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Everyone knows you shouldn't smoke or drink when you're pregnant. And if you didn't know it, the product labels tell you. It's a lot less clear, though, which beauty products may not be safe for pregnant women.

"Any material placed on the skin has the potential to be absorbed into the bloodstream and may be able to cross the placenta, so some caution is warranted," says Andrew Healy, MD, an obstetrician at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass.

If you're unsure what's safe, take specific products to your doctor for analysis, recommends John Bailey, PhD, chief scientist for the Personal Care Products Council.

Whitening Teeth During Pregnancy: Paste Is Safe

Peroxide, the active ingredient in teeth whiteners, is safe for adults -- even if you swallow some during the bleaching process, says Colleen Olitsky, DMD, a cosmetic dentist in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. "But there's so much we don't know about how substances affect babies during pregnancy. It's wise to avoid teeth whitening products."

"Use a whitening toothpaste instead," says Dayna Salasche, MD, clinical instructor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. "Most importantly, continue to brush, floss, and see your dentist regularly for cleanings."

Hairspray and Nail Polish: Should You or Shouldn't You?

Phthalates, which are found in many hair sprays and nail polishes, have been studied for a potential risk of causing birth defects. The FDA's conclusion? The available data doesn't establish an association between the use of phthalates in cosmetics and a human health risk.

"Phthalates have not been connected to birth defects in humans," Healy says. "However, studies in animals have shown these substances interfere with male sexual development, so caution is warranted."

To be on the safe side:

  • Use phthalate-free nail polish. Or polish your nails in a well-ventilated area to limit your exposure. Once the polish dries, there's little risk to your baby, since chemicals aren't absorbed through the nails.
  • Instead of using hairspray, which is easy to inhale, use mousse or gel.

Bronzing Your Belly: Self-Tanners and Sunscreens

Self-tanners haven’t been studied much in pregnant women. "An occasional self-tanner will do a lot less harm than a real tan or tanning beds," says Judith Hellman, MD. She is an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. "But for 9 months, you can survive without looking bronzed."