Pregnancy Skin Care Ingredients to Avoid

I’m sure if you’ve been reading my pregnancy skin care series, you know that skin care while you’re pregnant is a bit different than regular skincare. Here I’m addressing specific skin care ingredients and why you might need to avoid them while you are pregnant.

Pregnancy Skin Care Ingredients to Avoid

There are definitely some ingredients that you should avoid while pregnant due to possible birth defects. The placenta is basically a big sieve, it lets things through in a very non-specific (and size based) fashion. Your baby is busy doing things like making organs, which means that small mistakes early on can have big effects later on.

While your skin is a barrier, we do know that some of the products you put on it will be well absorbed and those ingredients can reach the blood stream. Which means they can reach the placenta and therefore your baby. We will never have data regarding safety for many of these ingredients. The studies just wouldn’t be ethical to complete (would you want to be volunteering to try something out and see if it affects your baby? Not me!) so we just make do with the information we do have and try to make some educated guesses.

Pregnancy Skin Care Ingredients to Avoid

Chemical Sunscreens: They’ve been found in your blood stream, no one really knows what they do… it’s better to stick with the physical sunscreens which sit on the surface of your skin.

Retin A/Accutane, Retinoids, Vitamin A: Yes, the big baddies here are definitely the 2 prescription drugs listed first. Accutane is a huge issue with pregnancy as it is linked to many different birth defects. In fact, most physicians won’t even prescribe it to women of child bearing age unless they are also on birth control or sign a waiver.

While Retin A and over the counter retinoids are not as strongly linked to birth defects as Accutane, they are all the same class of drug and as such are on pretty much every MD’s list of no-no ingredients. The retinoids are Vitamin A derivatives, and I’ve seen quite a few lists advising to avoid topical Vitamin A as well, so it’s made my list. Yes, there is still Vitamin A in your diet and your prenatal vitamin. It should be there and can take care of your needs. But, no need to add even more in skin care.

Note that Beta-Carotene is a Vitamin A derivative that is considered separately from the retinoids, and it is considered safe.

All Hydroxy Acids: From citric acid to salicylic acid, pretty much all of the hydroxy acids either are not safe or simply don’t have enough information to say “sure, go crazy and rub this all over you.” So, the official word is that all of they hydroxy acids, alpha and beta, have pregnancy categories that recommend avoidance, with 1 exception.

The exception is Lactic Acid, which your body makes on its own (I spend a lot of time in the PICU trying to prevent little bodies from making it, but that’s a whole different issue). Lactic acid has been shown to be fine in pregnant animals, but we don’t have evidence in humans. So, the official recommendation is to use with caution if really needed. Personally, I’m avoiding it in everyday skin care items but did let my esthetician use it in my facial a few weeks ago.

I’ve seen a few books that say Glycolic Acid is fine, and there are many physicians that tell this to their patients. However, its official pregnancy category is that there isn’t enough info so should be avoided. The “correct” type of study to prove the safety of Glycolic Acid will simply never be done, so many physicians have looked at the current evidence and feel fine recommending it. I personally avoided it while pregnant and it’s one I look for when recommending products as safe or not.

I also want to point out that Citric Acid is found usually in very small amounts at the very end of ingredient lists. It is typically there to help modulate pH in a product. You likely expose yourself to more Citric Acid in one glass of OJ than you would in a year of using such a product. I avoided it in my first 2 trimesters, but lightened up in my third trimester when I realized I was being a bit silly.

Dihydroxyacetone: Also known as DHA, this is the active ingredient in sunless tanners. The jury is still out on whether sunless tanners are safe. I’ve seen sources that say yes (notably the NHS in the UK), but many that say no. My own OB was anti-sunless tanning while pregnant, it was listed on all of the handouts I was given by the University Clinic, most clinics in the US will state to avoid sunless tanners while pregnant. There is a risk of liver damage due to DHA, even when not pregnant.

I can tell you that my skin has taken on some interesting dry patches while pregnant, and it would be pretty hard to get an even sunless tan. This is a great time to embrace the pale, so I’m going with that.

Hydroquinone: Though I found it in several drug references as safe in pregnancy, these ingredients were listed on enough lists of things to avoid due to unknown risks that I’m avoiding them. Note that Licorice Root Extract and Alpha Arbutin are also in this category. These are all ingredients that more OB/Derms have been adding to their lists of ingredients to avoid.

Kojic Acid: This ingredient is sometimes used to help lighten the skin, but it has shown up on multiple lists of items to avoid. I can’t find the reason why, but I’m thinking lightening my skin shouldn’t be a priority now anyways.

Benzoyl Peroxide: Again, I can’t find this in any actual drug reference books and a literature search didn’t turn up anything of use, but it is listed over and over on lists of things to avoid while pregnant.

