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Fertility & Skincare: What You Should Know

When it comes to skincare and cosmetics, we are subject to some pretty sensational marketing claims. They all promise to do amazing and wondrous things for us. However, just as you read food labels to know what you are putting in your body, you should do the same for beauty products, so you know what you are putting on your body. You might actually be quite surprised by what you find. Here we look at what the research says and what to avoid particularly if you are trying for a baby and during pregnancy.

Many synthetic chemicals that are used in skincare are known to be skin irritants, endocrine disruptors and carcinogenic. When it comes to your fertility and pregnancy, you don’t want to be exposed to chemicals that can potentially harm and hinder your chances of falling pregnant, or the health of you or your baby whilst pregnant. This why it is so important to know what you are putting on your body, that can potentially end up in your body.

Wondering what ingredients to avoid when pregnant?

Here’s the bad stuff:

  • Parabens – make-up, moisturiser, toner, exfoliant, hair care products, shaving products, nail products, sunscreen, tanning products, deodorant, hair removal products
  • Triclosan – toothpaste, body wash, antibacterial soaps, shaving products, moisturiser, deodorant
  • Oxybenzone – perfume, sunscreen, make-up, hair care products, moisturiser, nail products, bubble bath, shaving products, tanning products
  • Phthalates - soap, hair care products, nail products, perfume, moisturiser, toner
  • Bisphenol-A (BPA) - plastic containers, receipts
  • Talc - make-up, deodorant, body powder, soap, exfoliant, hair care products, baby creams, moisturiser, cleanser, sunscreen, acne products, tanning products, hair removal products

This list of nasties have all been shown to negatively impact your fertility or your developing baby and can cause health issues during pregnancy also.

Why do these chemicals impact reproductive health?

Many of these fall into a category called endocrine disruptors. These are chemicals that interfere with the body’s endocrine system, producing adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune health effects. Endocrine disruptors can mimic naturally occurring hormones in the body like oestrogen (female sex hormone), androgens (male sex hormones) and thyroid hormone. When absorbed in the body, an endocrine disruptor can decrease or increase normal hormone levels, mimic the body's natural hormones, or alter the natural production of hormones. 15

What does the research say?

There is a growing body of evidence showing just how harmful phthalates can be to our health and the health of our developing children. Columbia University has found links between prenatal exposure to phthalates and risk for lower IQ at age 7, childhood asthma, and mental and motor development problems in preschool children. In their latest research they have found early childhood exposure to specific phthalates were associated with depressed thyroid function in girls at age 3.7 Another study found an increased risk of children developing allergic asthma if the mother has been heavily exposed to phthalates during pregnancy and breastfeeding. 8

Triclosan, an antibacterial chemical used widely in personal care products has been found to inhibit an important enzyme in maintaining female reproductive function and pregnancy. 3 A recent study conducted on pregnant women in China found the potential for Triclosan to be associated with an increased risk of gestational diabetes mellitus.5 Studies have also found lowered birthweight and impaired in-utero growth of the baby from exposure to triclosan.6

Bisphenol A (BPA) is among the better-known endocrine disruptors. BPA is used in various materials for food storage and is easily dissolved into food; as a result, we are exposed to BPA on a daily basis. One of the concerning adverse effects of BPA is disturbance of behaviour, especially anxiety-like behaviour with a mouse study showing altered behaviour in offspring from prenatal BPA exposure during late pregnancy.4

Parabens can also negatively affect fertility, with couples showing high levels of parabens in their urine associated with a reduced pregnancy rate.16,17 Both BPA and parabens can have a negative impact on testosterone levels which could impair prenatal male development.1

Furthermore, phthalates and BPA, were two of the most reported substances having a negative impact on ovarian function and leading to an earlier age of menopause onset. These effects were found when exposure occurred at different times throughout the lifetime from the prenatal to the adult period.10 This is backed by recent studies that showed exposure to phthalates may pose a risk to ovarian reserve and reduce chances of conceiving.13,14

Talc has come under some controversy in recent years due to its link to certain cancers including ovarian and uterine. It is a substance best avoided as most research papers suggest the avoidance of this compound in measures to reduce the risk of developing these cancers.18,19

Let’s not forget the fellas……One study looked at levels of phthalates in the urine of men undergoing IVF and found an association with diminished embryo quality. 9 Additionally, research has found endocrine disrupting chemicals in seminal fluid which affect a couples chance of falling pregnant.2

Unfortunately beauty and skincare products can contain reproductive and developmental toxins this is why it’s important to become savvy about what you are putting on your skin. Even small exposures to some of these chemicals during pre-conception periods or pregnancy can be detrimental to your health and your baby’s health.11,12 Pre-conception and pregnancy skin care needs more attention to ensure you are not unwittingly putting you and your baby’s health at risk.

What should I be looking for in skincare?

When choosing your skincare, look for products that do not contain anything from the nasty list. Good products will promote this on their packaging. Products with organic or natural only ingredients will usually past the test. Whilst it is difficult to find products that are in BPA free containers, some products do come in glass packaging or plastic that is BPA free. To protect the product from BPA leeching into it, ensure you keep it away from heat and do not reuse the packaging. Become a detective when purchasing products and try not to fall for the marketing spin. We really are spoilt for choice when it comes to good quality natural skincare products, so there’s no longer a reason to use the chemical laden alternatives.

Here are some of the ingredients we like:


