Which beauty treatments are safe in pregnancy?

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Is it safe to use fake tan, hair dye and nail varnish during pregnancy?

You're pregnant! You may have given up alcohol, you're avoiding soft cheese and just to be sure, you're skipping the sushi too. But while there are clear guidelines for what you should and shouldn't be putting in your body, the advice for what goes on your body is not as clear-cut.

Dr Joseph Sgroi, obstetrician and spokesperson for the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG), says that any chemical taken in large doses can be harmful to mother and baby.

But he notes that most beauty products only contain small amounts of these chemicals.

"You can minimise the risk by limiting the exposure of these chemicals to your skin and how often you use them," he says.

So which treatments are okay, and which ones are best avoided?

Hair dye

There is a popular school of thought that says dying your hair can be harmful to your unborn baby, but Dr Sgroi says this myth simply isn't true. Although the research in this area is fairly limited, colouring your hair three or four times in pregnancy is considered to be safe.

"The chemicals in both permanent and semi-permanent hair dye aren't readily absorbed by intact skin, and as a result are unlikely to cause any harm to your baby," he says.

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If you're still worried, Dr Sgroi suggests waiting until after the 12-week mark to dye your hair, as this will prevent the baby being exposed to chemicals while his or her vital organs are forming.

You can also decrease chemical absorption by minimising or avoiding scalp exposure to chemicals. "Highlights and balayage might prove a good alternative, or using semi-permanent vegetable dye, such as henna," suggests Dr Sgroi.

If you're dyeing your hair at home, Dr Sgroi's advice is to use standard precautions such as wearing gloves, ensuring the room is well ventilated, leaving the dye on the hair for the minimum amount of time required, and making sure that you thoroughly rinse your hair afterwards.

Dr Sgroi does offer some words of caution: "If your skin is broken it can lead to increased blood absorption, so it's best to avoid colouring your hair if your scalp has any chemical burns or abscesses."

Nail treatments

Dr Sgroi notes that just like hair dye, the chemicals used in nail treatments are in low doses and not readily absorbed by your skin.

"Follow the same simple steps as for hair colouring to minimise absorption and risk to your baby. If you have any cuts to the nail bed it's best to avoid any nail treatments," he says.

Whether you're pregnant or not, the fumes from acrylic products might make you feel nauseated and sick. If this happens, make sure you get some fresh air.

Dr Sgroi does warn that some women might develop an allergy to acrylic nails or develop a fungal or bacterial infection. "In this case avoiding future treatments is best," he advises.

Fortunately, one of the perks of pregnancy is that your nails tend to be healthier and stronger - so, as Dr Sgroi notes, for some women avoiding exposure to treatments "may not be such a bad thing".

Fake tan

Dr Sgroi says that fake tan is safe to use in creams and lotions because the active ingredient (dihydroxyacetone, or DHA) only reacts with the cells in the outermost layer of skin. This means that it doesn't penetrate further than that and isn't absorbed by the blood stream.

However, Dr Sgroi recommends that pregnant women avoid spray tans, as there is a chance that DHA could be inhaled, which might make it more easily absorbed.

He also notes that fake tan can cause an allergic skin reaction in pregnancy due to the changes in a woman's immunity.

"Prior to using any lotion or cream to the whole body, do a test on a small patch of skin that is well hidden," he warns.

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