Laser Therapy: I’ve seen laser therapy, whether for zapping away birth marks, tattoos or hair, listed over and over on lists of things to avoid while pregnant. As well, most places that offer lasers refuse to treat you if you are pregnant.

I would likely reserve lasers (and at home machines) to be used under the direction of your physician. There is some evidence in the medical literature that laser treatment is safe during pregnancy.

Salicylates: This should include topical willow bark and should be avoided. I also include the related chemical sunscreen ingredients in this list.

Neem (Azadirachta indica): Based on these studies (note, not in humans)- 1, 2, 3. I would avoid Neem extracts while pregnant until more information regarding safety in humans is released.

Chemical Sunscreens: Many chemical sunscreens are absorbed into your body, and many are derivatives of salicylates. It’s better to swap to physical sunscreens (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) while pregnant.

Snail Secretion: First, can I say that I’m not really sure why we suddenly want to put slimy snail stuff on our faces? Who thought of that? It makes me chuckle. Second, we really don’t have a good handle on what is in it, and there’s absolutely no data about safety during prengnacy. I would avoid it.

Stem Cells/Growth Factors: I am worried about these ingredients as they have no safety data, and if they work the way some companies say they work, then I’m not sure I want them on my skin when I’m not pregnant, but definitely NOT when I am pregnant!

Those apple stem cells that are said to penetrate into your skin (which is a barrier by the way, how is a cell in a cream going to break the barrier function to penetrate deep into the dermis?), head to the dermis, where they “proliferate” (aka- multiply) and make the surrounding skin cells do stuff. If this really happened, how do those cells know where to stop? How do you know they aren’t being circulated and heading directly towards the placenta? And doesn’t that sound like apple cancer in your skin? I’d just avoid the whole thing.

Growth Factors (not peptides, those are different) stimulate cells to do various things. This is a pretty generic term and can encompass a lot of different ingredients. I’d look at those on a case by case basis.

Safe skincare Ingredients During Pregnancy

There are a few ingredients that I get asked about frequently. Based on the evidence there’s no reason to avoid these ingredients. There might be random websites that say to avoid them, some of them I can’t even locate the websites but I get asked a lot. These ingredients are safe.

Parabens: since that seems to be asked over and over. They are currently considered safe by pretty much everyone except the EWG, who have a big propaganda machine and I don’t think they interpret most studies correctly. If you disagree with me about that so be it, I’m just stating my opinion since I’ve been asked over and over. Parabens considered safe for pregnancy and breast feeding. BUT… if an ingredient makes you uncomfortable you should just avoid it. There are so many products on the market these days that it is very possible to do so without any issues.

Hyaluronic Acid use during pregnancy: Hyaluronic acid is basically the same thing as Sodium Hyaluronate

I can’t figure out how this became an ingredient that is sometimes on no-no lists, because not only does your body already make a ton of it, but is a big molecule. Huge. It is so large that it just hangs out in the spot where it is made, much too large to get into cells, to pass through membranes or travel to other locations.

Much is the same for any Hyaluronic Acid that you apply to the surface of the skin. Your skin has very tight membrane junctions between those cells on the surface. Hyaluronic Acid can’t get through and just sits there on the surface of the skin. I’m always very suspicious when a company tells me that their HA is different and can get it. It’s a big red flag.

So, since it can’t get in, and your body is already making it anyways, definitely feel that it is safe to keep using HA in your products. It just sits on the surface and helps hold moisture there. We need it to live up to pregnancy glow expectations!

Sulfur: This is often found in acne treatments, and I haven’t really been able to find much info about safety in pregnancy. Be aware that if you’re allergic to sulfa drugs you should avoid this ingredient, but I’ve seen it as the active ingredient in many “pregnancy safe” acne treatments and is probably fine.

Various Extracts: I am frequently asked about specific extracts. Note I’ve only really found convincing evidence that 2 should be avoided during pregnancy (Willow Bark and Neem), though there are various other websites out there that discuss avoiding specific ones.

I would like to note that during pregnancy you’re a bit more likely to become sensitized/have a reaction to an extract. And what is in an extract exactly can vary depending on how the plant was grown, when it was harvested, how it was extracted, etc. There are a lot of variables. I’m not a big fan of a lot of extracts in my skincare for this reason, and my skin tends to be sensitive to them.

Finally, I do want to point out that there is also moderation in all things. Many things can be more harmful especially in large amounts. I wouldn’t apply a lot of extracts or essential oils while pregnant. I’ve taken care of very ill children in my PICU due to this with “safe” oils such as tea tree oil.

Please limit the discussion in the comments to ingredients only. If you want to ask about a specific product you should go to the pregnancy skincare guide and from there go to the appropriate post, such as sunscreen, foundation or skincare.

