As a pregnant woman, do I really need to be as obsessive about the lotions I put on my face as I am about the food that goes into my stomach? "We all do," says Stella McCartney, whose Care line complements her groundbreaking organic fabrics and fur-free fashion collections. "Beauty products derived from organic botanicals contain more essential nutrients than conventional ones. Ultimately, your skin sees more benefits." What's more, Epstein adds ominously, "When you apply chemicals to the skin and they penetrate the bloodstream, they can produce effects almost anywhere in the body. At least when you take them by mouth, they pass through the liver, where they're detoxified to varying degrees by enzymes." All of which was enough to make me toss my prescription antibiotic acne gel (a Google search found it does indeed cross the placenta) for Luzern Laboratories Serum Control Absolut, a preservative-free blend of breakout prevention. The stuff pretty much worked — until a cluster of volcanic zits erupted on my chin during my 12th week of pregnancy. Out came my Clearasil — so shoot me.
While I also faithfully slathered Alba Botanica Sun Mineral Sunscreen all over my body, I just couldn't deal with the dead-whitening effect on my face. I dotted on an invisible avobenzone formula, trying my best to ignore the likes of Epstein, who claims that chemical sunscreen ingredients, like homosalate, benzophenone, and the popular avobenzone, alter the balance of the body's hormones — and even migrate into breast milk. Sounding like the voice of moderation, Jeffrey Dover, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine, suggests "minimizing the use of chemical skin products during pregnancy, although the ingredients are perfectly safe."
Well, you could argue that the "use sparingly during pregnancy" dictum says something about the safety of the substance in general. Still, I figured I was erring on the side of caution. I discovered Tom's of Maine lemongrass deodorant, which really works despite being free of aluminum — which has been linked to both breast cancer and Alzheimer's — and I began painting my eyes with Aveda Petal Essence Eye Definer, whose waxes are derived from organic jasmine petals and geranium leaves. And while I was reveling in the fact that my unruly waves could actually be tamed by Aveda Be Curly Curl Enhancer's organic peppermint, rosemary, lavender, and ylang-ylang, I couldn't help but notice its share of unpronounceable ingredients. Does phenyl trimethicone grow on trees? Indeed, all a product needs to call itself natural is a few flower extracts.
"If you want something that's truly chemical-free, look for the USDA seal on the label," says Joseph Smillie, whose private agency, Quality Assurance International, certifies organic products for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA started recognizing certification for personal-care products in August 2005, so only a few, like Origins Organics, have earned the seal so far. McCartney's Care is certified by Ecocert, an international organization recognized by the FDA, and that's good enough for me. If I can cut even a few potentially sketchy chemicals out of my routine — and not sacrifice the beauty part — I'm happy. At the end of my two-week trial, my hair is actually shinier, my lips poutier, and my skin clearer than it's been in quite a while — even without Clearasil boosters. And I'm ready to work nearly all of the eco-friendly potions into my permanent rotation and keep them there after I've given birth. Well, all except the toothpaste.