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Skin Care Products to Avoid During Pregnancy—and What to Use Instead
Updated on
April 20, 2024

Skin Care Products to Avoid During Pregnancy—and What to Use Instead

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Skin Care Products to Avoid During Pregnancy—and What to Use Instead.
Skin Care Products to Avoid During Pregnancy—and What to Use Instead

For some, pregnancy unveils glowy, blemish-free skin that’s as smooth as the baby they’ll be meeting in a few months. And for others, building a human results in skin ailments you didn’t even know you were prone to.

Wherever you and your pregnancy skin land on that spectrum, your skin care routine will help pull you through—but with some tweaks. Just like some foods, drinks and workout moves that you have to stow away until after baby arrives, some skin care products will have to get the boot (just for a bit).

According to Dr. Courtney Rubin, some topical ingredients “should be stopped as soon as you find out that you are pregnant. I recommend not using them if you are trying to conceive.” Since most people don’t find out they’re pregnant for several weeks, Jocelyn Gandelman, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group​ in NYC, adds not to stress yourself if you’ve been using some of the ingredients on this list. “The risk of absorption through your skin to the pregnancy is low, so don’t worry too much if you didn’t stop products until later,” Dr. Gandelman tells us. But what do you use in the meantime to help maintain your skin’s health, keep fine lines at bay, and manage any skin issues you’ve spent so much time overcoming?

What to Avoid

Retinoids

Retinoids, a vitamin A derivative, help with a litany of skin issues like acne, wrinkles or fine lines and skin texture. Retinoids can be taken orally or topically and can be found in different concentrations both in over-the-counter and prescription formulations. Topical retinoids can be listed as retinol, retinyl palmitate, retinal, tretinoin or adapalene on an ingredient list, Dr. Rubin says, so make sure you read your skin care labels carefully and reach out to your doctor if you are unsure. A well-known oral retinoid used to treat acne, isotretinoin (brand name Accutane), should never be used during pregnancy or while trying to conceive. While they’re packed full of benefits for pre-pregnancy and postpartum skin, dermatologist Dr. Jean Charles says that since studies have shown that oral retinoids can cause birth defects, topical retinoids are not recommended either.

What to Use Instead

If you rely on retinoids to manage fine lines and wrinkles, Dr. Charles says to “keep up with what your retinoids have already done,” and that resveratrol is a great alternative, as well as peptides and bakuchiol. To address dullness and textured skin, Dr. Rubin says “exfoliating acids such as glycolic acid, lactic acid and mandelic acid are safe in pregnancy and help with skin turnover, dullness, breakouts and pigmentation.” When choosing a glycolic acid product like an exfoliating toner, Dr. Gandelman says that most dermatologists will suggest one that is less than 10 percent concentration (most products will list the concentration on the label).

What to Avoid

Skin Lightening Products

Hydroquinone is the active ingredient found in many products used to target dark spots and hyperpigmentation. While hydroquinone has not been studied as much as retinoids, Dr. Charles says that the way it’s absorbed into our skin is a part of the reason it isn’t recommended to continue to use while pregnant.

What to Use Instead

As someone who struggles with hyperpigmentation, like many others who have melanated skin, I know that giving up hydroquinone for an entire nine months can feel like you’re taking a big step backward in reversing dark spots. Instead of opting for a dark spot corrector containing hydroquinone, all three of the experts I talked to suggested azelaic acid as a solid swap for hyperpigmentation.

“Azelaic acid is a great ingredient that is underrated for the treatment of hyperpigmentation,” Dr. Charles tells us. Kojic acid also comes highly recommended for dark spot treatment by both Dr. Charles and Dr. Rubin. And to give your skin a glowy boost (other than your pregnancy glow, of course), Dr. Gandelman says incorporating vitamin C and niacinamide “can also be used as good alternatives” to cycle into your routine.

What to Avoid

Chemical-Based Sunscreen

We already know how essential top-notch sunscreen is to your skin care routine. For pregnant people, Dr. Gandelman says that skin conditions like melasma and other hyperpigmentation are very common pregnancy-related skin problems that can worsen with sun exposure. And even if you’re staying out of the sun, Dr. Charles says that your skin also needs to be protected from “visible light from overhead lighting and the light from phones and computer screens.” This means sunscreen is an even more important part of your daytime skin care routine. Some higher-end sunscreens (that don’t leave behind the dreaded white cast) have a chemical-based formulation with active ingredients like avobenzone, octinoxate or oxybenzone—all of which Dr. Rubin and Dr. Gandelman say you should kick out of your skin care routine while you’re pregnant.

What to Use Instead

If you’ve been slathering your favorite chemical-based sunscreen on while pregnant, don’t freak out! Dr. Gandelman says that the overall risk is pretty low. However, both Dr. Gandelman and Dr. Rubin recommend swapping out chemical sunscreens for a mineral-based option.

“Sunscreens that only contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are large molecules with minimal absorption into the body,” Dr. Gandelman says. Additionally, Dr. Rubin says that mineral sunscreens are less likely to irritate sensitive pregnant skin. If you’re stressed about giving up your ultra-sheer chemical-based sunscreen for one that could leave behind a noticeable white cast, a tinted mineral sunscreen can help balance that out.

What to Avoid

Skin Care Supplements

There are a host of skin and hair vitamins that promise to transform your tresses and improve your nails. While their efficacy is up for debate (and is mostly anecdotal), Dr. Rubin and Dr. Gandelman say that these supplements should be nixed during pregnancy. “I recommend stopping skin care vitamins, as they can be high in Vitamin A—which in high doses is harmful to the fetus, it is what is in isotretinoin‚ and they contain high doses of biotin as well.”

What to Use Instead

One of the nicer symptoms of pregnancy is that your hair and nails are likely to grow longer and stronger, thanks to increased hormones. Along with the natural hormone boost coursing through your system, a quality prenatal vitamin (whether you opt for an easy-to-digest gummy or a gentle-on-the-tummy organic one) will help to keep your hair, skin, and nails thriving.


Latifah Miles

Senior Commerce Editor

Latifah Miles is the Senior Commerce Editor at Babylist.

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