8 Skincare Ingredients You Can’t Use While Pregnant – SheKnows

Anyone who is pregnant, has been pregnant, or has seen a comedy with a pregnancy plotline is well aware that having a bun in the oven requires many lifestyle changes, including diet, exercise, and even skin care. Believe it or not, it’s just as important to make sure the ingredients you put on your skin are safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

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The good news is that most skincare ingredients are safe to use during this time, but it’s important to know which ones you need to eliminate. Of course, it’s crucial to discuss any of these products or any other skincare product you’re considering with your doctor. Here are the eight skincare ingredients you shouldn’t use while pregnant and what you can swap them with.


According to Paula Begoun, founder of Paul’s choice. “Retinol and its derivatives, such as retinyl retinoate and retinyl palmitate, are grouped with prescription retinoids such as tretinoin,” she explains.

Retinol is best known for its anti-aging, lightening and anti-acne benefits, but it may pose a risk to the baby due to overexposure to vitamin A. Luckily, there are plenty of safe alternatives to consider that provide the same results, such as peptides. Not only do they have the ability to boost collagen, but they are also gentle and restorative.

Vitamin C is another alternative to the anti-aging and skin brightening properties of retinol. “Vitamin C is a winner for reducing wrinkles, improving skin color and helping with melasma,” says Begoun. The popular antioxidant encourages collagen production while protecting skin from environmental damage.

Retinol is also known for its ability to prevent acne and improve pore size. To duplicate these results, Begoun recommends niacinamide (also known as vitamin B3) as a new benchmark. “Niacinamide is excellent for improving skin tone and pore size, improving hydration, reducing wrinkles, fading dark spots, and uneven skin tone,” she says.


Begoun considers hydroquinone the gold standard for lightening dark spots. However, she explains,To research showed that about 45% of it can enter the body where it could possibly have a negative impact on the developing fetus. Luckily, vitamin C and niacinamide may provide similar benefits. Begoun suggests looking for products containing these ingredients in concentrations of 10% or more to fight dark spots.

Diethanolamine (DEA)

“This foaming agent has been linked to carcinogenic effects and birth defectswarns Dr. Dendy Engelman, a New York-based dermatologist. Mainly used as emulsifiers to create foam and bubbles in products, DEA can also be used to adjust the pH level of a product. If you like your foaming cleanser, check the label, as you may need to swap it out for a milder version.

Salicylic acid

Although you may have read that 2% salicylic acid is considered safe to use during pregnancy, doctors caution against this as it can be absorbed into the bloodstream, which is dangerous for a growing fetus. Salicylic acid can be replaced with products that contain sulfur, an ingredient that gently decongests pores and eliminates breakouts. Witch hazel is another safe ingredient alternative.

Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide, like salicylic acid, can be absorbed into the bloodstream, so it should also be to avoid during pregnancy. Benzoyl peroxide reduces acne-causing bacteria. Luckily, tea tree oil works to rid the skin of bacteria and is completely safe to use during pregnancy.


Tetracycline is a antibiotic prescribed by dermatologists to stop the growth of acne-causing fungal bacteria on the skin. For a safe alternative, turn to products containing honey, a natural antimicrobial.


Also known as bisphenol A, BPA was banned as a cosmetic ingredient in 2006, but is still used to coat packaging materials to prevent corrosion. It’s commonly found in plastic bottles and aerosol cans, so you’ll want to check that it’s not secretly in your favorite setting spray. “Used in plastics, it’s a very unstable chemical that can seep into anything in it,” says Engelman. “It disrupts the endocrine system, leading to breast and prostate cancer, infertility, heart disease and diabetes. Fetuses exposed to BPA have been linked to developmental problems and behavioral problems.


Commonly used in nail polish and hair dye, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) actually lists it as one of the most toxic cosmetic ingredients. If inhaled, it can cause developmental harm to a growing fetus. Toluene is also commonly listed like phenylmethane, toluol, and methylbenzene, so be sure to look for them when determining if a product is safe or not.

One last thing to consider when it comes to taking care of your skin during pregnancy is the use of professional treatments. While lasers, injectables, and chemical peels are completely off-limits to pregnant women, it’s perfectly safe to get facials with pregnancy-safe ingredients to help with your skin concerns during pregnancy. And let’s be honest, regular facials are a wonderful way to take care of yourself. You totally deserve it, mom.

A version of this story was published in May 2019.

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Patricia J. Callender