Toxic Ingredients To Avoid During Pregnancy

There is an abundance of information regarding substances that pregnant women should avoid available on the Internet, often times making it confusing to begin research. One of the great sources we highly recommend people to start with is the ingredient database of Environmental Working Group (EWG), coupling it with scores rating product cleanliness – the lower the score, the better.

Boric Acid and Sodium Borate (EWG Score: 5-8)

​​​Boric acid and sodium borate can interfere with hormones and have influence on the male reproductive system. They may result in decreasing sperm numbers and sexual desire in men. The European Union and Canada have restricted the use of these ingredients in body products for children under the age of 3 years, and also require manufacturers to have boric acid products labeled that are not suitable for damaged and fragile skin. However, there are no such regulations in the U.S., this is only mentioned in the beauty self-regulatory safety regulations. These chemical ingredients will be absorbed into the body, which is absolutely not safe for infants and damaged skin. Important to note: some diaper creams may contain this ingredient.

Fragrance (EWG Score: 8)

​​​Artificial fragrances are used in a variety of daily necessities, as we got used to it we end up forgetting what the scent of nature is like. Cecily, one of our founders, also went through this process - getting used to the scent of synthetic fragrances, purchasing loads of skincare products with artificial fragrances mistaking them for natural scents. However, after she started Inna Organic and got used to the scent of organic products, she now gets horrible headaches around unnatural scents. As a matter of fact, not that many people know of the harm fragrances can cause to the human body. At the moment, it is not required by federal law to disclose all the chemical ingredients fragrances contain. Research from EWG and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found an average of 14 chemicals in 17 name-brand fragrance products, and none of them are listed on the label! Fragrances not only disrupt hormones but also cause allergies (it is amongst the top five allergens in the world). As a result, EWG highly recommends consumers to purchase and use fragrance-free products for the sake of one’s health.

In addition, Coumarin (EWG Score: 7) is an ingredient in artificial fragrances that the European Union has limited in use. Coumarin is broadly used in perfumes, essential oils or cosmetics as a fixative, even formulated in some well-known pregnancy oils.​

Hydroquinone (EWG Score: 9)

Hydroquinone is a chemical that provides whitening effects, but it is also known to cause skin diseases – such as dark blue spots or permanent black lumps. Animal studies have shown that hydroquinone can lead to cancer development and cause adverse reactions to embryos. As such, many dark spot correcting products are not recommended for pregnant women usage as they contain hydroquinone.

Methylisothiazolinone (MI), Methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI), preservatives that the EU and Taiwan have banned for skin care products (EWG Score: 6-7)

​​​The EU has banned MI / MCI for leave-in products (such as lotions) for many years. MI / MCI are low-price and highly effective antibacterial, so it is widely used by manufacturers in shampoo, shower gel, hand cream, facial masks and other personal care products. Yet, MI / MCI is also a common source of allergies. Studies show that MI may cause toxic neuropathy to mammalian brain cells. Inna Organic does NOT use these controversial preservatives in our products.

Oxybenzone (EWG Score: 8)

Oxybenzone is commonly used in sunscreen, moisturizers and lip balms, which is a sunscreen ingredient related to light allergies that can be absorbed through the skin. According to research conducted by the Disease Control and Prevention Center, 97% of Americans possess this ingredient in their bodies. According to EWG’s database, it has been documented to be absorbed through the skin and cause disruption to human hormones.

Moreover, EWG database also found that there are more than 600 sunscreen products containing oxybenzone, including many well-known brands and children's sunscreen products. In addition, the legislation organization of Hawaii will ban the sale of sunscreen products containing this ingredient from 2021 in order to protect corals.

Note: FDA still allows the use of oxybenzone for sunscreens, which is considered safe and effective.

