Skincare During Pregnancy: What to Avoid (and What to Use Instead)

I love being a beauty blogger. I have the opportunity to try out different skincare, haircare, and makeup products. And I love the process of reviewing products and creating artistic content— it’s a dream job for sure!

Unfortunately, my beauty blogging came to a halt during my first pregnancy. My doctor gave me a long list of skincare ingredients not to use while pregnant.

I was so confused that I simply stopped using all of my usual skincare products. And started using only olive oil and argan oil during that time!

It made me wonder: with so many ingredients in a single product, how are we supposed to fish out all the pregnancy-safe chemicals from the bad ones?

Education on Ingredients
pregnant woman

And so I started learning about ingredients. And the more I researched, the more I realized how little I knew about skincare!

Often, we look for products to provide specific effects — like a product for brightening under eye circles or diminishing fine lines. But don’t think about the ingredients, until pregnancy.

For example, the skin cream that’s making your fine lines disappear? It most likely has Retinol, and it’s not pregnancy-safe at all.

So I am sharing what I have learned about skincare ingredients. Listing the good, the bad, and the ugly ingredients to know about during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. Always consult your doctor with any questions or concerns about what skincare ingredients you can use during pregnancy.  

Skincare During Pregnancy: Good Ingredients

These are the skincare ingredients that are safe to use during pregnancy and nursing. As long as there are no known allergies.

Mineral Sunscreen

Mineral sunscreens have physical blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to stop harmful UVA/UVB rays. Just make sure they have an SPF of at least 30 or higher.

Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+ is a good option. It works great for both mom and baby’s skin and has a pleasant smell.

Exfoliating Acids

Glycolic, lactic, and mandelic acids are safe to use during pregnancy. These remove dead skin and oil buildup by exfoliating the top layer of skin.

Try Biossance Squalane + Glycolic Renewal Mask. It’s a glycolic acid-based product that works as a peel, exfoliator, and mask.

Vitamin C

If you use retinol products, you can replace it with a vitamin C product during pregnancy. Vitamin C products are considered safe. Benefits include promoting the production of the skin-plumping protein collagen and brightening hyperpigmentation.

Be sure to wear sunscreen daily if using vitamin C products.

My personal favorite is Kate Somerville Kx Active Concentrates Vitamin B3 + Vitamin C Serum. It’s lightweight, absorbs well, and works beautifully.

Acne Products

Many over-the-counter products for acne are not safe during pregnancy. So look for azelaic acid or glycolic acid ingredients.

Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring antibacterial that has keratolytic, comedolytic, and antioxidant activity.

Glycolic acid is another naturally occurring alpha-hydroxy acid that speeds up exfoliating dead skin cells and eliminating excess oil. Caudalie Vinoperfect Glycolic Peel Mask is one product that is pregnancy safe.

Another good option is The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%.

Sulfur is often found in acne treatments and is safe to use during pregnancy. Sulfur-based products have antimicrobial effects and are effective in drying out excess oil.  If your skin is getting oily and breaking out during pregnancy, look for products with sulfur. Dermalogica Clear Start Blackhead Clearing Fizz Mask is an excellent option.

Vitamin C products also help in acne, so does niacinamide and rosehip oil.

Moisturizing Products

Feeling extra dry during pregnancy? Try products with hyaluronic acid or sodium hyaluronate, both known for their moisture retention properties. One affordable and widely available option is Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream. Another is Cerave Moisturizing Cream for Normal to Dry Skin.

Oils

Look for an organic oil high in essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamin E. For example, argan oil, marula oil, rosehip or tamanu oil. I love to use Josie Maran 100% Pure Argan Oil, and it contains essential fatty acids (Omega 3 and Omega 6), vitamin E, and sterols.

Also, I have found that olive oil is the best for preventing stretch marks.

Some essential oils are okay for topical use during pregnancy, such as: frankincense, lavender, chamomile, and ylang-ylang

When using topically, use a carrier oil like jojoba or coconut oil to mix the essential oils. Measure the amount and do not go overboard with the essential oil; moderation is key. And, of course, check with your doctor before using any essential oils during pregnancy. 

