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Some people may experience dry skin or acne during pregnancy, but you may wonder how to treat these skin conditions safely. Here’s a list of skin care ingredients to use and avoid while pregnant.

pregnant woman in front of mirror applying cream to faceShare on Pinterest
Boris Jovanovic/Stocksy

As soon as you find out you’re expecting, your whole world changes. And that might include your skin care lineup too.

While it’s more well known that you must shelve your favorite wine (sorry!), having to nix your trusted skin care products may come as a real shock. But all eyes are on your skin products for a good reason: Certain ingredients can be absorbed into your body, and therefore, your baby’s body too.

Rest assured that most over-the-counter (OTC) body care products are completely safe, but there are a few ingredients that could be harmful to your little one. So here’s the good news: You can find a balance between maintaining your glow and protecting your baby.

Whether you’re looking for a safe product to reverse an unwelcome skin change brought on by pregnancy (yes, unfortunately, they do happen) or you’re checking up on the safety of your current regimen, this breakdown of what a healthy pregnancy skin care routine looks like — as well as what specific ingredients to avoid — is for you.

First, let’s face it: Pregnancy-related skin changes happen to many people. Hormones can take the blame, along with changes to your cardiovascular system and immune function during pregnancy.

While some lucky people experience 9 months of pure complexion perfection, others experience at least one less favorable new or worsening skin issue at some point. The most common are:

  • dry skin
  • darkening skin (a condition called melasma or chloasma)
  • acne

People with pre-existing skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea, may also experience a change in their symptoms (for better or worse).

And because your body is “all in” when it comes to pregnancy, pesky skin changes can affect other places too — think stretch marks, spider veins, hair growth, and even hair loss.

Before we jump into our list, we must point out that evidence-based data on the safety of specific products in pregnancy is limited. In almost all cases, clinical trials on pregnant people that could even start to prove that certain ingredients are harmful are an ethical no-no.

But some animal, anecdotal, or case-specific studies have shown some serious fetal effects related to a few common skin care ingredients. That’s the basis for our recommendations.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires cosmetic products to be “safe” based on their specific uses and labeling, but they don’t need FDA approval to be sold on the market.

All of that brings big questions about what cosmetics are truly safe during pregnancy. On this basis, most experts (and therefore, we) err on the side of caution.


Vitamin A is a crucial nutrient that’s required for optimal skin, immune, reproductive, and eye health. Once consumed or absorbed through skin, your body converts it to retinol.

Some pro-aging skin care products use a type of retinol called retinoids, which have become a holy grail because they can help reverse acne and reduce fine lines. Retinoids do this by helping surface-level skin cells exfoliate faster and boosting collagen production to rejuvenate skin.

OTC products have lower levels of retinoids, while prescription medications — such as Retin-A (tretinoin) and Accutane (isotretinoin) — contain much higher doses.

The amount of retinoids absorbed by topical products is likely low, but birth irregularities have been linked in higher doses. As such, all retinoids are advised against during pregnancy.

Prescription retinoids like isotretinoin have been widely documented for posing a 20% to 35% risk of severe congenital irregularities, with about to 30% to 60% of children showing neurocognitive conditions with exposure in utero.

Because of this, it’s recommended that people who can become pregnant take the following precautions while using isotretinoin:

  • Use two forms of contraception.
  • Be frequently monitored by their doctor for pregnancy and compliance.
  • Stop the medication 1 to 2 months before trying to become pregnant.

Your doctor will discuss the iPLEDGE program with you before prescribing isotretinoin. This is a federal monitoring program intended to reduce the chance of pregnancy in people taking isotretinoin.

High dose salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a common ingredient to treat acne due to its anti-inflammatory capabilities, similar to that of an aspirin. But a 2013 study concluded that products that deliver a high dose of salicylic acid, such as peels and oral medications, should be avoided during pregnancy.

That said, lower dose topical OTC products that contain salicylic acid have been reported safe by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).


Hydroquinone is a prescription product to lighten skin or reduce skin pigmentation that occurs from melasma and chloasma, which can be brought on by pregnancy.

There’s no proven link between severe congenital defects or side effects and hydroquinone. But because the body can absorb a significant amount of hydroquinone compared with other ingredients (35% to 45%), it’s best to limit exposure (if any at all) during pregnancy.


Phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in many beauty and personal products. In animal and human studies, serious reproductive and developmental dysfunction has been linked to phthalate exposure.

Endocrine disruptors are becoming increasingly studied by the FDA and professional medical organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, for their potential role in negatively affecting congenital reproductive health.

Cosmetics are a top source of phthalate exposure. The most common phthalate you’ll find in beauty products is diethylphthalate (DEP). Phthalates commonly found in plastic packaging can also leach into personal care products.


Formaldehyde is rarely used as a preservative and disinfectant in beauty products anymore because it’s a known carcinogen, and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), can increase the risk of infertility and miscarriage.

But there are formaldehyde-releasing chemicals commonly found in cosmetics with a similar potentially dangerous effect. These include the following, as noted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG):

  • bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol)
  • DMDM hydantoin
  • diazolidinyl urea
  • hydroxymethylglycinate
  • imidazolidinyl urea
  • quaternium-15
  • 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane

Chemical sunscreens

Oxybenzone and its derivatives are the most frequently used ultraviolet (UV) filter in sunscreens. It’s proven effective for skin protection, but the potentially adverse health and environmental effects of oxybenzone are bringing it into a more unfavorable light.