Guide to Skin Care while Pregnant or Nursing
Don’t forget to check out the other articles in my Pregnancy and Nursing Skin Care Guide!

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395 Comments

  1. Ana
    January 4, 2019 / 6:11 am

    Hello,
    Please could you let me know if garden of wisdoms vitamin c serum (UK version ) is safe? Thank you so much in advance.
    Ingredients:

    Distilled Water, L-Ascorbic Acid 23%, Alkyl Benzoate, Panthenol-D, Carbomer, Ferulic Acid, Sclerotium Gum, Optiphen, Hyaluronic acid

    • 15mins
      Author
      January 4, 2019 / 4:11 pm

      This is ok

      • Ana
        January 5, 2019 / 3:02 am

        That’s great, thank you!

  2. amanda
    January 5, 2019 / 3:09 pm

    I have another one 🙂

    Revision Hydrating Serum

    Water (Aqua), Glycerin, Biosaccharide Gum-1, Sodium Hyaluronate, Palmitoyl Tripeptide-5, Carrageenan, Glyceryl Polyacrylate, Honey, Hydrolyzed Hazelnut Protein, Punica Granatum (Pomegranate) Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate, Macrocystis Pyrifera (Sea Kelp) Extract, Citrullus Lanatus (Watermelon) Fruit Extract, Lens Esculenta (Lentil) Fruit Extract, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Fruit Extract, Butylene Glycol, Sodium Lactate, Sodium PCA, Polysorbate 20, Propylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Sodium Polyacrylate, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Citric Acid.

    • 15mins
      Author
      January 5, 2019 / 5:03 pm

      This is fine

      • amanda
        January 5, 2019 / 5:50 pm

        Thank you!!!! Your like a preggers skin gift from the gods!

  3. Anna
    January 5, 2019 / 5:40 pm

    I am currently nursing. I know there are specific essential oils and extracts that are unsafe during pregnancy and nursing, but what about when these oils or extracts are in cosmetic formulations rather than directly applied? So for example, is a face lotion with ginseng extract safe during nursing? What about a body wash with wintergreen oil? Is the concentration low enough that it should be ok or is there room for concern regardless of the dilution in products? Thanks!

    • 15mins
      Author
      January 5, 2019 / 6:15 pm

      Those ones actually are mentioned on a few websites, but I’ve never found “official” recs to avoid them. I don’t recommend using them straight, pretty much ever. Even “safe” ones like tea tree oil can be dangerous (I once had a kid on a ventilator on a coma for a few days in my ICU due to tea tree oil, scary!) But small amounts in products should be fine. The exceptions to that are in the post above, namely willow bark (salicylates) and I would likely avoid Neem.

      • Anna
        January 5, 2019 / 7:03 pm

        Thank you!

  4. January 8, 2019 / 8:28 am

    Hi Christine,

    I stumble across your blog by chance. It’s really very informative, I should have look at it earlier. I am extremely careful this time round It’s really helpful when I see the list. However, I am currently using these two products, it’s not included in your list. I wonder if they are safe.Here is the ingredients list:

    1) Laneige water bank hydro essence
    Water / AQUA / EAU, PROPANEDIOL, HEXYLDECYL MYRISTOYL METHYLAMINOPROPIONATE, ISOSTEARYL NEOPENTANOATE, GLYCERIN, METHYL TRIMETHICONE, SEA WATER / MARIS AQUA / EAU DE MER, SACCHARIDE ISOMERATE, DIMETHICONE, POLYACRYLATE CROSSPOLYMER-6, TROMETHAMINE, DIMETHICONE/VINYL DIMETHICONE CROSSPOLYMER, BUTYLENE GLYCOL, GLYCERYL CAPRYLATE, CARBOMER, ACRYLATES/C10-30 ALKYL ACRYLATE CROSSPOLYMER, DISODIUM EDTA, ETHYLHEXYLGLYCERIN, 1,2-HEXANEDIOL, FRAGRANCE / PARFUM, CHENOPODIUM QUINOA SEED EXTRACT, MAGNESIUM SULFATE, CALCIUM CHLORIDE, PHENOXYETHANOL, SODIUM CITRATE, CITRIC ACID, T-BUTYL ALCOHOL, BETA VULGARIS (BEET) ROOT EXTRACT / EXTRAIT DE RACINE DE BETTERAVE, MANGANESE SULFATE, ZINC SULFATE, BRASSICA OLERACEA ACEPHALA LEAF EXTRACT, LECITHIN, NASTURTIUM OFFICINALE EXTRACT, TOCOPHEROL, LEPIDIUM SATIVUM SPROUT EXTRACT, ASCORBYL GLUCOSIDE

