Which Skincare Ingredients Should You Avoid During Pregnancy?

by Gio
complete list of skincare ingredients to avoid during pregnancy

No, I’m not pregnant.

And, no, I’m not trying to get pregnant, either.

I just get a lot of questions from moms-to-be asking me what skincare products they should avoid not to harm their precious babies.

Getting a straight answer ain’t that easy, either. Auntie Google will tell you that everything you’ve ever used before is laden with toxins and that, if you and your baby have any chance of survival, you should just stick to washing your face with water only, maybe apply some argan oil every now and then and resign yourself to going around with huge pimples all over your face because everything that can get rid of them is bad for the both of you. *sighs*

Auntie Google means well but she’s slightly exaggerating. There are some ingredients in your skincare products you should totally avoid during pregnancy, breastfeeding, or while you’re trying to conceive, though, but they’re not as many as you think.

Here they are:

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Avoid

1 Accutane, Retin-A, Avita, Renova

What do they all have in common? They’re forms of vitamin A (in this case, tretinoin) used to treat acne, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.

Accutane is the absolute worst. It’s been linked to serious birth defects, such as brain and heart defects and intellectual disabilities. That’s why a lot of doctors refuse to prescribe it to women unless they are on birth control.

If you’re on Accutane and would like to have a baby, get off it at least one month before you start trying to conceive.

Retin-A, Avita and Renova are less strong than Accutane. So far, science hasn’t found a link between their use and birth defects (but I’ve found a study that claims they’re safe).

But, because they use the same molecule, doctors will advise you to stop using them. I agree with them. In this case, better paranoid and safe than sorry.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Accutane Before You Start Using It

2. Retinol, Retinaldehyde, Retinyl Palmitate

These are all forms of vitamin A, too. They’re the less powerful ones so they’re found in lots of OTC serums, moisturizers and other lotions and potions.

But, they’re still vitamin A, so it’s best to avoid them. Especially because you need vitamin A in your diet. Huh?

Yep, vitamin A is in your food. And you need to eat foods rich in vitamin A during pregnancy. For real. A deficiency of vitamin A in pregnancy can cause anemia and other health problems.

On the other hand, too much vitamin A (over 10.000 IU/day) has been linked to birth defects. An average woman on the Western diet will usually consume 7.000-8.000 IU/day without a supplement.

So, don’t risk going overboard. Say yes to vitamin A in your diet, and no in your skincare.

P.S. Not all pregnant women plan their pregnancy. That’s fine. If you’ve just discovered you’re carrying a little bundle of joy and are worried the retinol serum you’ve been using the past few weeks has harmed your baby, relax. There’s so little retinol in these products, it likely didn’t do any harm. But, going forward, ditch it.

Related: What Form Of Vitamin A Is Right For You?

3. Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is the gold standard for treating hyperpigmentation. It does a great job at fading dark spots so it would be great if you could use it during pregnancy because your skin becomes more prone to discolouration during this time.

Sorry, no can do. Hydroquinone doesn’t cause cancer, like some people claim. But, it hasn’t been tested on pregnant women. It could be totally safe. It could be totally dangerous.

For obvious reason, you can’t really do a study on pregnant women (although, I wouldn’t want it done on rats, either) to find out the answer. So, stay on the safe side and avoid it.

Related: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Hydroquinone

4. Avobenzone and Oxybenzone

Avobenzone and oxybenzone are two synthetic UV filters that are totally fine for adults. But, because they can be absorbed by the body, they’re not recommended for children.

And if you can’t use them on children, I don’t think you should use them when they could reach your unborn baby or contaminate your milk.

Plus, zinc oxide-based sunscreens are SO much better, anyway.

Related: Why Mineral Sunscreens Are Better For Pregnant Women

the ordinary salicylic acid 2 solution

Maybe

Before we start, a couple of things:

  1. Whether an ingredient is dangerous or not, it usually depends on the dose.
  2. If you don’t feel comfortable using something, even if science says it’s safe in small doses, don’t. It’s your baby. Your body. Your choice.

