Skincare Ingredients To Avoid During Pregnancy

Pregnancy can be a wonderful time, but it can also be a bit puzzling, especially for your skin. Figuring out which skincare products are safe during pregnancy becomes a priority, and even experienced beauty editors find themselves studying ingredient lists to figure out what’s okay and what’s not. Some products that seem fine at first might actually not be safe.

But before you get rid of all your beauty products and buy new ones, here’s some good news to make things simpler. Below, you’ll find a list of beauty ingredients, products, and services that a doctor approves to help you. Continue reading to find out what’s safe for you and your baby.

How does your skin behave when you’re pregnant?

Before we explore a full list of which skincare products are safe or not during pregnancy, let’s first understand how pregnancy can affect your skin. Dr. Chris Tomassian, the founder of The Dermatology Collective and a Kiehl’s Expert, says that changes in hormones can cause different skin changes. For instance, you might experience more acne and be prone to conditions like melasma and hyperpigmentation. Dr. Tomassian also says that it’s common to see stretch marks and swollen leg veins (called varicose veins).

Which skincare products should you avoid when you’re pregnant?

Dr. Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, a skin doctor in New York City, says that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has helped us know which skincare products are not safe when pregnant. The FDA uses letters of the alphabet (A, B, C, D, and X) to sort ingredients, from safest to those you should avoid completely. Usually, only categories A and B are safe during pregnancy, but it can be tricky to know which ingredients in beauty products belong to these categories. Women should carefully read labels. Still, there are some common ingredients that all experts agree you should generally avoid.

Retin-A, Retinol, and Retinyl Palmitate

Even though it falls into FDA category C, which technically means there might be some risk to the fetus, Dr. Albert Sassoon, an ob-gyn in Manhattan, strongly advises avoiding this group of products entirely. While vitamin A is important for the baby’s growth, having too much can cause serious problems with the baby’s development and the mother’s liver, he cautions. Even though Retin-A is often associated with prescribed medicine and skincare, many non-prescription products have vitamin A versions like retinol and retinyl palmitate. It’s best to avoid these during pregnancy.

Tomassian also says it’s best to steer clear of the vitamin A derivative tretinoin. He says that because the pill version of isotretinoin can harm a baby’s growth, it’s best not to use it in any way—whether you take it by mouth or put it on your skin.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Even though pregnancy can sometimes lead to hormonal acne, many over-the-counter acne treatments, such as benzoyl peroxide, are in category C. This means there’s a potential risk to the fetus, and most ob-gyns I work with would recommend avoiding them,” says Alexiades-Armenakas.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are not checked by the FDA, but they’re often used in beauty products that claim to be safe. Dr. Sassoon warns, “Essential oils can be very harmful if not used carefully. Sometimes, the concentration in products can be 50 times stronger than what’s in a cup of tea and can be harmful even if you’re not pregnant. Another problem is we’re not sure how much of a certain oil the body takes in.” Dr. Dendy Engelman, a dermatologist, suggests that diluted essential oils are usually safe, but because there are many types, it’s best to check with your doctor about any product’s safety. Yet, there are cautions for two commonly used essential oils: tea tree oil and rosemary oil. Dr. Alexiades-Armenakas warns that tea tree oil is potent and toxic if ingested, causing various adverse effects. Pregnant women should steer clear of it as it might affect hormones and cause contractions too early. Similarly, using a lot of rosemary oil can increase blood pressure and lead to contractions, warns Dr. Alexiades-Armenakas.

Salicylic Acid

Also falling into category C, this ingredient can be tricky to avoid, especially as it’s common in many acne treatments. Dr. Alexiades-Armenakas explains, “It’s often used for acne and now I see it in various exfoliating products, especially cleansers.” Dr. Engelman adds, “Many products nowadays are combination peels.” When you’re pregnant, you need to look for purer products that feature only one of the approved acids. She says that glycolic, lactic, and mandelic acids are safe and good choices for a mild exfoliation. Dr. Tomassian adds that these things are only a worry if the amounts of the chemical exfoliant are really high. Salicylic acid at 2 percent or lactic and glycolic acid at 10 percent should be okay, but it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor first before using them.


Even though pregnancy might cause dark spots or melasma, it’s not advisable to use this strong skin lightener. Dr. Alexiades-Armenakas says that this category C ingredient, hydroquinone, is a definite no-no. Dr. Tomassian agrees, mentioning that hydroquinone can be absorbed through the skin, and there’s limited data proving it’s safe during pregnancy.

Hair dye

The constant changes in how products are made make it hard to know the possible risks,” says Dr. Sassoon. To be safe, he suggests that patients avoid hair coloring during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy when the baby is developing essential body parts and organs. After that, he says occasional appointments are fine: “Only a small amount of chemicals is absorbed through the scalp, so the risk is very low if the appointments are not too often.

Chemical Sunscreens

Once more, not all ingredients in chemical sunscreens have FDA classifications, but Dr. Engelman suggests using mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. She says, ‘There has been some evidence suggesting risks with chemical sunscreens, but it’s not fully proven. However, since there are safe physical blockers available, why not avoid the risk altogether?’

Elyse Love, a certified dermatologist and board advisor at Matter of Fact, suggests that for other skincare products with limited information, it’s best to talk to a dermatologist. She says, ‘If the advantages of using a product are more than any possible risk, a dermatologist might recommend it. Otherwise, it’s best to keep your skincare routine simple during pregnancy.’

In Summary

Selecting safe skincare during pregnancy involves avoiding certain ingredients.The FDA’s A and B categories are usually safe, but it’s important to be careful. Ingredients such as retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, specific essential oils, salicylic acid, hydroquinone, and some chemical sunscreens should be avoided. Acids such as glycolic, lactic, and mandelic are usually safe, but it’s recommended to talk to a healthcare professional. Hair dye is discouraged in the first 12 weeks, with occasional use deemed low risk thereafter. For products with limited data, consulting a dermatologist is recommended, promoting a simple and safe skincare routine during pregnancy.

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