Do You Really Need to Switch to Pregnancy-Safe Skin Care?

Experts weigh in on what pregnancy-safe skin care ingredients to use and which to avoid.

Pregnancy Safe Skin Care
Getty Images.

Finding out you're pregnant opens up the door to a world of questions: Do you really have to give up your second cup of coffee? Are any maternity jeans actually cute and comfortable? And what pregnancy-safe skin-care products can you still use?

You may have heard that some skin-care ingredients should be avoided during pregnancy, but you might not know exactly what those ingredients are, what products they're found in, and how they can affect the health of you and your baby. Plus, your hormones and other physical changes of pregnancy may cause new skin conditions (think: hyperpigmentation and hormonal acne) that you'll want to address with your skin-care routine. While many products are still safe for you and your growing baby, there are a few skin-care ingredients that you should avoid during pregnancy. Ahead, a dermatologist explains everything you need to know about pregnancy-safe skin care, ingredients to avoid, and the ingredients you should reach for instead.

What Is Pregnancy-Safe Skin Care?

For many expecting mothers, pregnancy comes with a slew of skin-care changes. "With the increased estrogen, many women develop glowing skin, flushed cheeks, and oily hair," says Lian Mack, M.D., medical director and owner of GlamDerm. (Yes, those conditions may create the coveted "pregnancy glow.") Other skin changes may include hyperpigmentation or hormonal acne.

Pregnancy-safe skin-care ingredients are those that aren't harmful to the mother or growing fetus during pregnancy. Unsafe products, meanwhile, are "generally not well absorbed, disrupt hormone levels, and impact the manner in which the cells of the growing fetus grow and divide," says Dr. Mack. To break that down, when unsafe skin-care ingredients are used (especially in high amounts), they're absorbed through the skin and can end up in the mother's bloodstream, potentially being passed onto the growing baby and causing developmental issues. In addition, hormone disruption in expecting mothers can lead to sometimes dangerous conditions such as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia.

Regardless of what skin conditions you're experiencing during pregnancy, knowing what's in your skin-care products is crucial to your health and the health of your fetus — so you'll need to examine ingredient lists. This task may be a pain or even intimidating, but it becomes easier if you know exactly what ingredients to look for. While the best way to determine the safety of your skin-care products is to consult with a board-certified dermatologist or your ob-gyn, you can also begin by becoming informed of pregnancy-safe skin-care ingredients. Here, learn more about what skin-care ingredients are safe for pregnancy and what ingredients to avoid.

Skin-Care Ingredients to Avoid During Pregnancy

Before you rifle through your skin-care stash in an attempt to toss any product or ingredients that sound seemingly harmful, here's a list of ingredients to avoid, according to Dr. Mack.

Topical Vitamin A

Derivatives of vitamin A are absorbed systemically and negatively impact the manner in which the cells of the growing fetus mature and divide. If oral vitamin A is taken during pregnancy, there is a risk that the fetus will not develop correctly and will not be viable. Because topicals are shown to have some degree of systemic absorption, experts recommended avoiding them during pregnancy. 

Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid

While commonly found in many topical over-the-counter preparations for acne, these ingredients should be avoided in pregnancy — especially be avoided if over 2 percent, since the higher potency can potentially be harmful to the fetus. A toxic syndrome, called salicylism, can develop as the result of a high intake of salicylic acid, and it can lead to symptoms such as tinnitus, nausea, and even coma, according to one study. More research still needs to be done on benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid during pregnancy, so it's safest to steer clear.

Parabens and Phthalates

These are hormonal disruptors and can negatively impact pregnancy. At the hormonal level, phthalates can modify the release of hypothalamic, pituitary, and peripheral hormones and lead to the development of reproductive issues, according to one study. At the intracellular level, phthalates can interfere with nuclear receptors, membrane receptors, intracellular signaling pathways, and modulate gene expression associated with reproduction, according to the same study.

Chemical Sunscreen

Chemical sunscreens can also negatively impact hormones during pregnancy and should be avoided. Chemical sunscreen may affect how hormones, such as estrogen, perform in the body because its ingredients can block the hormones or mimic them, which can throw off and disrupt the body's hormonal balance. 

Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is a bleaching agent that has been shown to be readily absorbed into the bloodstream (via the skin) and while not well studied in pregnancy, may impact it, because or the high level of absorption. If you are experiencing hyperpigmentation or discoloration during pregnancy, refrain from using hydroquinone and see a board-certified dermatologist to discuss pregnancy-safe options.  

Spironolactone

 Spironolactone is an oral, hypertensive medication used commonly in dermatology to combat hormonally driven acne. While its anti-androgen effect helps to prevent cystic breakouts, if ingested during pregnancy, spironolactone may cause feminization of the fetus and abnormal development of male genitalia.

Pregnancy-Safe Skin-Care Ingredients

Now that you know what ingredients to avoid, here are some pregnancy-safe ingredients to reach for that may be able to address your skin-care concerns.

Bakuchiol

Bakuchiol is a plant-derived molecule that is pregnancy safe and possesses properties similar to retinol. It helps to promote cellular turnover, reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and improves the skin’s texture and tone. 

Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is a great ingredient to treat breakouts and hyperpigmentation and is safe to use during pregnancy. It can also be used to treat hyperpigmentation and acne scarring and reduce inflammation caused by breakouts in lieu of other ingredients that may be considered harmful.

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is a milk derivative and is considered a safe ingredient to use during pregnancy. It helps to improve common skin-care concerns such as hyperpigmentation, tone, and texture. 

Physical Sunscreens

Unlike chemical sunscreens, which absorb the rays of the sun and convert them to heat, physical sunscreen reflects sun rays. Using a physical sunscreen in place of a chemical sunscreen can reduce the risk of hormonal imbalances during pregnancy. 

In short, yes, you'll need to switch to pregnancy-safe skin-care products and ingredients if the ones you're currently using are considered harmful. Unsafe products and ingredients should not be used during the postpartum period either, especially if you're considering breastfeeding. This is because ingredients that are not deemed safe "are at risk of systemic absorption and contamination of the milk during breastfeeding," explains Dr. Mack. Essentially, those harmful ingredients can be passed from you to your baby during feedings through your breast milk. If you are not planning on breastfeeding, you can resume products on the avoidance list immediately post-delivery, advises Dr. Mack.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles