Pregnancy Pampering: What's Safe, What's Not

Hair coloring, teeth whitening, manicures, pedicures: What's safe to schedule -- and what to skip?

Nothing takes the edge off a stressy, exhausting, I-hate-my-cankles kinda day like a little preggo primping. But you've likely heard some scary rumors -- hair dye causes birth defects, pedicures trigger labor -- that may have you thinking twice about your next spa session. What's urban legend and what's fact? "There are so many myths about what's unsafe; it's hard to know what to believe," says Karen Boyle, MD, an assistant professor of urology, obstetrics, and gynecology at Johns Hopkins Hospital (and who's 34 weeks along herself). Here's the myth-busting truth about booking that rubdown, mani-pedi, and more.

Every pregnant woman deserves some pampering, but are hair dye and nail polish safe? We'll tell you how to navigate the salon.

Hair Dye

So you weren't born with those sun-kissed highlights? Pregnancy doesn't have to out your little secret. "There are a lot of chemicals used in hair dye, but no well-designed studies have found any direct link to birth defects or childhood cancers," says Richard Beigi, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburg Medical Center. "While you don't want to be exposed constantly, dyeing your hair once or twice is unlikely to be a major problem." To be on the safe side, wait till the second or third trimester, when most of baby's major organs have finished developing, or opt for highlights over single-process color. Since highlights aren't applied directly to the scalp, the chemicals are significantly less likely to enter your bloodstream.

Bottom line: Safe to schedule, but wait until trimesters 2 and 3.


"Massage is a fantastic thing during pregnancy," says Boyle. "It helps soothe stress, improve circulation, and ease aches and pains, but it's important that the therapist be knowledgeable about pregnancy body changes." If you want to lie on your belly, look for spas that offer special cut-out tables, otherwise you'll likely be on your side. Prone to nausea? Fess up. Your therapist may opt to use unscented oil (it's less likely to trigger a bathroom run). Lastly, watch out for this red flag: Places that require a doctor's note. It could be a sign they're not comfortable handling pregnant women.

Bottom line: Safe to schedule in any trimester.

Teeth Whitening

If you're thinking of brightening your grin, take a pregnant pause. "Because of the lack of available subjects, teeth whitening has never been studied for safety during pregnancy, so dental scientists do not know if whitening is safe or unsafe for pregnant women," says Mickey Bernstein, DDS, president-elect of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. "Since it's an elective treatment, it is logical just to wait until after delivery." What's more, your gums may be more sensitive and prone to bleeding due to hormonal shifts, and for some women, whitening may further irritate these sensitive areas.

Bottom line: Skip it.


Hands down, the experts we talked to all felt that mani-pedis are totally fine for preggos. "Your nails are growing and getting stronger now, so take advantage," says Boyle. Though polish does contain trace amounts of harsh chemicals, they're not absorbed by your nail beds and have never been linked to birth defects in babies, she says. A likelier problem: Nausea, if the salon's not well-ventilated. "Some of those fumes are pretty strong, so ask to sit by the door or a window if you get queasy easily," she advises.

Bottom line: Safe to schedule in any trimester.

Hot Tubs, Steam Rooms & Saunas

If taking a dip relaxes you, skip the Jacuzzi and dunk your bump in a (warm, not super-hot) bathtub instead. "We know increased core temperature is linked to birth defects, especially in the first trimester," says Susan Hollander, CNM and ob-gyn nurse-practitioner. Most hot tubs are easily over 100 degrees, plus you're usually completely submerged from the neck down. "But baths aren't as hot to begin with, and at least your arms, knees, and shoulders are sticking out, so your overall temperature doesn't climb to those dangerous levels." Avoid steam rooms and saunas too -- the excess heat and steam can also make you more wobbly than usual, and your balance isn't exactly what it was pre-pg.

Bottom line: Skip it.


Wondering what happened to that so-called pregnant glow everyone talks about? There's no way to predict how your skin will change over these nine months, and a facial can be a great way to help adjust to differences in texture and moisture, says Boyle. "But your complexion may be a lot more sensitive now, so you definitely want to skip harsh peels and microdermabrasion." As with massage, make sure your aesthetician knows if you have any major smell aversions. And once you're past the first trimester, ask to be propped up with pillows so you're not lying flat on your back -- this position can slow circulation and make you feel dizzy.

Bottom line: Safe to schedule if you skip harsh peels and microdermabrasion. Also, ask to be propped up in trimesters 2 and 3.

Tanning Beds

This should be on your no-no list already, but in case it's not, take an extended break from this naughty habit. If skin cancer isn't enough of a reason to avoid tanning booths, intense UV exposure may also accelerate skin discoloration during pregnancy. You might experience some discoloration during pregnancy naturally (thanks to all those many hormonal changes) but why make it worse, right? And it gets pretty hot under those lamps too, which you already know can be dangerous for your baby. If you're craving some sunshine, then step outside for a little natural light -- slathered in sunscreen (at least SPF 15), of course.

Bottom line: Skip it.


Whether you plan to sneak in a session before you jet-set off on your babymoon or want to make sure everything's looking good down there for D-day, waxing while expecting is totally fine -- if you're used to it. "Very intense pain -- especially late in pregnancy -- can prompt contractions, which is not good if you're not yet past 37 weeks," says Lillian Schapiro, MD, an Atlanta-based ob-gyn. "So I certainly would not book a Brazilian for the first time if you've never had one before." Another FYI: Your sensitive skin may also be more prone to irritation, so you might want to pencil in your appointment a day or two before you plan to hit the beach.

Bottom line: Safe to schedule in trimesters 1 and 2. Know your pain tolerance for trimester 3!



Gel Manicure

It's tempting to hit the salon for a pretty, long-lasting pick-me-up, but hold it, sister: The compounds in gel formulas are potentially toxic to you and Baby, says Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. Gel polishes won't seep through the nail itself, but could be absorbed through your nail bed. "And the deal breaker, whether you're pregnant or not, is the ultraviolet lamp used to set the gel," Alexiades-Armenakas says—the ultraviolet rays could lead to hyperpigmentation and wrinkles, not to mention cancerous cells, on your hands. To keep yourself and your peanut safe, opt for a regular mani and choose your polish carefully. "Steer clear of colors containing dibutyl phthalate, or DBP, toluene and formaldehyde," says New York City dermatologist Anne Chapas, M.D. (Chanel, Essie and OPI are free of all three.) When it's time to dry your digits, opt for a fan with the UV light turned off.

Bottom line: Just don't.

Syda Productions/Shutterstock
Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Dermal Fillers

Hold off on a lip injection or wrinkle smoother until after your little one arrives, since dermal fillers haven’t been tested or approved for use during pregnancy.


Getting a Tattoo

Any time you inject something like ink into your skin, it ups the risk of skin infection, says Mary Claire Haver, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at The University of Texas at Galveston. You could also get HIV or hepatitis B or C from needles. And there’s little research on the effects of skin dyes on a developing fetus.

RELATED: Tattoos, Body Piercings and Pregnancy: 5 Things You Need to Know


Body Piercing

Along with the needle risks, getting pierced when the surface area of your skin is expanding isn’t a good idea. “You have a greater risk of infection if a piercing hole widens, and the stretching could keep it from healing properly,” says Dr. Haver. “Most of my patients end up removing navel piercings about halfway through the pregnancy when they start to protrude and catch on clothing.”

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