If you’re pregnant or planning to have a child, you probably know that what you eat and drink can have a significant effect on your health and the health of your baby. Your obstetrician will also advise you about which medicines are safe to take and caution you about drinking coffee or alcohol. But what about your skincare routine — the products you put on your body? What’s safe, and what should you avoid while you’re pregnant?
The good news is that doctors consider most of the standard skincare products we use — makeup, moisturizers, and sunscreens — to be safe during pregnancy. But there are some ingredients and treatments you should avoid. And pregnancy can present some new skincare issues, such as hormonal acne and skin discoloration that may prompt you to seek out new treatments.
To make sense of it all, we’ll flag some key skincare ingredients and treatments to avoid and offer reassurance on what’s safe. With a few tweaks to your beauty routine, you can enjoy your pregnancy glow without worry.
Avoid Products Containing Retinoids While Pregnant
Topical skin medications based on vitamin A, called retinoids, are widely sought-after to reduce facial lines and wrinkles by boosting collagen levels. They can also be effective for treating acne, pigment disorders, and specific other skin conditions. Overall, retinoids are safe and effective for these anti-aging and skin-treatment purposes — except during pregnancy, when experts warn against using them. Some studies have shown that taking high doses of vitamin A during pregnancy can interfere with fetal development and cause birth defects. While there’s no hard evidence linking topical retinoids to these problems, your body absorbs the chemicals through the skin, so it’s a sensible precaution to avoid them until after you have your child and have finished breastfeeding.
Ingredients to watch for include Retin-A, retinoic acid, retinol, retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, adapalene, tretinoin, tazarotene, and isotretinoin.
Avoid Products With Concentrated Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid, a mild acid chemically related to aspirin, can help treat acne and other skin conditions. It’s also an ingredient in some facial cleansers and chemical peels. Like retinoids, salicylic acid links to pregnancy problems and birth defects when taken orally at high doses. As a precaution, experts advise against applying it to the skin frequently or in concentrated amounts during pregnancy. A facial wash containing 2% salicylic acid is generally safe for twice-daily cleaning.
How to Treat Acne During Pregnancy
Even women who have never had problems with acne before may experience it during pregnancy as a result of hormonal changes. As just noted, you should avoid treating acne during pregnancy with products that contain retinoids or high concentrations of salicylic acid. Benzoyl peroxide is another acne-treatment chemical to avoid while pregnant. Instead, use mild, fragrance-free over-the-counter cleansers. If cleansing isn’t enough, look for products with lactic acid or glycolic acid. Alternatively, a dermatologist may be able to prescribe a safe topical antibiotic.
Dealing With Sun Sensitivity and Skin Discoloration
It’s common for pregnancy to trigger heightened sensitivity to sunlight, so it’s a smart idea to pay special attention to UV hygiene. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. While experts haven’t flagged chemical sunscreens that penetrate the skin (with ingredients like avobenzone and oxybenzone) as a specific risk during pregnancy, you may want to play it safe and use mineral-based formulas with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These sit on top of the skin and block sunlight from reaching it. When you go out in the middle of the day, wear a sunhat, sunglasses, and sun-protective clothing, in addition to applying sunscreen.
If you’re thinking about self-tanning products or professional spray tans, think again. The active ingredient in these treatments is dihydroxyacetone, which could be harmful to you and your developing baby if inhaled.
In addition to a heightened sensitivity to the sun, pregnancy can cause a surge in pigment-stimulating hormones, which can result in patches of brown or tan skin across the face. The popular term for this is the “mask of pregnancy.” The medical term for hyperpigmentation is “melasma.” UV exposure will heighten the discoloration, so you can minimize the visible effects of melasma by protecting your skin from the sun. If you weren’t pregnant, you might consider treating the dark patches with hydroquinone, a skin lightener. But the FDA has classified this chemical as of questionable safety, so you should avoid it during pregnancy. Even some natural skin products, like soy-based lotions and products with oil of bergamot, can accentuate the darkening of melasma.
Beyond screening your skin from the sun, the best advice is to accept the effects of melasma as a temporary change. You can hide it with concealers and foundations if it bothers you. If the effects persist after you have given birth and finished breastfeeding, you can correct them then with a chemical peel.
Moisturizing Dry Skin
While some women’s skin becomes oilier during pregnancy, others experience increased dryness. If you have dry skin, pay extra attention to your water intake and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. That’s essential for your health and the health of your baby and will help moisturize your skin from the inside. Your normal moisturizer will help and is safe to use. If it isn’t working well enough, look for one that has glycerin, hyaluronic acid, or shea butter among its ingredients.
Most makeup is safe to use during pregnancy, but avoid any that contain retinoids or salicylic acid.
If your skin becomes sensitive to the makeup you normally use, consider changing to mineral-based products, which are made with titanium and zinc. These have the added benefit of providing some UV protection. Your newly sensitive skin may also react to the fragrances and preservatives in your makeup.
If you are having issues with oily skin or acne, look for makeup marked “non-comedogenic” or “non-acnegenic.” These are free of oils, won’t clog pores, and are safe to use during pregnancy.
Facials and Peels
Mild facial treatments are generally safe during pregnancy, but avoid peels that contain salicylic acid. While you are carrying a child is also not the time to get a deep chemical peel. If you’re considering a peel, your best bet is to have it done by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon, someone with the medical expertise to know what’s safe for you and your developing baby.
Get Expert Skin Advice and Treatment in Stockton, CA
Dr. John Silverton is a board-certified plastic surgeon in Stockton, CA. His aesthetician services include skincare and facials, offered with medical expertise to ensure safety during pregnancy. Call us at (209) 952-2251 or contact us today to schedule a consultation.