What is safe to use for skin care during pregnancy?

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.

This article explores ingredients to avoid and lists several that can be used safely.

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


Retinoids are a synthetic form of vitamin A that can process skin conditions such as cystic acne.

Pregnant women should not takeoral 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 research 2020negative 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 is found in prescription products that people use to lighten their skin.

Research from 2021 reports that the skin absorbs approximately 35–45% hydroquinone in these products. Although it is unlikely to cause adverse effects, health professionals recommend avoiding this ingredient during pregnancy and breastfeeding.


Formaldehyde is no longer a common ingredient in cosmetics as it is known to increase the risk 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:

  • 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane
  • bronopol, also called 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol
  • diazolidinyl urea
  • Hydantoin DMDM
  • hydroxymethylglycinate
  • imidazolidinyl urea
  • quaternium-15

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


Phthalates interfere with the body’s hormones. They are harmful to the fetus and where possible children and adults should avoid these chemicals.

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
  • preeclampsia
  • 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

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

  • azelaic acid
  • glycolic acid
  • topical benzoyl peroxide
  • topical salicylic acid

Learn more about salicylic acid safety and pregnancy.

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 aggravate acne. 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 indicates that the following items are likely to be safe:

  • topical antibiotics
  • oral antibiotics, including azithromycin and clarithromycin
  • azalaic acid
  • benzoyl peroxide, in limited amounts
  • laser and light treatments

To help manage acne during pregnancy, a person could also:

  • Wash the face twice a day.
  • Use a mild cleanser and lukewarm water.
  • Shampoo oily hair daily if it’s straight, but less often if it’s curly or frizzy.
  • Keep hair away from face as hair care products can clog pores.
  • Avoid picking or squeezing pimples, as this can introduce harmful bacteria and worsen scarring.

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

pregnant people should avoid the following acne treatments:

  • isotretinoin
  • tazarotene
  • spironolactone
  • adapalene
  • tretinoin
  • trifarotene

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.

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

Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, absorb UV rays. They usually contain one or more of these ingredients:

  • oxybenzone
  • avobenzone
  • octisalate
  • octocrylene
  • homosalate
  • octinoxate

A clinical trial 2020 found that these chemicals were detectable on the skin and in the blood weeks after the last use.

Pregnant women may prefer to use mineral-based sunscreens because the skin does not absorb them.

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.

Overall, research on the safety of various skincare chemicals during pregnancy has been limited. Most studies are anecdotal, case-specific, or animal-based.

Therefore, it is generally best to be on the safe side. This may mean changing skincare products or stopping certain treatments during pregnancy to avoid harm to the fetus.

The environmental working group database has safety ratings for over 87,000 hygiene products. This tool also crosses the ingredients of each product with more than 60 toxicological and regulatory databases.

As long as each product is safe, there’s no reason to alter a regular skincare routine during pregnancy.

the AAD recommended :

  1. using lukewarm water to wash your face or take a bath
  2. apply a gentle alcohol-free cleanser with your fingertips
  3. if using a body scrub, gently massage it into the skin in circular motions
  4. rinse with lukewarm water
  5. patting, rather than rubbing, the skin dry with a towel
  6. apply moisturizer, taking care not to pull the skin around the eyes
  7. applying a mineral-based sunscreen to any areas exposed to the sun

Learn more about dermatologist-recommended skincare routines.

During pregnancy, a person should avoid any product containing retinoids, hydroquinone, formaldehyde, or phthalates.

A person may be able to use those that contain azelaic acid, glycolic acid, topical salicylic acid, or topical benzoyl peroxide, but it is best to consult a healthcare professional first. health.

Some safe ingredients include aloe vera, shea butter, coconut oil, cocoa butter, and antioxidants, such as vitamin E or C.

Provided all of the products involved are safe, a person should not have to significantly alter their skincare routine during pregnancy.

Patricia J. Callender