Safe Skin-Care Products for Pregnant Women (Plus Those to Avoid)
Botox (botulinum toxin type A) is off-limits for expecting mothers. "There just hasn't really been any solid studies on the effects of Botox in pregnant women and their unborn babies," says Paul M. Friedman, M.D., director of the Dermatology & Laser Surgery Center in Houston and New York City.
Instead: Slather On the Sunscreen
If you've ever tried Botox, you know there's really no satisfying topical alternative, but "if we are talking about reduction in appearance of fine lines, the best alternative is sun protection, sun protection, sun protection," says Jeremy A. Brauer, M.D., director of research at Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York. "Sun exposure results in aging of the skin, which includes fine lines, uneven pigmentation, and worsening of melasma (blotchy gray and/or brown patches that appear on the face or other areas of the body)—another concern of pregnant women." (Pregnant or not, wearing sunscreen every day is one of the best ways you can prevent sun damage and its negative effects on your skin over time.)
One more thing: Avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone during pregnancy. The ingredient has been linked to low birth weights, according to Fit Pregnancy
Over-the-counter retinols and their prescription-strength counterpart, retinoids, are both derivatives of vitamin A that lead to rapid cell turnover and stimulation of new collagen growth, says Brauer. This proves useful in the treatment of acne, pigmentation, and skin aging. But products containing retinol or retinoid are unsafe for pregnant women whether topical or taken orally. When used topically, they are considered a category C risk for pregnant women (which means risk cannot be ruled out because there haven't been enough tests on humans). And the oral prescription version, isotretinoin, commonly known by the brand name Accutane, is considered a category X risk for pregnant women (which means there is solid evidence of fetal damage with use).
Instead: Buy a Facial Cleansing Brush
For an at-home method of sloughing off dead skin cells to reveal a new, fresh (even baby-like) layer underneath, it might be time to finally invest in a motorized, vibrating facial cleaning brush, such as a Clarisonic. "Clarisonics or other physical methods of exfoliation are good alternatives to topical retinols and chemical peels," says Brauer. "However, I would still caution [anyone, pregnant or not] not to be too aggressive with whatever process or method you ultimately choose. Otherwise, you can end up with dry, red, and irritated skin."
Avoid: Chemical Peels
Most chemical peels use retinoids, so avoid them for the same reasons above. And since pregnant women also have an increased risk of developing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melasma (dark patches on your face), Friedman says to avoid irritating peels that can make splotchy skin worse. (Want to slough off dead skin on your scalp, lip, and body? The Ultimate Guide to Exfoliation breaks down everything you need to know.)
Instead: Opt for Microdermabrasion
For a close second to the skin-brightening and exfoliating benefits of chemical peels, a less abrasive service, such as microdermabrasion, is your best bet. You can book for this deep exfoliation service at your next spa appointment, or try one of the new at-home models on a low, or sensitive, setting. We like PMD Personal Microderm, shown here ($159, getpmd.com).
Avoid: Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid can be found in a wide array of products from cleansers to night creams, as it's a go-to for keeping acne and fine lines under control, but you need to push these products to the back of the cabinet for a few months. "Salicylic acid is related to aspirin, and that cannot be used during the first trimester because it can cause a miscarriage or congenital defects," warns Debra Jaliman, M.D., an NYC dermatologist. She adds that "later in the pregnancy, it can also affect the fetus's heart."
Instead: Look for Glycolic Acid
Friedman says that glycolic acid, which is found in many anti-aging products as it also regenerates collagen and evens out skin tone, is a safe alternative for pregnant women. "Glycolic acid is an AHA compound (alpha-hydroxy acid) and is derived from sugar cane," he says. "It is safe for use during pregnancy with the approval from your doctor." Try: Avon Anew Clinical Advanced Retexturizing Peel ($15, avon.com). Still, skin is more sensitive during pregnancy, so keep an eye out for irritation.
Latisse, the FDA-approved treatment for sparse eyelashes, is another category C risk for pregnant women, so while there haven't been exact determinations as far as its potential danger, a risk cannot be ruled out. Consider this one a better-safe-than-sorry "don't."
Instead: Get Lash Extensions
First off, you probably don't need much help in the lash department. According to Jaliman, most women have the best lashes and hair of their lives while pregnant because hair remains in a permanent growth cycle during pregnancy. If you still don't have the length and thickness you desire, lash extensions are a safe alternative. Just make sure you're on an incline and not flat on your back during the application progress.