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Expert-Approved Tips on Navigating Pregnancy Skin Care

What ingredients to avoid, what alternatives to look for, and more.

pregnancy safe skin care

Pregnancy is a significant moment in one's life that is equal parts awe-inspiring (you're literally growing a human being inside of you) and stressful (you have to give up wine). On the list of pregnancy stressors—worrying about what's in your skin-care products. While pregnancy can bring an onslaught of skin issues, like dark spots and acne, you may not be able to reach for your go-to products. To help you navigate this unnerving time, we reached out to medical experts on what ingredients to avoid and what alternative ones to look for when it comes to addressing pregnancy skin.

What Happens to Your Skin During Pregnancy?

With pregnancy comes an increase in hormone levels and blood flow—two factors that have a significant impact on your skin. According to Dr. Sunitha Posina, a board-certified internist based in NYC, about 50 to 70 percent of pregnant people develop some form of melasma, aka the "mask of pregnancy." Your oil production also fluctuates when you're pregnant. "This can result in either a beautiful glow or hormonal acne," says Vanessa Coppola, a board-certified nurse practitioner and the owner of Bare Aesthetic Medical Spa. "The good news is that most hormonal acne usually goes away about six months post-partum."

Moles can get darker too, says Dr. Christine Choi Kim, a board-certified dermatologist based in L.A. "It's important to continue your regular skin checks, even while you're pregnant," she adds. Pregnancy can also make conditions like eczema and dry skin worse. "If you develop a new rash during pregnancy, it's important to be evaluated by your OB/GYN and dermatologist," says Kim.

What Ingredients Should You Avoid Using While Pregnant?

Deciding exactly what skin-care products to toss while pregnant is a conversation that should be had between the pregnant person and their doctor. "The best option is to bring your products with you to your obstetrician, nurse practitioner, or midwife, so you can review what's safe and what's not," says Coppola. Generally, though, most experts agree that you should hit pause on the below ingredients until you've stopped breastfeeding.

  • Vitamin A derivatives (retinol, retin-a, etc.): These ingredients are known to cause serious birth effects, says Dr. Posina. "These should be completely avoided during pregnancy and the initial postpartum period," adds Coppola.
  • Hydroquinone: Since hydroquinone is readily absorbed into the bloodstream, Dr. Kim suggests avoiding it. "Ask your doctor to recommend products with safer alternatives."
  • Tazorac and Accutane: Both of these drugs are synthetic forms of vitamin A and should be avoided during pregnancy, says Sarah Akram, a celebrity esthetician and the owner of Sarah Akram Skincare.
  • Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid in high doses: These ingredients in high doses have been shown to be harmful to a developing child, says Coppola. "However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists lists that some topical forms of salicylic acid are safe," she adds, "so it's best to consult with your healthcare provider first."
  • Chemical sunscreen: Chemical sunscreens contain either oxybenzone or avobenzone, ingredients that may be harmful to the central nervous system of the developing child, says Coppola. "Choose a physical sunscreen as an alternative."
  • Essential oils like tea tree oil: According to Dr. Kim, these ingredients can be toxic, so it's best to avoid them altogether.

What Ingredients Should Pregnant People Opt For Instead?

Don't throw out all your beauty products just yet. "There are safer options that you can use during pregnancy to help deal with skin conditions such as hyperpigmentation, breakouts, and excessive dryness," says Coppola.

For those struggling with dull skin, Coppola suggests using a chemical exfoliator like lactic or glycolic acid, two pregnancy-safe ingredients. Hyaluronic acid and vitamin C are also safe to use while pregnant, says Akram. Dr. Kim often recommends products with either azelaic acid or glycolic acid for pregnant patients dealing with acne. "Topical niacinamide is also anti-inflammatory and safe to use," she adds.

Hyaluronic Serum

Dr. Barbara Sturm

Sun protection is also a must—Dr. Kim recommends using a mineral-based sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium oxide at SPF 30 or higher. Dr. Posina suggests products with ingredients like glycerin, ceramides, lipids, or colloidal oatmeal for pregnant people dealing with dryness. And in regards to retinol alternatives, she recommends using bakuchiol instead.

"The most important takeaway from all of this is to go over your beauty products' ingredient lists with your healthcare provider," says Coppola. "Together you can come up with a plan that can satisfy your skin-care needs and keep you glowing during one of the most satisfying experiences of your life—the future birth of your new baby."

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