Bad Ingredients

There are skincare ingredients you can use while nursing, but not in pregnancy. I have found that you can use pretty much any products while breastfeeding except the ones with:

  • Retin A, Accutane, Retinoids, Vitamin A
  • Hydroquinone and other skin lighteners
  • Hemp/Cannabis
  • Oxybenzone (chemical sunscreen)

Skincare ingredients during pregnancyUgly Ingredients

These are, in simple toddler terms, a no-no. You can not use these ingredients during pregnancy because they can potentially cause birth defects, premature labor, and other complications.

Retinoids

Retinoids are prescription acne and anti-aging medications. These are listed on ingredient labels as asretinoic acid, retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, adapalene, tretinoin, tazarotene, and isotretinoin.

They are considered the holy grail in skincare because they can help reverse acne and reduce fine lines. Retinoids accelerate the skin’s exfoliation process and boost collagen production to rejuvenate skin.

Over-the-counter products have lower levels of retinoids, while prescription medications as Retin-A (tretinoin), Accutane (isotretinoin),  and Tazorac contain much higher doses.

Although these can give you smoother and younger-looking skin, for pregnant women these can cause congenital disabilities of the brain and heart as well as bone abnormalities. So it is necessary to find safe alternatives.

Essential Oils

Some essential oils, such as tea tree oil and rosemary oil, can be extremely harmful if not used appropriately— especially if ingested.

Benzoyl Peroxide

These can be found in typical over-the-counter acne products. When used in limited quantities (in concentrations below 2.5 percent), it is generally thought to be safe during pregnancy. However, it’s best to avoid this ingredient completely, because there is a fine line between a safe and a dangerous limit.

Skin Lightener

Ingredients like hydroquinone, licorice root, kojic acid work as skin lighteners. They can be found in brightening serums and creams used to treat conditions such as dark spots and melasma. These should be avoided.

Formaldehyde

Some hair-straightening procedures (particularly Japanese and Brazilian) use this chemical.

Even some nail polishes still contain formaldehyde. And gel manicures, in particular, tend to be higher in formaldehyde.

More recently nail polish brands have been jumping on the safety bandwagon and creating cleaner formulas. When buying nail polish, look for those labeled “3-Free” or “5-Free.” 

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens first absorb into the skin, then absorb UV rays, convert the rays into heat, and release them from the body. The active ingredients of these products can be avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, oxybenzone, oxtinoxate, menthyl anthranilate, and octocrylene. Oxybenzone is a known endocrine-disrupting chemical, which means it could disrupt hormones and cause permanent damage to mother and baby.

Hair Dye

Many health professionals will ask you to steer clear of hair coloring for the first 12 weeks. Even if you color it, it’s best to stick to only highlights and not let the color/bleach touch your scalp.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a form of beta-hydroxy acid (BHA). It is found in some acne products, exfoliating products, cleansers, sometimes even body wash. It is known for its anti-inflammatory capabilities, similar to that of aspirin. High doses of salicylic acid could be dangerous for your baby. 

Hemp/CBD:

Hemp/CBD is still a grey area. The FDA strongly advises against cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and marijuana in any form during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

Many skincare and bath products with hemp and CBD are available now, even though they are not labeled as hemp products. Look for them in the ingredients section and completely avoid them.

There are still many other questionable ingredients, but the above ones are the main ones you should look out for. Do you have any concerns or questions regarding skincare during pregnancy? Leave a comment below!

And for more on skincare, check out the post Less is More: My Simple Skin Care Routine.

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Wasifa is a makeup-loving dentist and lifestyle blogger. She has been living in Fargo and calling it home with her husband and daughter for the last 6 years. She has been working as a blogger, chronic illness advocate and beauty consultant for a decade on her blog. She writes on the beauty segment of Area Woman Magazine, provides consultation for North Dakota International Pageant winners and actively works with different brands to promote their business and reach out to more customers. Her purpose is to empower and encourage women to live their best lives with physical diversities and embrace their true natural selves. She is passionate about building a strong community of women where all the beauty professionals and enthusiasts in Fargo-Moorhead area can converge. When she is not working, you can find her watching baking shows on Netflix or trying a new recipe with her daughter. You can find her on Instagram and her blog.

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