Cool. So what ingredients could you use and how?

1. Benzoyl Peroxide

This is a powerful acne-fighter. It kills P.Acnes, the bacteria that causes the disease. But, it’s pretty harsh, so it’s best as a spot treatment.

But, is it safe during pregnancy? In tiny doses – that’s 5% or less – yes. Don’t go up and you can say “bye bye pimples” without harming your baby.

Related: Benzoyl Peroxide: Friend Or Foe For Skin?

2. Salicylic Acid

Another ally in the fight against pimples, salicylic acid is an exfoliant that gets inside the pores, unclogging them from within. Plus, it has anti-inflammatory properties, too.

Taken orally in high doses, it can cause birth defects. Topically applied on the skin, in concentrations of 2% or less, is considered to be safe.

P.S. Just to be on the safe side, avoid peels, too. Those usually contain much higher concentrations (20% or more).

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To Spot-Free Skin

3. Glycolic Acid

A multi-tasking exfoliant that evens out the skin tone, brightens the complexion, fades dark spots, boosts collagen production and hydrates skin. Wow!

I’ve seen this on a lot of “to-avoid-during-pregnancy” lists but couldn’t find any scientific studies linking it to birth defects. If I were pregnant, trying to conceive or breastfeeding, I’d use it topically in tiny doses (5% or less) but avoid peels.

Related: The Complete Guide To Glycolic Acid: What It Is, What It Does And How To Use It

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Safe

1. Parabens

Parabens are safe for everyone. Period. It’s only the EWG that keeps telling everyone parabens can give you cancer and, if you’re here, you know you can’t trust them to read a study properly. They ALWAYS come to the wrong conclusion.

Related: Parabens Are Safe: Why Science Says You Shouldn’t Fear Them

2. Synthetic UV filters

With those two exceptions above, all other synthetic UV filters are perfectly fine for everyone.

If your skin is getting super sensitive during pregnancy, they may irritate it. But, they won’t harm your baby.

The Bottom Line

If you’re pregnant, trying to conceive or breastfeeding, stay away from vitamin A, hydroquinone, avobenzone and oxybenzone. Everything else is fine (in moderation!). And if you still have any doubts, consult your doctor. She’ll be able to give you a clear answer and put your mind at rest.

Are you pregnant or breastfeeding? Share your skincare routine and how it changed in the comments below.

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6 comments

Maria February 9, 2017 - 8:43 am

Too sad I didn’t read such an article before I had my two boys… Because here in Greece, during pregnancy, everyone (including 95% of the doctors) says ….”.use only water, soap and a very very light moisturizer…”!!
And you just go crazy. And scared. Because No…!!! you can’t use only water and soap when your skin is in such a mess for 9 months.
Great job Gio!

Reply
Gio February 12, 2017 - 6:25 pm

Maria, no one ever talks about how pregnancy messes up with your skin, do they? Yep, in the end it is all worth it when you hold that little bundle of joy in your arms but some help to deal with your skin in the meantime would be helpful. Too bad too many doctors play it safe. I understand being cautious but skin is pretty hard to penetrate and you can use a lot of things without risking the wellbeing of your baby.

Reply
Mei January 14, 2019 - 1:55 am

Is Benzyl Salicylate in the same category as Salicylic Acid in terms of how it affects us physically, or would this be a safe choice if pregnant?

Reply
Gio January 24, 2019 - 6:58 pm

Mei, it’s still a salicylate, so I’d avoid it. Just to be on the safe side.

Reply
Elisa April 14, 2019 - 10:17 pm

I would love an article about the best products pregnancy safe and the best anti age routine pregnancy safe for the different skin types! When I was pregnant the first time I didn’t know what to do and I just put some organic cream.

Reply
Gio April 20, 2019 - 3:15 pm

Elisa, I’ve written a post about what ingredients to avoid during pregnancy. You can find it here: https://www.beautifulwithbrains.com/skincare-ingredients-avoid-pregnancy/

In a nutshell, avoid any form of vitamin A and focus on antioxidants, like vitamin C.

Reply

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