  1. Kolatorova L, Vitku J, Hampl R, Adamcova K, Skodova T, Simkova M, Parizek A, Starka L, Duskova M. 2018. Exposure to bisphenols and parabens during pregnancy and relations to steroid changes. Environ Res. 2018 Feb 9;163:115-122. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2018.01.031
  2. Buck Louis GM, Smarr MM, Sun L, Chen Z, Honda M, Wang W, Karthikraj R, Weck J, Kannan K. 2018. Endocrine disrupting chemicals in seminal plasma and couple fecundity. Environ Res. 2018 Feb 6;163:64-70. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2018.01.028
  3. Li, H., Zhao, Y., Chen, L., Su, Y., Li, X., Jin, L., & Ge, R.-S. (2017). Triclocarban and Triclosan Inhibit Human Aromatase via Different Mechanisms. BioMed Research International, 2017, 8284097.
  4. Ohtani N, Suda K, Tsuji E, Tanemura K, Yokota H, Inoue H, Iwano H. 2018. Late pregnancy is vulnerable period for exposure to BPA. J Vet Med Sci. 2018 Jan 25. doi: 10.1292/jvms.17-0460.
  5. Ouyang F, Tang N, Zhang HJ, Wang X, Zhao S, Wang W, Zhang J, Cheng W. 2018. Maternal urinary triclosan level, gestational diabetes mellitus and birth weight in Chinese women. Sci Total Environ. 2018 Jan 16;626:451-457. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.01.102
  6. Ferguson KK, Meeker JD, Cantonwine DE, Mukherjee B, Pace GG, Weller D, McElrath TF. 2017. Environmental phenol associations with ultrasound and delivery measures of fetal growth. Environ Int. 2017 Dec 30;112:243-250. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2017.12.011
  7. Rachelle Morgenstern, Robin M. Whyatt, Beverly J. Insel, Antonia M. Calafat, Xinhua Liu, Virginia A. Rauh, Julie Herbstman, Gary Bradwin, Pam Factor-Litvak. Phthalates and thyroid function in preschool age children: Sex specific associations. Environment International, 2017; 106: 11 DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2017.05.007
  8. Susanne Jahreis, Saskia Trump, Mario Bauer, Tobias Bauer, Loreen Thürmann, Ralph Feltens, Qi Wang, Lei Gu, Konrad Grützmann, Stefan Röder, Marco Averbeck, Dieter Weichenhan, Christoph Plass, Ulrich Sack, Michael Borte, Virginie Dubourg, Gerrit Schüürmann, Jan C. Simon, Martin von Bergen, Jörg Hackermüller, Roland Eils, Irina Lehmann, Tobias Polte. Maternal Phthalate Exposure Promotes Allergic Airway Inflammation over Two Generations Via Epigenetic Modifications. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2017.03.017
  9. Wu, H., Ashcraft, L., Whitcomb, B. W., Rahil, T., Tougias, E., Sites, C. K., & Pilsner, J. R. (2017). Parental contributions to early embryo development: influences of urinary phthalate and phthalate alternatives among couples undergoing IVF treatment. Human Reproduction (Oxford, England), 32(1), 65–75.
  10. Vabre, P., Gatimel, N., Moreau, J., Gayrard, V., Picard-Hagen, N., Parinaud, J., & Leandri, R. D. (2017). Environmental pollutants, a possible etiology for premature ovarian insufficiency: a narrative review of animal and human data. Environmental Health, 16, 37.
  11. Karwacka A, Zamkowska D, Radwan M & Jurewicz J. 2017. Exposure to modern, widespread environmental endocrine disrupting chemicals and their effect on the reproductive potential of women: an overview of current epidemiological evidence, Hum Fertil (Camb). 2017 Jul 31:1-24, DOI: 10.1080/14647273.2017.1358828  
  12. Zota AR, Shamasunder B.2017. The environmental injustice of beauty: framing chemical exposures from beauty products as a health disparities concern. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2017 Oct;217(4):418.e1-418.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2017.07.020
  13. Du, Y.-Y., Guo, N., Wang, Y.-X., Hua, X., Deng, T.-R., Teng, X.-M., … Li, Y.-F. 2018. Urinary phthalate metabolites in relation to serum anti-Müllerian hormone and inhibin B levels among women from a fertility center: a retrospective analysis. Reproductive Health, 15, 33.
  14. Machtinger R, Gaskins AJ, Racowsky C, Mansur A, Adir M, Baccarelli AA, Calafat AM, Hauser R. 2018. Urinary concentrations of biomarkers of phthalates and phthalate alternatives and IVF outcomes. Environ Int. 2018 Feb;111:23-31. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2017.11.011
  15. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2017. Endocrine Disruptors. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Accessed 1/3/18.
  16. Smarr, M. M., Sundaram, R., Honda, M., Kannan, K., & Louis, G. M. B. (2017). Urinary Concentrations of Parabens and Other Antimicrobial Chemicals and Their Association with Couples’ Fecundity. Environmental Health Perspectives, 125(4), 730–736.
  17. Dodge, L. E., Williams, P. L., Williams, M. A., Missmer, S. A., Toth, T. L., Calafat, A. M., & Hauser, R. (2015). Paternal Urinary Concentrations of Parabens and Other Phenols in Relation to Reproductive Outcomes among Couples from a Fertility Clinic. Environmental Health Perspectives, 123(7), 665–671.
  18. Salehi F, Dunfield L, Phillips KP, Krewski D, Vanderhyden BC. 2008. Risk factors for ovarian cancer: an overview with emphasis on hormonal factors. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2008 Mar;11(3-4):301-21. doi: 10.1080/10937400701876095 
  19. Cramer, D. W. (2012). The Epidemiology of Endometrial and Ovarian Cancer. Hematology/Oncology Clinics of North America, 26(1), 1–12.
  20. Fiume MM, Boyer I, Bergfeld WF, Belsito DV, Hill RA, Klaassen CD, Liebler DC, Marks JG Jr, Shank RC, Slaga TJ, Snyder PW, Andersen FA. 2015. Safety assessment of talc as used in cosmetics. Int J Toxicol. 2015 Jul-Aug;34(1 Suppl):66S-129S. doi: 10.1177/1091581815586797