When you're trying to conceive (TTC), it's important to reduce your exposure to unnecessary chemicals that affect your fertility. Here are 8 everyday items to avoid.
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Exposure to oil-based paints, paint thinner and painting supplies containing lead or mercury is a no-no when you're TTC. Latex paints with ethylene glycol ethers and biocides should also be avoided, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Exposure to these chemicals puts you at a higher risk of miscarrying and your baby at risk for physical and mental birth defects. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lead poisoning can pass from a mother to her unborn baby and cause a miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, learning problems, behavioral issues and brain, kidney or nervous system damage. If you feel like sprucing up your house in preparation for a potential baby, leave it to your partner, hire it out or have a friend help.
Some dangers linger in your kitchen. BPA, a chemical found in plastics which can leach into food, is the up-and-coming concern for fertility and the development of babies. "Canned foods can be lined with BPA, so fresh fruits and veggies are best, but wash, wash, wash to avoid those pesticides!" recommends Erika Nichelson, D.O., an OB-GYN with Hoffman and Associates, an all-female OB-GYN group affiliated with Mercy Hospital in Baltimore (especially since pesticides have been linked to lower sperm counts). Health concerns have also been raised about another type of plastic: Phthalates, though "the potential effects of human exposure to these phthalates through medications and supplements are as yet unknown and warrant further investigation," Nichelson adds.
Thankfully you can still apply color to your hair when you're trying to conceive, but be sure it's not filled with harmful chemicals. "Most of the hair dyes now are vegetable-based, and so there hasn't been very much concern about dying your hair during pregnancy, as not very much is absorbed through the scalp," according to Hal Danzer, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at Southern California Reproductive Center in Los Angeles. "It's safe and recommended that women use vegetable-based hair dyes. Generally, when exposed to any sort of chemicals, it is best to wait until after 10 weeks of pregnancy, after organ formation is completed."
It might be time to overhaul your signature scent. Synthetic fragrances used in beauty products, including perfume, contain chemicals that may disrupt hormone levels, affect fertility and build up in breast milk when you do get pregnant, according to Alexandra Scanton, director of science and research at Women's Voices for the Earth, an organization dedicated to combating toxic chemicals in everyday products. Avoid products containing phthalates and synthetic musk, which often goes by the name "white musk." But beware: because fragrance ingredients are rarely listed on labels, the only way to be certain about avoiding these chemicals is by going fragrance-free, says Scanton.
When you're TTC, plan to spring clean the makeup bag of any beauty products, such as foundation or face masks, containing retinoids, a popular ingredient that is claimed to reverse aging and reduce wrinkles. "Retinoids are a class of compounds related to vitamin A that when taken systemically by mouth are teratogenic [meaning they disturb the growth of an embryo or fetus]. We tell patients to avoid them when trying to conceive and during pregnancy because they can cause harm in the early embryonic stages, during the first two weeks of conception, as well as during later embryonic stages two to seven weeks and also during fetal development," explains Khalid M. Sultan M.D., the director of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "The concerns range from craniofacial defects, cardiovascular defects and central nervous system defects so we advise strict avoidance." Good preg-to-be-safe retinol alternative ingredients include glycolic acid and vitamin C.
Sure, pretty fingernails and toes can feel like a must, but avoid acetone-based products, advises Washington D.C.-based primary care physician Shilpi Agarwal, M.D. "Many women don't realize it is in their nail polish remover or nail polish and it can cause long term effects on fertility if you are exposed frequently or for long periods of time," she says. "If you're painting your nails weekly, use acetone-free remover and a toxin-free nail polish like Zoya or Deborah Lippmann."
Supplements and Over-the-Counter Medicines
"When it comes to over-the-counter products, these are typically not tested in pregnant women and we just don't have data," says cosmetic dermatologist and RealSelf chief aesthetic advisor, Dr. Doris Day, M.D. It's therefore best to play it safe with non-prescription beauty and health products. "I tell my patients to stop what they're using once they find out they're pregnant and to follow up so we can review their regimen and adjust as needed. I also recommend they speak with their obstetrician to see if they have any special restrictions."
Scrubs, Soaps and Creams with Parabens
Don't forget to read the ingredients lists on your body wash, shampoo, conditioner and soaps. Parabens are a type of preservative used to prevent the growth of bacteria and have the ability to take on the characteristics of estrogen, according to Jerald S. Goldstein, M.D., the founder and medical director at Fertility Specialists of Texas. "While every person, male or female, produces estrogen, too much of it definitely has an impact on fertility. Estrogen regulates hormones in both men and women. When hormones are out of balance, the chances of creating healthy eggs or healthy sperm is reduced. Look for products with paraben as part of the ingredient's name—i.e. propylparaben, ethylparaben, etc.—then eliminate as many as you can in the six months leading up to conception and during the conception process," he explains.