Skin Care During Pregnancy

Skin Care During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is an exciting time, but it often comes with many skin care challenges. Most pregnant people wonder which skin care products are OK to use and which ones aren’t. Is salicylic acid during pregnancy OK? What about glycolic acid? Benzoyl peroxide for acne? Is retinol OK during pregnancy? The answers might surprise you!

First, it’s always important to check with your physician and discuss the specific skin care products you want to use. Happily, most skin care products such as cleansers, toners, moisturizers, eye creams, scrubs, and lip balms that don’t contain over-the-counter ingredients regulated by the FDA are fine for use throughout pregnancy. However, pregnancy skin care involving topical prescription products, certain over-the-counter skin care ingredients, and retinol are a different issue.

Using Skin Care Products During Pregnancy

Misinformation about pregnancy skin care creates frustration and confusion for pregnant people during a time they should be enjoying to the fullest. To get some much-needed clarification, we consulted the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists regarding the ingredients we’re asked about most. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Benzoyl peroxide  is an excellent ingredient to control acne and in low concentrations (5% or less), is considered the best acne treatment safe for pregnancy.
  • Salicylic acid (BHA) is a superior exfoliant for skin, and the small percentages used in skin care are OK to use while pregnant. You can also consider using glycolic acid or lactic acid (AHA) exfoliants during your pregnancy. What about in-office AHA or BHA peels? Both are generally considered safe, but AHA is preferred if the peel is to be applied over a large area of the body.
  • Sunscreen actives are not known to be a risk during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists hasn’t found any of the alleged fears about sunscreen ingredients substantiated by medical or animal research. Daily sunscreen use is strongly recommended by dermatologists. If you find your skin is more sensitive during pregnancy, consider using sunscreens with only the mineral actives of titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, as both are non-irritating.
  • Hydroquinone has not been tested on animals or humans regarding its use during pregnancy, so it’s best to avoid using products that contain hydroquinone during pregnancy or while you’re breastfeeding. The same is true for the brightening ingredient arbutin and derivatives such as alpha-arbutin because both break down to hydroquinone on skin. Instead, look to brightening products that contain 5% or greater concentrations of niacinamide and various forms of vitamin C.
  • Azelaic acid via topical prescription is considered safe for use during pregnancy and has good research showing it can improve brown skin discolorations plus help with breakouts and visible symptoms of rosacea.
  • Anti-aging products with vitamin C, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and peptides are generally considered safe for use during pregnancy—there’s no research proving they’re a problem for topical use. But we repeat: If you’re uncertain about starting a new anti-aging product or a combination of ingredients, check with your physician and follow their advice.
  • Avoid prescription retinoids (Renova, Retin-A, Differin, Tazorac, and generic tretinoin) and over-the-counter products with retinol due to its relation to prescription retinoids. Consider switching to an anti-aging serum that does not contain retinol or its derivatives (retinyl retinoate, retinaldehyde, or hydroxypinacolone retinoate).
  • Prescriptions for other skin concerns: Your doctor will be able to advise you on which topical medications are suitable for use during pregnancy and how they should be used.

Note that we strongly recommend you share every skin care product (especially the prescription and over-the-counter drug products) you’re planning to use while pregnant with your physician and only proceed if they approve.

The information above isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but it should give you a clear idea of what’s OK to use during pregnancy and what should be avoided. We hope you’re feeling relieved that you can achieve your skin care goals during pregnancy!

References for this information:
Journal of Perinatology, July 2017, pages 778-781
Journal of Epidemiology and Global Health, March 2017, pages 63-70
International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, March 2017, pages 6-10
Dermatologic Therapy, July-August 2013, pages 302-311
Canadian Family Physician, June 2011, pages 665-667
Precarie International, June 2005, pages 100-101
American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, Volume 4, 2003, pages 473-492
Teratology, May 2001, pages 186-192

Disclosure: This article is not intended to replace medical advice given to you by your physician. Only he or she knows your medical history, and can offer advice that is appropriate to your individual needs. Your doctor should make all final decisions regarding skin care products and ingredients during pregnancy.


About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:

The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!