Something for you Frank
Problem: I'm pregnant and I'm wondering whether or not retinyl palmitate, AHAs and BHA, skin lighteners, and permanent hair dyes are safe to use. My obstetrician has no opinions and all the pregnancy books I've read either don't have information on specific ingredients or say "better safe than sorry" so don't use any of it. Do you have any thoughts on the safety of these ingredients?
Solution: I want to stress that it is always best to consult your doctor on issues such as this because he or she is the one who is most aware of your personal health and because it's his or her specific field of study. However, I understand that it is frustrating when the doctor you speak to doesn't have an opinion on something you are worried about. The following information is only my viewpoint, and although it is based on research, it is still essential that you review it with your physician.
The reason most obstetricians have little feedback about what cosmetics to use or not to use is that there is little to no research about this kind of toxicity issue for cosmetic ingredients. If it were me, the only thing I would avoid would be prescription retinoids and maybe products with retinol (because of its distant relation to retinoids), but even that's a stretch. Retinyl palmitate (and the small amounts of it used in cosmetics) is so far removed from the prescription ingredient in Renova and Retin-A that it isn't even worth mentioning.
AHAs and BHA have no associated toxicity of any kind so they are not even theoretically a problem for any related health issue other than sun exposure and possible skin irritation. The only possible risk with BHA is that it is related to aspirin, and some obstetricians may be concerned about that association and its effect topically. However, I have seen nothing showing this to be a problem for pregnant women.
Regarding permanent hair dyes, there is limited information about cancer of any kind and nothing about birth defects. I feel there is little to no risk from using hair dyes of any kind, but if you are concerned, the research that is available points to level 3 or permanent black hair dyes. You may want to consider changing to a level 2 dye and staying away from darker shades.
There is some controversy over hydroquinone, but nothing about fetuses and nothing proven for health risks even for humans. If anything, the only negative aspects have been produced in in-vitro studies or in studies where it is fed to animals. Those who work with hydroquinone (workers handling and making the stuff) actually have been shown to have lower incidences of cancer than the population as a whole (source: Critical Reviews in Toxicology, May 1999, pages 283–330)!
As many a cosmetic chemist and oncologist has said to me, I'm far more worried about alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and second-hand cigarette smoke than anything a woman uses as a cosmetic! The rest is up to you and your physician.