Parabens (specifically Propyl -, Isopropyl -, Butyl -, and Isobutyl-parabens)

Parabens are a group of chemical ingredients, broadly used as one of the preservatives in beauty and cosmetics products. The scientific committee of the European Union pointed out that long chain Parabens, such as Propyl and butyl paraben, may interfere with the endocrine system, resulting in disorders of reproductive system and human development. According to international research reports, certain types of Parabens cause allergic reactions and affect the secretion of hormones. Note: not all Parabens are of high risk potential, EWG specifically points out the following Parabens with higher risk scores to avoid: Propylparaben (EWG Score: 7), Isopropylparaben (EWG Score: 8), Isobutylparaben (EWG Score: 8).

PEGs / Ceteareth / Polyethylene compounds

​​​PEG family is a group of ingredients from the petrochemical industry, broadly found in cleansers, shampoos, and hair treatment products. These ingredients normally contain dioxane (1,4-dioxane), which is considered a carcinogen by the U.S. government. Records show that the substance is still frequently used in daily products. In general, organic certified products are less likely to contain these harmful PEG ingredients.


Phthalates is used as fixatives/plasticizers, including:
DINP(Di-isononyl Phthalate),
DNOP(Di-n-octyl Phthalate),
DIDP(Di-isodecyl Phthalate),
DEHP(Di - (2-ethylhexyl) Phthalate),
DBP (Dibutyl Phthalate): EWG Score: 10
BBP (Benzyl butyl phthalate): EWG Score: 10

Fixative is a plasticizer, a petrochemical industry product and so-called environmental hormone. It is difficult for human to metabolize after long-term accumulation in the body. This chemical is commonly used in soap bars, shampoos, hair spray and nail polish, especially in those products containing synthetic fragrance.

More and more studies have confirmed that plasticizers can damage male reproductive systems, and pregnant women should avoid the use of nail polishes containing “dibutyl phthalate”. Products with fragrance may also contain phthalates, so it is recommended to avoid usage.

Phenoxyethanol (EWG Score: 4)

​​​It is also a popular preservative in skin care industry. This ingredient can be obtained from both natural and synthetic sources. The US FDA has issued a warning in May 2008 that phenoxyethanol suppresses the central nervous system. There are cases where mothers and children feel dizzy after using these products without rinsing out thoroughly.

Toluene (EWG Score: 10)

Toluene is commonly recognized as a toxic substance. The U.S. National Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that any long-term inhalation of toluene could cause irritations of respiratory tracts and eyes, sore throat, dizziness, headache and other symptoms. Pregnant women who have long-term exposures to toluene or its mixed gas/solvent can cause damage to the development of the fetus, further causing poor central nervous system, lack of attention, abnormal limbs and such.

Toluene is toxic to our immune systems, and some evidence associates it with malignant lymphoma. In addition to beauty products, we should avoid products with toluene additions in general, such as paint, coatings, adhesives, rubber.

Vitamin A compounds (Retinyl Palmitate, Retinyl Acetate, Retinol)

Vitamin A compounds are commonly found in sunscreens, lotions, and lip balms. Studies have shown that using products with vitamin A compounds before the exposure to the sun will increase the sensitivity of the skin. EWG recommends that consumers avoid skincare and lip products with vitamin A compounds.

Vitamin A compounds commonly used in skin care products are listed here: Retinyl Palmitate (EWG Score: 9), Retinol (EWG Score: 9), Retinyl Acetate (EWG Score: 9), and Retinyl linoleate (EWG Score: 9). Although there’s no solid evidence proving the negative effects on pregnant women, FDA has been emphasizing that the use of cream containing vitamin A may cause excessive absorption for pregnant women.

According to the assessment report by European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety in 2016, it is safe to utilize vitamin A compound products under the percentage guideline as below:

  • Body lotion: maximum 0. 05%
  • Hand cream: 0.3%
  • Face cream: 0.3%
  • Rinse-off products: 0.3%
Discover the safe skincare guide for pregnant women, click here.
*Reference: EWG Skin Deep Database, EWG’s article “Top Tips For Safer Products”.


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