Skin care during pregnancy: which products are safe or dangerous to use? – Beaufort South Carolina The Island News

Most over-the-counter skin care products are safe during pregnancy. However, it’s a good idea to avoid certain ingredients, such as retinoids, hydroquinone, and phthalates.

Skin changes such as stretch marks, dryness, and hyperpigmentation can all occur during pregnancy. A skincare routine is unlikely to require major changes, but pregnant women should avoid certain chemicals in products.

Due to hormonal changes, a pregnant person may have:

stretch marks



linea nigra, a dark line that runs from the naval area to the pubic area

spider veins

varicose veins

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) recommends consulting a healthcare professional before applying any products to stretch marks. This is because some creams, lotions, and gels that claim to treat stretch marks contain retinol, which can harm the fetus.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends using a heavy moisturizer during pregnancy to help keep skin soft.

Some Ingredients to Avoid During Pregnancy

Some skin care chemicals can lead to complications. Pregnant women should avoid products containing any of these ingredients:

Retinoids: Retinoids are a synthetic form of vitamin A that can treat skin conditions such as cystic acne. Pregnant women should not take oral medications containing retinoids during pregnancy, as these can lead to congenital disabilities, such as fetal retinoid syndrome.

Some topical products, such as creams and ointments, also contain retinoids. According to 2020 research, negative effects of these products during pregnancy are unlikely, but it is still advisable to avoid topical retinoids until the end of pregnancy.

Some over-the-counter products contain retinoids. Checking labels carefully is essential.

Hydroquinone: Hydroquinone is found in prescription products that people use to lighten their skin. Research from 2021 reports that the skin absorbs around 35-45% of the hydroquinone in these products. Although it is unlikely to cause adverse effects, health professionals recommend avoiding this ingredient during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is no longer a common ingredient in cosmetics as it is known to increase the risk of cancer and pregnancy loss. However, some cosmetics contain chemicals called “formaldehyde releasers,” which break down over time and turn into formaldehyde molecules. These chemicals include:


bronopol, also called 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol

diazolidinyl urea

Hydantoin DMDM


imidazolidinyl urea


It remains crucial to check ingredient lists before making a purchase.

Phthalates: Phthalates interfere with the body’s hormones. They are harmful to fetuses, and children and adults should avoid these chemicals whenever possible. Research from 2020 reports that prenatal exposure to phthalates disrupts levels of:

thyroid hormones

sex hormones

25-hydroxyvitamin D

This can lead to:

premature birth


maternal blood sugar disorders

infantile cryptorchidism, which is when the testicles are not in the correct position

infantile hypospadias, which is when the urethra is not in the correct position in the penis

a shortened distance between the anus and the genitals in newborns

growth restrictions

Safe ingredients

Many skin care ingredients are safe. For example, ACOG reports that the following ingredients in acne treatments can be used safely:

azelaic acid

glycolic acid

topical benzoyl peroxide

topical salicylic acid

A person can also opt for products that contain:

cocoa butter

aloe vera

antioxidants, such as vitamin C or E

Shea Butter

coconut oil

Early in pregnancy, hormonal changes can make acne worse. It tends to get better during the later stages of pregnancy.

Speak to a medical professional before deciding on an acne treatment. However, the AAD advises that the following are likely to be safe:

topical antibiotics

oral antibiotics, including azithromycin and clarithromycin

azalaic acid

benzoyl peroxide, in limited amounts

laser and light treatments

If a person uses cosmetics, they should choose oil-free types.

Pregnant women should avoid the following acne treatments:







Also stop any treatment containing doxycycline, minocycline or tetracycline before 15 weeks of pregnancy, as these chemicals can stain the teeth of the fetus.

Salicylic acid may be safe for a limited time.

Solar cream

As the AAD notes, sunscreen plays a crucial role in preventing skin cancer, sunburn, and premature aging. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently proposed that two sunscreen ingredients are “generally recognized as safe and effective.” These ingredients are:

titanium dioxide

zinc oxide

These are usually found in mineral-based sunscreens, which sit on the surface of the skin, deflecting harmful UV rays. They are also called physical sunscreens.

Anyone with questions about the safety of their skincare routine should speak to a dermatologist. An OB-GYN can also describe whether certain skin care products are safe.


Endocrine disruptors. (2022).

Fetal retinoid syndrome. (2019).

Formaldehyde – Reproductive Health. (2019).

Is an acne treatment safe to use during pregnancy? (nd).

Skin conditions during pregnancy. (2018).

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Patricia J. Callender