Pregnancy comes with many changes—no more wine down Wednesdays, sushi boats, deli sandwiches, and venti Frappuccinos. But just when you thought you were already limited about what you put in your body, we’re here to share that it also matters what you put on your body. Finding pregnancy-safe skincare products is essential since your skin is the largest organ and is very porous. Anything you put on your face and body is easily absorbed. That includes your prized face washes, moisturizers, serums, and sunscreens that you use daily to keep your skin healthy and free of blemishes and dryness, thanks to pregnancy hormones.1,2
With many skin care products containing harmful chemicals, we’ve created a quick guide that breaks down harmful and safe ingredients and products we love and trust.
Common Skin Changes During Pregnancy
You should be aware of some common skin changes during pregnancy.
Often referred to as chloasma or the “mask of pregnancy,” melasma is a skin condition causing brown or tan patches on the face as a result of an increase in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Expectant moms may notice these blotches on their cheeks, nose, forehead, chin, arms, or above their upper lip.3
While not all women get melasma, some are genetically predisposed, which can increase their chances. Some moms-to-be may have a family history of the condition, while others with a light-brown complexion and who were born in an area with high sun exposure are more prone to developing it. Women who’ve taken birth control pills are also more likely to develop this hyperpigmentation due to their high number of hormones.4
Unfortunately, pregnancy isn’t always all about the glow. Thanks to increased hormones in your body during the first trimester, your oil glands produce more natural oils and cause clogged pores and dreaded breakouts. If you suffered from acne before your pregnancy, you’re at higher risk of experiencing acne during pregnancy as well. Up to 43% of women experience acne while pregnant.5,6
Pregnancy and stretch marks almost feel synonymous with one another. Close to 90% of pregnant moms develop stretch marks during their pregnancy due to genetics, skin type, age, and birth weight. For many mommas-to-be, stretch marks appear on their belly since it stretches to make room for their growing baby. These tiger stripes, as some moms lovingly call them, can be pink, red, or a faint color depending on your skin tone and can also appear on your glutes, breasts, and thighs.7,8
Linea nigra, or “the pregnancy line,” is a dark vertical line that extends from your pubic bone up to your belly button during pregnancy. With each trimester, the line may darken and become more visible, especially for those with a darker complexion. Typically, around 20 weeks of gestation, a linea nigra will become noticeable.9
Skincare Product Ingredients to Avoid While Pregnant
If you’re unsure whether the products currently crowding your vanity are safe, we’ve created a short guide of ingredients that can be detrimental to your little one. Double-check your product labels to see if any of these substances are listed:
Retinoids are derived from vitamin A and are used to treat acne, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and improve skin texture. While it’s great for keeping your skin clear and youthful, it can cause serious harm to your growing baby. Studies have found that high doses of retinoids during pregnancy can increase the risk of fetal retinoid syndrome, characterized by a slew of physical birth defects in infants. Some differences range from heart abnormalities and excess fluid around a baby’s brain to growth delays and an increased chance of a cleft palate.10,11
While some over-the-counter skin care products may contain small amounts of retinoids, avoiding them is best. Keep an eye out for any vitamin A derivatives in topical treatments, including retinol, retinyl, and tretinoin, as well as prescribed oral medications, like isotretinoin.12,13
Although there’s insufficient research to determine dosage amounts and potential fetal risks associated with salicylic acid during pregnancy, some experts recommend that pregnant moms add this acne fighter and exfoliant to their “do not use” list.14
The concern? Salicylic acid is related to aspirin, linked to various risks, including pregnancy loss and congenital defects, when taken in high doses. While it has not been backed by research, there may be a possibility that salicylic acid could have similar effects.15,16
An active ingredient commonly found in commercial sunscreens, oxybenzone has received a lot of backlash in recent years, with studies highlighting its effect on the environment and the reproductive health of animals. Oxybenzone is known to disrupt the function of organs in the body, such as the skin, kidneys, brain, and endocrine system. The chemical can also pass through the skin and the placenta, causing harmful effects on the development of a fetus during pregnancy.17,18,19
Hydroquinone is a topical skin-lightening agent for treating hyperpigmentation, such as dark spots and patches. While hydroquinone is highly effective at lightening the skin, it has received negative attention from the FDA, which has banned the use of the ingredient in over-the-counter products and deemed it unsafe for pregnant and non-expectant consumers.20,21
Hydroquinone limits the skin’s natural production of melanin, and it’s also considered a carcinogenic ingredient linked to rashes and eye injuries. More serious issues include thyroid disorder, leukemia, liver damage, and exogenous ochronosis, a permanent skin discoloration that’s a blue-black hue).22,23,24
Phthalates, a synthetic chemical that makes plastics soft and flexible, are used in many products families use daily—hair products, cosmetics, toys, food packaging, detergents, you name it. Unfortunately, plastic additives are known to be endocrine disruptors, meaning they can wreak havoc with normal hormone functions in both moms and babies.25,26
