What to Do About Chemicals in Pregnant Women: Toothpaste matters.

Your choices do matter. Many industrial chemicals have been found coursing through the blood of pregnant women. Dr. Greene offers some helpful tips.

Here is the fourth take-home lesson from The Environmental Health Perspective article, Environmental Chemicals in Pregnant Women.

Lesson 4: Your choices do matter.

Many industrial chemicals were found coursing through the blood of pregnant women. Some chemicals were found in women all across the country because of background levels widespread in the environment. Some varied state by state, according to environmental regulations there.

But for some chemicals, the levels varied widely, as do the choices individual women make in the products they use in their homes and on their bodies. The antibacterial chemical triclosan is perhaps the best example of this. For most of us, there is no proven benefit from using this chemical. Meanwhile, many experts are concerned about triclosan causing bacterial resistance, increased allergies, thyroid hormone problems, and sex hormone imbalances.

Some women have a lot of triclosan in their bodies; some have almost none. Pregnant women in this study had more, on average, than non-pregnant women the same age.

Five percent of pregnant women had triclosan levels more than 35 times higher than the average (median) pregnant woman in the study. It’s stored in the fat.

Where does a woman get exposed? It’s obvious on the label of antibacterial liquid hand soaps. But it’s in lots of other products as well, from spoons to socks and from toys to trash bags. Many women are surprised to learn that it is often found in eye shadow, blush, lip gloss, lipstick (e.g., Revlon Overtime), facial cleansers (L’Oreal Dermo), fragrances (Avon NATURALS), antiperspirants (Soft &Dri, Old Spice), and toothpaste (Colgate Total).

The products you use change your body.

But what to do? Green and natural claims on labels can make it tough to tell the difference between good products and good marketing. Triclosan feels complicated – and that’s just one chemical. I have two simple suggestions.

  1. I suggest pregnant women or those with young families take an online field trip to Skin Deep where you can easily check your favorite brands and see what’s in them and what it means. It’s a simple red, yellow, or green light system. Pay special attention to things you use on the skin, in the mouth, or that you spray in the air. You might love what you discover about your favorites – or choose to switch to one of the many safer brands.
  2. Instead or in addition, you may want to shop in a store like Ecomom where everything in the store has been selected to be healthy, safe, and smart – after doing the research every mom would do IF she had unlimited time and resources. You won’t find triclosan in anything at Ecomom – and you can be confident before squinting to try to find it on an ingredient list.

When you pick products for yourself when you’re pregnant, you’re choosing for two.

Read More in this Series:
Lesson 1: It’s a peak behind the curtain.
Lesson 2: All products are eco-products.
Lesson 3: Public policy changes your body.
Lesson 4: Your choices do matter
Lesson 5: A green solution. Leafy green.

Dr. Greene has volunteered for the Environmental Working Group on a number of projects, including “Body Burden — The Pollution in Newborns” where we found an average of 200 industrial chemicals in babies at birth. Dr. Greene also works with Ecomom to develop criteria for which item may appear in their store. He serves on their Board of Directors.

Woodruff, TJ, Zota, AR, and Schwartz JM. Environmental Chemicals in Pregnant Women in the US: NHANES 2003-2004 Environmental Health Perspectives 2011. Online 14 Jan doi:10.1289/ehp.1002727

Published on: February 08, 2011
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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