Pregnancy Pampering: What's Safe, What's Not

What spa treatments are safe during pregnancy and what one's should you skip? Read on to learn if hair coloring, teeth whitening, and manicures are OK.

woman gets prenatal massage
Photo: Getty
01 of 12
An image of a pregnant woman on her bed.
Getty Images.

Nothing takes the edge off a stressy, exhausting, "I hate my cankles" kinda day like a little some pregnancy pampering. From manicures and pedicures to prenatal massage, there are some great ways to destress when pregnant. But you've likely heard some scary rumors, too. Hair dye causes birth defects, pedicures trigger labor, etc., and that may have you thinking twice about your next spa session. So what's urban legend and what's fact? "There are so many myths about what's unsafe, it's hard to know what to believe," says Karen Boyle, MD, an assistant professor of urology, obstetrics, and gynecology at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Here's the myth-busting truth about booking that rubdown, mani-pedi, and more.

02 of 12

Hair Dye

person applies hair dye with paintbrush to hair

So you weren't born with those sun-kissed highlights? Pregnancy doesn't have to out your little secret. "There are a lot of chemicals used in hair dye, but no well-designed studies have found any direct link to birth defects or childhood cancers," says Richard Beigi, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburg Medical Center. "While you don't want to be exposed constantly, dyeing your hair once or twice is unlikely to be a major problem." To be on the safe side, wait until the second or third trimester, when most of baby's major organs have finished developing, or opt for highlights over single-process color. (Since highlights aren't applied directly to the scalp, the chemicals are significantly less likely to enter your bloodstream.)

Bottom line: Safe to schedule, but wait until trimesters two and three.

03 of 12


woman gets prenatal massage

"Massage is a fantastic thing during pregnancy," says Boyle. "It helps soothe stress, improve circulation, and ease aches and pains, but it's important that the therapist be knowledgeable about pregnancy body changes." If you want to lie on your belly, look for spas that offer special cut-out tables; otherwise, you'll likely be on your side. Prone to nausea? Fess up. Your therapist may opt to use unscented oil. (It's less likely to trigger a bathroom run). Lastly, watch out for this red flag: Places that require a doctor's note. It could be a sign they're not comfortable handling pregnant women.

Bottom line: Safe to schedule in any trimester.

04 of 12

Teeth Whitening

woman smiles with teeth exposed

If you're thinking of brightening your grin during pregnancy, you may want to wait. "Because of the lack of available subjects, teeth whitening has never been studied for safety during pregnancy, so dental scientists do not know if whitening is safe or unsafe," says Mickey Bernstein, DDS, president-elect of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. "Since it's an elective treatment, it is logical just to wait until after delivery." What's more, your gums may be more sensitive and prone to bleeding due to hormonal shifts, and for some women, whitening may further irritate these sensitive areas.

Bottom line: Skip it.

05 of 12


woman gets manicure while talking to a friend

The experts we talked to all felt that mani-pedis are totally fine during pregnancy. "Your nails are growing and getting stronger now, so take advantage," says Boyle. Though polish does contain trace amounts of harsh chemicals, they're not absorbed by your nail beds and have never been linked to birth defects in babies, she says. A likelier problem? Nausea, especially if the salon's not well-ventilated. "Some of those fumes are pretty strong, so ask to sit by the door or a window if you get queasy easily," she advises.

Bottom line: Safe to schedule in any trimester.

06 of 12

Hot Tubs, Steam Rooms, and Saunas

Bucket and towels in sauna

If taking a dip relaxes you, skip the jacuzzi and dunk your bump in a (warm, not super-hot) bath. "We know increased core temperature is linked to birth defects, especially in the first trimester," says Susan Hollander, CNM and ob-gyn nurse-practitioner. Most hot tubs are easily over 100 degrees, plus you're usually completely submerged from the neck down. "But baths aren't as hot to begin with, and at least your arms, knees, and shoulders are sticking out, so your overall temperature doesn't climb to those dangerous levels." Avoid steam rooms and saunas too. The excess heat and steam can make you dizzy.

Bottom line: Skip it.

07 of 12


facial with white face mask

Wondering what happened to that so-called pregnant glow everyone talks about? There's no way to predict how your skin will change over these nine months, but a facial can be a great way to help adjust to differences in texture and moisture, says Boyle. "That said, your complexion may be a lot more sensitive now, so you'll definitely want to skip harsh peels and microdermabrasion." As with massage, make sure your aesthetician knows if you have any major smell aversions. And once you're past the first trimester, ask to be propped up with pillows so you're not lying flat on your back. This position can slow circulation and make you feel dizzy.

Bottom line: Safe to schedule if you skip harsh peels and microdermabrasion.

08 of 12

Tanning Beds

inside of tanning bed

This should be on your no-no list already, but in case it's not, you'll want to take an extended break from tanning booths and beds. Why? Well, if skin cancer isn't enough of a reason, intense UV exposure may accelerate skin discoloration during pregnancy. Plus, it gets pretty hot under those lamps, which you already know can be dangerous for your baby. If you're craving some sunshine, step outside for a little natural light—slathered in sunscreen, of course.

Bottom line: Skip it.

09 of 12


person getting their leg waxxed

While it may be a bit uncomfortable, it is OK to wax during pregnancy—as long as you're used to it. "Very intense pain—especially late in pregnancy—can prompt contractions, which is not good if you're not yet past 37 weeks," says Lillian Schapiro, MD, an Atlanta-based ob-gyn. "So I certainly would not book a Brazilian for the first time if you've never had one before." Another FYI: Your sensitive skin may be more prone to irritation, so you might want to pencil in your appointment a day or two before you plan to hit the beach.

Bottom line: Safe to schedule in trimesters 1 and 2. Know your pain tolerance for trimester 3!

10 of 12

Dermal Fillers

syringe with liquid coming out

Hold off on a lip injection or wrinkle smoother until after your little one arrives, since dermal fillers haven't been tested or approved for use during pregnancy.

Bottom line: Skip it.

11 of 12

Getting a Tattoo

Close-up man tattoo artist tattooing a the neck of a woman

Any time you inject something like ink into your skin, it ups the risk of skin infection, says Mary Claire Haver, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at The University of Texas at Galveston. You could also get HIV or hepatitis B or C from needles. And there's little research on the effects of skin dyes on a developing fetus.

Bottom line: Wait until after baby arrives—and you're done breastfeeding.

12 of 12

Body Piercing

client getting ear pierced

Along with the needle risks, getting pierced when the surface area of your skin is expanding isn't a good idea. "You have a greater risk of infection if a piercing hole widens, and the stretching could keep it from healing properly," says Dr. Haver. "Most of my patients end up removing navel piercings about halfway through the pregnancy when they start to protrude and catch on clothing."

Bottom line: Skip, at least for now.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles