Breastfeeding and beauty treatments: What’s safe and what’s not

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Must you give up all your standard beauty treatments when you're breastfeeding? Not all of them. Find out what's safe and what isn't in this article...

When you are pregnant, you are extra-cautious about what you eat, drink and apply on your skin and hair in order to keep your developing baby safe and sound. There’s also plenty of information related to what you should avoid and what is safe to use while you are pregnant

But after you have your baby, what is less common is information on how to keep your breastmilk safe for your little one — especially in relation to breastfeeding and beauty treatments.

Nursing mums need to know what treatments and products are safe to use or not. This is because minute quantities of what they apply on their skin and hair (similar to food and drink) are absorbed into their bloodstream, also potentially entering their breastmilk in the process.

This article is a guide* on what is and is not safe to use in terms of beauty products and treatments, when you are nursing your baby.

breastfeeding and beauty treatments

What beauty products and treatments are safe/ unsafe to use when you are breastfeeding?

1. Acne medications

With a huge selection of over-the-counter (OTC) topical acne remedies available, deciding what is safe to use while breastfeeding might be challenging.

Luckily, most OTC acne remedies use similar ingredients, so the best course of action is to select a product with ingredients that have no or a minimal effect on breastmilk, and therefore on your baby.

Here are four of the most commonly used main ingredients in OTC topical acne treatments, according to Dr. James Abbey of the Infant Risk Center, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. Do keep in mind that research on the link between these ingredients and breastfeeding is not extensive.

Benzoyl peroxide

This anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial medication is commonly found in many acne treatments, and is “an effective treatment for mild forms of comodonal acne (forming white-heads and black-heads). It also complements prescription antibiotics for use in more severe forms of acne.”

While there is a lack of good studies on the effects of this medication on breastfeeding women, Dr. Abbey explains that “most tissues in the body contain enzymes that break down peroxide compounds and any of this medication that is absorbed would be rapidly destroyed.”

Because of this, topical benzoyl peroxide can considered to be the safest option for treating acne among breastfeeding mums.

Salicylic acid (0.5 to 2%)

While there are limited studies on the link between this medication and breastfeeding, research has shown that up to 25% of the drug can be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Also, studies show that other similar drugs can cross over to breastmilk.

For these reasons, if you are breastfeeding and are looking for an acne treatment, it’s best to stay away from anything that contains salicylic acid.

breastfeeding and beauty treatments

Some ingredients in popular acne treatments may be harmful to use during breastfeeding

Lactic acid and glycolic acid

These are added to acne medication to help peel away skin and as a solution to scarring. According to Dr. Abbey, both drugs can be absorbed via the skin, as much as 50%. But he also points out that both lactic and glycolic acid are naturally present in babies, so it’s okay to use products that contain these ingredients while breastfeeding.

Products with these substances in them are often sold as skin peeling kits.

Tee tree oil

This all-natural essential oil is valued for its antomicrobial properties, and is extracted from the leaves of an Australian shrub known as Melaleuca alternifolia.

No proper studies exist that evaluate how safe it is for breastfeeding mothers to use products that contact tea tree oil. However, “some case studies have been published describing tea tree oil toxicity in toddlers who ingested a significant quantity.”

Is it safe to get a manicure/pedicure while breastfeeding? Find out on the next page. 

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