A 2019 review suggested that certain chemical UV filters may have negative effects for water sources, fish health, and food chains worldwide. These include:

  • oxybenzone
  • octocrylene
  • octinoxate

Because oxybenzone is a known endocrine-disrupting chemical, the concern for use in pregnancy is that it could disrupt hormones and cause permanent damage to both you and your baby.

A 2018 study in animals concluded that oxybenzone exposure during pregnancy at levels humans would commonly use made permanent changes to mammary glands and lactation.

Other animal studies have linked the chemical to permanent fetal damage, possibly associated with developing neurological conditions in adulthood, such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Oxybenzone exposure has also been associated with Hirschsprung disease, a birth irregularity affecting the large intestines.

Here are a few alternatives to safely manage pregnancy’s most common (and frustrating) skin woes.

Acne and hyperpigmentation

If you’re prone to breakouts — or find yourself suddenly traveling back in time with adolescent-like skin flashbacks — there are some safer alternatives to using retinoid-based products while expecting. One of the most effective is glycolic acid.

Glycolic acid in large quantities isn’t recommended during pregnancy, but it’s likely safe in small amounts commonly found in OTC beauty products.

Glycolic acid and similar ones — such as azelaic acid — can also help with reducing fine lines, brightening skin, and reducing enhanced skin pigmentation.

The ACOG endorses glycolic and azelaic acid as safe to treat acne during pregnancy, in addition to topical benzoyl peroxide and topical salicylic acid.

Mature-looking skin and wrinkles

Just as they work like magic to boost your immune system and ward off free radicals in your body, topical antioxidants, such as vitamin C, can safely enhance your skin’s vitality by protecting your skin from damage and maintaining collagen.

Other topical antioxidants to try in your skin care products include:

  • vitamin E
  • green tea
  • resveratrol

Note that oral resveratrol supplements should not be taken during pregnancy. It’s best to talk with your doctor before trying any supplements, especially if you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy.

Dry skin and stretch marks

There’s no doubt that pregnancy requires a lot from your body, so if your baby-to-be needs more water at any point, they’ll pull it from your body. That — in addition to hormone changes — can lead to dry skin.

In addition to drinking plenty of water, moisturizing products that have coconut oil, cocoa butter, peptides, and hyaluronic acid (HA) can improve hydration. And when it comes to stretch marks, one strategy to prevent them is frequently moisturizing prone zones to help the skin stretch naturally as your bump (and baby) grow.

Sun protection

Sun protection is one of the most important things you can do for long-term wrinkle and skin cancer protection. But how you safely protect your skin during pregnancy is the big question.

The verdict on the safety of certain chemical sunscreens like oxybenzone is still out, so try mineral-based sunscreens that protect the skin by forcing the UV rays to bounce off of the skin entirely.

Mineral-based sunscreen ingredients include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. And don’t forget that wide-brimmed hat to add some fashionable shade.

Learn more about our top picks for the best pregnancy-safe sunscreens.

In the overwhelming sea of beauty products on the market, there are a few brands dedicated to pregnancy-safe skin care and body products.

Here are five to check out:

First, discuss the safety of your skin care products with your dermatologist and OB-GYN, especially if you’re taking prescription medications or are concerned about a pre-existing skin condition.

Next, you can scan your products’ list of ingredients for any we’ve reviewed, or others that may be concerning to you. A very credible resource for learning more about skin care and personal product ingredient safety is the EWG.

Because personal care products aren’t heavily regulated, the EWG developed a database of over 87,000 personal care products, delivering a safety rating for each. The safety rating is generated by referencing each product’s ingredients with over 60 toxicity and regulatory databases.

You can reference the EWG’s Skin Deep® database online or get the app (available for iPhone or Android). In the app, you can quickly scan a product’s bar code to get its safety rating.

We know we just downloaded a lot of information — and sifting through products and ingredient lists might sound overwhelming — so here’s a general morning and night skin care routine to get you started on your quest for the best sheen.

  1. First, use lukewarm water to wash your face with a mild cleanser.
  2. Next, apply a serum (if desired).
  3. After that, apply a moisturizer that fits your skin type.
  4. Then, apply an eye cream (if needed).
  5. For daytime, add a broad-spectrum mineral-based sunscreen on your face and exposed skin.

For stretch mark prevention, apply moisturizer on your belly, hips, and thighs.

There are many balms, creams, and oils available that aim to moisturize skin and prevent scarring. Bio-Oil is one popular option. You can shop for cleanser products online:

It’s not easy to give up your beloved skin care regimen, but we know you’ll do anything to protect your little one.

This includes avoiding products that could be harmful to you or your baby during pregnancy. Evidence suggests that prescription retinoid-containing products are the most likely candidate to lead to severe congenital irregularities.

On the bright side (literally), you can use our list of pregnancy-safe skin care products to shine with confidence knowing you’re making healthier choices for your baby-to-be. And talk with your OB-GYN or dermatologist for guidance on your specific pregnancy skin care concerns and goals.