Breastfeeding and beauty treatments: A comprehensive safety guide

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...

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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.

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.”

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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.

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

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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.”

2. Nail care

Again, there isn’t much out there in terms of research on the safety aspects of getting a manicure or pedicure done while breastfeeding. However, the general consensus among both experienced mums and professionals alike is that it’s okay to get either done while nursing.

To be on the safe side though, look for/ request for nail polish that is free from chemicals such as formaldehyde, camphor, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, and formaldehyde resin — which have toxic properties and may be absorbed into your bloodstream in minimal quantities.

Also keep in mind that there is no research on the effect of newer types of nailpolishes such as Gelish or acrylics. If you are getting these done, ensure that that the room is well ventilated so that you don’t inhale any chemical fumes.

It is generally considered safe to use various hair treatments while breastfeeding, including colouring.

3. Hair treatments

Are you worried that dyeing, perming or relaxing your hair (or any other hair treatment) will have a bad effect on your breastfeeding baby? Well according to La Leche League International (LLLI) there’s no need to fret.

They say that “no evidence exists that the nursing mother’s use of hair-care products, such as hair dyes and permanents, has any effect on her breastfeeding baby.”

LLLI does point out that some chemicals found in hair-care products may be absorbed through the skin. But they also says that if your scalp is healthy with no wounds or abrasions, less of the product will be absorbed.

Meanwhile, the Australia Breastfeeding Association quotes the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists as saying “it is highly unlikely that a significant amount of the chemicals used [in hair treatments] would enter the breastmilk because very little enters the mother’s bloodstream.”

4. Skin lightening/ bleaching

A common ingredient found in many skin bleaching products is hydroquininone. According to Kelly Bonyata (kellymom.com), the absorption of this drug via the skin when applied topically is minimal.

Therefore, breastfeeding is assumed to be safe if a mum chooses to have skin whitening/ bleaching treatment.

5. Hair removal

If you choose to do hair removal at home using a depilatory cream, information from the Australian Breastfeeding Association says that this is perfectly safe, as the ingredients are poorly absorbed into the skin and “therefore are very unlikely to end up in breastmilk.”

They also say, “there is no evidence that electrolysis or laser hair removal would affect breastfeeding or your breastfed baby.”

6. Tattoos

Getting a tattoo can increase your chance of infection, especially Hepatitis B/ C or HIV which you can contract if the equipment is not cleaned or sterilised properly.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association also cautions that bacterial infections can also be transmitted during tattooing “mainly as a result of contamination of the pigment used”.

While the risk of getting such as infection is low if you choose to get your tattoo at a reputable parlour, it is still poses a health risk that a breastfeeding mum should consider carefully before getting a tattoo done.

Are you thinking about getting Botox fillers? If you are breastfeeding, it’s better for your baby to not get this treatment done.

7. Facial cosmetic injections

Dermatalogic surgeon Dr. Ronald Sheldon advises against getting facial cosmetic fillers such as Botox while breastfeeding.

He says that procedures like microdermabrasion, V-beam laser or Fraxel Restore treatments while beastfeeding are safe.

8. Creams and lotions

Skin creams and lotions in general (including those containing alpha hydroxy acids) are considered to be safe to use when breastfeeding. However, it is best to avoid using these around the nipple area.

It is also advisable to avoid using products with retinoids — popularly used to get rid of wrinkles — while breastfeeding. During pregnancy, oral retinoids have been shown to cause birth defects.

Retinoids are also listed as Retin-A, differin, tazorac, retinol or retinyl, so check the list of ingredients on that face cream carefully before purchasing it, if your are breastfeeding.

Before you try out that new moisturiser, check the list of ingredients carefully if you are still breastfeeding your baby.

More ingredients to avoid in beauty products

Breastfeeding mums, when looking for beauty products such as lotions and creams, professionals advise that you should carefully check the list of ingredients and avoid buying products with the following additives:

  • Petroleum: Petroleum-based ingredients can irritate baby’s tender skin. Look out for the following names that indicate petroleum has been used in the product: propylene glycol, mineral oil, paraffin, petrolatum and isopropyl alcohol.
  • Formaldehyde: This is used often in skin-care products as a preservative. It may cause serious allergies and allergicic reactions in your breastfeeding baby, if he is exposed to it. Look out for the following technical terms that formaldehyde ‘hides’ behind: hydroxymethylglycinate, DMDM-hydantoin and methenesmine.
  • Parabens: These are commonly used in many skin-care products and are absorbed into the skin. Over time, they can accumulate in the body, “creating abnormal amounts of chemical buildup that can affect the endocrine system of a baby who is sensitive to the substance,” according to LiveStrong.  Look out for terms in the list of ingredients that use ‘paraben’ as a suffix, e.g. isopropylparaben or methylparaben.

*Please note this article is a guide only. For any health concerns related to you or your baby (including those related to breastfeeding and beauty treatments), seek professional medical help or advise without delay. 

Always get beauty treatments done at reputed places, and if you are not sure if a treatment you are interested in getting is safe or not, check with the beauty technician first. 

References

La Leche League International

Australian Breastfeeding Association

kellymom.com

LiveStrong

Featured image from Pinterest.