically need a degree in chemistry in order to understand what is on an ingredients label,” she says. To simplify things, we asked her a few questions to help get to the bottom of what we should and shouldn’t use—and why.
Q: Let’s start with the bad stuff. What ingredients should we avoid?
A: While pregnant or breastfeeding, we recommend avoiding synthetic chemicals, especially the five listed below. Why? A growing number of studies show that common chemicals in everyday personal care products, such as shampoo, makeup and moisturizers, are associated with developmental, reproductive and behavioral disorders, hormone disruption and cancer.
- Parabens are the most widely used preservative in cosmetics. Intended to stop the growth of bacteria in your products, they are endocrine disruptors—chemicals that act like hormones and disrupt the reproductive system. They can build up in the body over time and have been associated with reproductive disorders in babies.
- Sulfates are cleansing agents used to create soaps that foam and lather. Nitrosamines and 1.4-dioxane are the two primary culprits present within sulfates and have been labeled carcinogenic. Sulfates have also been shown to disrupt hormonal balance, incite reproductive and developmental problems and seriously pollute the environment.
- Phthalates are found in a wide variety of personal care products, such as shampoos, conditioners and perfumes, and are often a component of fragrance in products. Exposure to phthalates is associated with hormone disruption, birth defects and endometriosis.
- BPA is a chemical commonly found in plastics mostly used for containers. More importantly, BPA can seep into the product it holds. Recent studies have shown BPA to cause developmental disorders, such as cancer, ADHD and asthma, in fetuses when pregnant women interact with the substance.
- Petrochemicals are made from natural gas liquid and crude oil and are used to create a slew of raw materials, including all plastics. What many people don’t realize is that petrochemicals are also added to food, personal care products and household products. Though widely used, petrochemicals are known hormone disrupters and have been linked to causing many health problems, such as cancer.
Q: On the flip side, what natural ingredients should we shoot for?
A: We believe in creating products that are not only safe and natural, but also high performing. Some of our favorite natural ingredients include:
- Vitamin E: Isolated from vegetable oil, vitamin E works as an important antioxidant. It conditions and moisturizes skin and has been shown in studies to help prevent stretch marks when used during pregnancy. We use it in all of our skincare products.
- Argan Oil: High in vitamin E and linolenic acid, argan oil is wonderful for moisturizing the skin and hair. Ours is sourced from a woman’s collective in Morocco. It is a prime ingredient in our Mandarin + Ginger Restorative Conditioner.
- Broccoli Seed Oil: This oil is a natural replacement for silicone/dimethicone. It is an amazing emollient loaded with omega-9s that makes your hair and skin feel great. We use it in our conditioners and skin creams.
- Cupuaçu Butter: Packed with an array of rich compounds, including omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids and phytosterols, cupuaçu butter helps to balance skin’s natural moisture levels. We use it in our products that focus on restoring moisture in the skin and hair.
- Coconut Oil–Derived Soaps: Soaps that are naturally derived from coconut oil are gentle cleansers that clean well without overdrying your skin or hair. We use them in our Citrus + Geranium Soothing Body Wash.
Q: All great to know. Any parting words of wisdom for moms and moms-to-be interested in learning more about the products they use?
A: My best advice is to find brands that they trust are maintaining high standards for developing products and that provide full transparency on their ingredients listings. They should start to read labels and begin to educate themselves on ingredients to avoid. The five I listed above are a good start since they are so ubiquitous among beauty products.
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