Pregnancy & Skin-Care: Which Products Are Safe?

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Pregnancy is an exciting time for women, but it comes with many health-related challenges, for both the baby and the mom-to-be. Concerns include everything from what to eat and what not to eat, what medicines you can take or not, and what to do or not to do about the many changes your body is going through. Pregnant women also wonder about which skin-care products are okay to use and which ones are not—that's where we can help!
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Recommended Skin-Care During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is an exciting time, but it comes with many challenges including what to eat and what not to eat, what medicines you can take or should avoid, and what to do or not to do about the many changes your body is going through. Pregnant women also wonder about which skin-care products are okay to use and which ones are not—that's where we can help!

Because some ingredients—both from prescription drugs and from some skin-care products—are absorbed into the body when applied to skin, you need to know what's safe for use during pregnancy and what to avoid.

Although it is always important for you to check with your own physician, as a general rule, most skin-care products such as cleansers, toners, moisturizers, eye creams, scrubs, and lip balms that do not contain over-the-counter ingredients regulated by the FDA are fine for use throughout your pregnancy. However, prescription and over-the-counter skin-care ingredients are a different issue. Below we explain what you need to know to make informed decisions.

Using Skin-Care Products During Pregnancy

We're often asked about whether our products containing benzoyl peroxide, hydroquinone, sunscreen actives, or salicylic acid are safe to use during pregnancy or while nursing. Unfortunately many doctors don't have a ready answer, leaving mothers-to-be frustrated and confused. We consulted the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists regarding the products of which we are asked about most, and here is what they had to say:

  • Hydroquinone has not been tested on animals or humans in regards to its use during pregnancy so there is no information to assess your risk. It is best to avoid using hydroquinone during pregnancy or while you are breast feeding
  • Benzoyl peroxide is an excellent ingredient to combat blemishes and is considered safe in low concentrations (5% or less) when you are pregnant.
  • Prescription topical antibiotics, such as erythromycin and clindamycin are considered safe for use during pregnancy. 
  • Salicylic acid (BHA) is a superior exfoliant for skin but when used in high concentrations for professional peels it is considered a risk when you are pregnant. However, the small percentages used in skin care (2% or lower) are considered safe. You can also considering using glycolic acid or lactic acid (AHA) exfoliants as an alternative during your pregnancy.
  • Sunscreen actives as demonstrated in animal studies are not known to be a risk during pregnancy.  Despite fears incorrectly promoted in the media by a few fringe groups, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has not found any of the alleged fears about sunscreen ingredients substantiated by medical research. As a result, daily sunscreen use is strongly recommend by dermatologists.  If you find your skin is more sensitive during pregnancy, consider using sunscreens with gentle mineral actives of titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide.

Taking Care of Your Skin During Pregnancy

Based on some of the restrictions above, you may be wondering how you're going to manage your skin-care concerns while you're pregnant. Don't worry; there are workarounds you can use to take great care of your skin while having peace of mind that your baby is safe. Here's what you can do, depending on your concern (and of course be sure to talk about these recommendations with your physician):

Skin discolorations (hyperpigmentation) during pregnancy:

  • When used on a regular basis, exfoliation can help lighten discolorations. While scrubs are an option, they are not as effective as a chemical exfoliant, i.e. AHA or BHA. Consider an AHA body lotion.
  • Always apply a sunscreen rated at least SPF 15, every day, without exception!  Due to its immediate protection upon application, a mineral sunscreen is excellent for preventing and minimizing brown discolorations.  Because many foundations and pressed powders contain mineral sunscreen ingredients, you can add sunscreen to your skin care routine when applying your makeup.  Keep in mind you must apply sunscreen daily, rain or shine, and apply it liberally!
  • Ask your physician about using azelaic acid. It is a prescription only topical medication considered safe for use during pregnancy and has good research showing it can improve brown skin discolorations.  

 

Stretch Marks:

  • Stretch marks that occur during or after pregnancy are caused by the skin becoming abnormally stretched and expanded for a period of time. The abnormal stretching causes a breakdown or rupture in the skin's support structure of collagen and elastin (particularly elastin, which gives skin its bounce-back quality).
  • Stretch marks seem to be genetically related as some women get them and others don’t, yet no one is sure why.
  • Stretch marks are one of the toughest skin-care concerns to treat because there are no cosmetic ingredients or products that can really improve them.
  • Massaging your skin with a serum or non-fragrant plant oil while you are pregnant can help it become more pliable and reduce the potential of stretch marks. 
  • After delivery and past the breastfeeding stage, tretinoin (the active ingredient in Retin-A, Renova, or in generic form) can improve stretch marks slightly
  • Other medical cosmetic corrective treatments to consider (again, after the delivery and breastfeeding stage,) include: Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) or Pulsed Dye Laser (PDL) treatments, Trichloroacetic acid (TCA), alpha hydroxy acid, or beta hydroxy acid peels.

Rosacea During Pregnancy:

  • Metronidazole (the active ingredient in MetroCream, MetroGel, and MetroLotion) is considered safe for use during pregnancy.
  • Azelaic acid can help with acne and discolorations, but some find it effective for controlling symptoms of rosacea, too. It is safe for use during pregnancy.
  • A gentle mineral sunscreen with titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide is advised for those with rosacea, whether they're pregnant or not. For extra protection, use a foundation or tinted moisturizer with a mineral-based sunscreen, too.

Anti-Aging/Wrinkles During Pregnancy:

  • Avoid prescription retinoids (e.g., Renova, Retin-A, Differin, Tazorac, and generic tretinoin) and over-the-counter products with retinol due to its relation to prescription retinoids. If you normally use this type of product, consider switching to an anti-aging serum that does not contain retinol.
  • There is no documented concern about common "cosmeceutical" ingredients such as vitamin C, niacinamide, peptides or other types of antioxidants and cell communicating ingredients when used during pregnancy.
  • Ongoing use of skin-care products loaded with antioxidants and skin-repairing ingredients is highly recommended, but again, be sure to check with your physician and follow his or her advice.

Although the information above isn't meant to be exhaustive, it should give you a clear idea of what's OK to use during pregnancy and what should be avoided. Most important, you can achieve your skin-care goals during pregnancy, and that's sure to put your mind at ease! As a reminder, it is always a good idea to consult your physician about the use of any over-the-counter or prescription drugs you're considering while pregnant or nursing.

Additional sources for the information above: Canadian Family Physician, June 2011, pages 665-667; Precarie International, June 2005, pages 100-101; American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, Volume 4, Issue 7, 2003, pages 473-492; Teratology, May 2001, pages 186-192; and www.fda.gov.

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About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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