A study from the National Institutes of Health also discovered that pregnant mothers exposed to multiple phthalates during pregnancy had a higher chance of preterm birth. Additional research has identified several other health risks, from preeclampsia, maternal glucose disorders, and interference with thyroid functionality in moms leading to growth restriction, behavioral and cognitive disorders, and issues with the neuroendocrine system in infants.26,27,28
What to Look for in Skin Care Products During Pregnancy
Although you need to part ways with a handful of ingredients (at least for the next nine months of your pregnancy and if you plan to breastfeed), there is a silver lining for your skin. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has confirmed several safe additives to use in your pregnancy-safe skincare routine so you don’t have to say goodbye to your mornings and nights of pampering completely. Here are four ingredients that won’t bring harm to you and your baby:8
Benzoyl peroxide prevents acne-causing bacteria from growing on the skin and is considered safe for pregnant moms. Only a small amount of the antiseptic is absorbed through the skin using topical, over-the-counter acne products.2,29,30
Hyaluronic acid is on the yes list of ingredients moms can use while carrying. As a naturally occurring substance that the body produces in the eyes, joints, and skin, hyaluronic acid is a holy grail for pregnant mommas. It helps retain the skin’s moisture, flexibility, and elasticity—all common issues expectant mothers struggle with throughout their pregnancy.14,30,31
Glycolic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that acts as an exfoliant for the skin to remove dead skin cells, treat acne and acne scars, and reduce spotting (dark patches, freckles, and sunspots). While ACOG has given glycolic acid the green light as a pregnancy-safe ingredient, it’s important to note that products should contain concentrations lower than 10 percent.32,33
If you’re concerned about hyperpigmentation, vitamin C is a safe alternative in creams or serums to lighten your skin while pregnant. Vitamin C also has anti-aging properties that can protect your skin against damage from UV rays and also keep your skin looking younger with its ability to increase collagen in the skin.34,35
Azelaic acid is generally safe to use and is another substitute to help with inflamed acne and hyperpigmentation. Keep in mind there are not enough controlled studies on the usage of azelaic acid during pregnancy, but animal studies have not reported harmful effects on fetuses or newborns. It’s recommended to use azelaic acid on small surface areas of your skin and to avoid it within the first trimester.14,36,37
9 Top Picks for Pregnancy-Safe Skincare Products
Here are our nine top picks for pregnancy-safe skincare products you can use.
Youth To The People Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser
This award-winning face wash is excellent for all skin types to help with pregnancy-related acne and blemishes and clear out any build-up in clogged pores while maintaining your skin’s moisture. Featuring a blend of superfood extracts of kale, spinach, and green tea, this cleanser helps fight aging and keeps the skin glowing. Plus: the bottle is reusable, so you can buy refills.
Moon Juice Milk Cleanse
This gentle, sulfate-free cleanser leaves your skin feeling cleansed and hydrated. It doesn’t strip your skin and helps match your skin’s pH to support healthy barrier function. This cleanser is vegan and made without Sulfates, Parabens, or Silicones.
Pacifica Glow Baby Super Lit Enzyme Scrub
A fully loaded exfoliant, Pacifica’s Glow Baby scrub features vitamin C, glycolic acid, lactic acid, pineapple and papaya enzymes, and rice starch to buff out the skin and remove dead skin. Your face will feel smoother and look much brighter.
Versine Calm & Hydrate Serum
Versine keeps pregnant and breastfeeding moms top of mind in every pregnancy-safe skincare product they produce. Packed with azelaic acid, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C, this serum is great for balancing your skin’s pH levels, calming breakouts, and giving it a youthful bounce.
Leaf People Saffron & Green Tea Peptide Eye Area Toner
This certified organic peptide eye area toner will leave your eyes feeling refreshed and rejuvenated! It helps reduce the appearance of dark circles and puffiness and nourishes your eyelashes. We recommend keeping it in the refrigerator to give your eyes a little extra boost when needed, and it feels fantastic!
Kopari Moisture Whipped Ceramide Cream
This dermatologist-tested moisturizer feels light on the skin but packs in the power your skin needs to replenish much-needed hydration that can last up to 72 hours. Using plant-derived ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and whipped coconut milk, this cream will prevent dryness and keep your skin hydrated.
Moon Juice Cosmic Cream
This moisturizer melts into your skin and has a lovely light scent. It is packed with Emollient Fatty Acids that help improve your skin’s natural barrier function. This also makes a great base layer for your makeup, and it protects your skin from blue light.
Two Peas Organics SPF 50 Unscented Mineral Lotion
Your entire family is covered with this safe, fragrant-free sunscreen made with minerals, organic coconut oil, apricot oil, and shea butter to protect against UVA and UVB rays. It’s reef-friendly and water-resistant for up to 40 minutes.
Belly & Body Lotion
Honest Rock the Bump Body Butter
Lather up your bump and entire body with Honest’s silky smooth butter made with shea butter, avocado oil, and vitamin E. Leave your skin hydrated and deeply moisturize areas prone to stretch marks.
With all the inevitable skin changes that come with pregnancy, deciding what to use on your skin can be challenging. It’s always best to research any product you’re considering and consult your healthcare provider before adding new pregnancy-safe skincare items to your daily regimen. Remember, while caring for your skin is essential, your and your baby’s health should always come first.