    2) Lancôme Advanced Genifique Youth Activating Concentrate
    Aqua/Water/Eau, Bifida Ferment Lysate, Glycerin, Alcohol Denat., Dimethicone, Hydroxyethylpiperazine Ethane Sulfonic Acid, Ascorbyl Glucoside, Sodium Hyaluronate, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Benzoate, Phenoxyethanol, Adenosine, Faex Extract/Yeast Extract/Extrait De Levure, PEG-20 Methyl Glucose Sesquistearate, PEG-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Salicyloyl Phytosphingosine, Ammonium Polyacryldimethyltauramide/Ammonium Polyacryloyldimethyl Taurate, Limonene, Xanthan Gum, Caprylyl Glycol, Disodium EDTA, Octyldodecanol, Citronellol, Parfum/Fragrance.

    Thank you so much for your help!

    • 15mins
      Author
      January 8, 2019 / 9:37 am

      For both of those brands every product has been reviewed and only the safe products are included. Products left off the list are not safe. Laneige and Lancome both have their own pages. I do not re-review products, I’ve been through so many products that I don’t remember all of them and some products can take 30-60 minutes each. Thank you.

  5. Liza
    January 10, 2019 / 7:27 am

    Hi Doctor. I’m grateful because I found your website. Very helpful and truly eases the worries of mums-to-be regarding skin care during the course of pregnancy.
    Can you check if these ingredient of the toner I am using as of now is safe to use during pregnancy? I am not pregant yet but we’re planning to. TIA.
    Aqua, Butylene alcohol, Phenyl trimethicone, propylene glycol laureate, ceteryl glucoside, propylene glycol isostereate, cetearyl alcohol, titanium dioxide, glycerin.

    • 15mins
      Author
      January 12, 2019 / 11:55 am

      Looks ok

  6. Victoria
    January 10, 2019 / 4:00 pm

    Hi! Love your blog!
    What about benzyl salicylate?

    And what about Biotherm Lait Corporel L’original?

    • 15mins
      Author
      January 10, 2019 / 7:29 pm

      Benzyl salicylate is a salicylate and should be avoided. I don’t answer re: specific products without an ingredient list as I could spend my life tracking down all of the lists each day.

  7. Di
    January 12, 2019 / 3:50 am

    hello! can you please check those, i am really tempted to buy but hesistating. thank you!
    cosrx snail mucin cream
    Snail Secretion Filtrate, Betaine, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Cetearyl Olivate, Sorbitan Olivate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Stearic acid, Arginine, Dimethicone, Carbomer, Panthenol, Allantoin, Sodium Polyacrylate, Xanthan Gum, Ethyl Hexanediol, Adenosine, Phenoxyethanol.

    cosrx snail mucin essence
    Snail Secretion Filtrate, Betaine, Butylene Glycol, 1,2-Hexanediol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Panthenol, Arginine, Allantoin, Ethyl Hexanediol, Sodium Polyacrylate, Carbomer, Phenoxyethanol

    cosrx hyaluronic cream
    Hippophae Rhamnoides Water, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Betaine, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Olivate, Sorbitan Olivate, Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil, 1,2-Hexanediol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Arginine, Panthenol, Dimethicone, Ethylhexylglycerin, Carbomer, …

    • 15mins
      Author
      January 12, 2019 / 11:46 am

      As noted above I do not think snail secretion is safe, both of the first 2 are built around those ingredients. The last product only has a partial list so I can’t comment.

  8. Kristy Kitagawa
    January 12, 2019 / 10:54 am

    Hello!! Can I ask if I can use this korean product to my face AQUA MOISTURIZER WHITENING VITA deeply hydrates with water-based formula. Bio- Nanotechnology ? I’m 21 weeks pregnant now and I have a lot of acne in my face right now and I also used TEA TREE OIL from The Body Shop to keep it dry it is safe to use while pregnant??

    This is the ingredients for Aqua moisturizer whitening vita:

    Active ingredients: Mulberry Root Extract, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, and Green Tea Leaf Extract.

    Also contains: Water, Sodium Hyaluronate, Glycerin, Dimenthiconol, Cyclomethicone, Allantoin, Panthenol, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate, Oryza Sativa Bran Extract , Imidazolidinyl Urea , Ascorbyl Palmitate , Green Floral Musk , Blue 1

    Thank you! 😊

    • 15mins
      Author
      January 12, 2019 / 11:42 am

      This product is ok. I would be careful if you’re using the straight tea tree oil. A little is ok, but it does have estrogenic effects and isn’t as safe as many people think

  9. Juliana Elliott
    January 12, 2019 / 5:44 pm

    Aveeno max glow infusion drops- is this product safe?

    Ingredients :
    Water, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Bis-PEG-18 Methyl Ether Dimethyl Silane, Pentaerythrityl Tetraethylhexanoate, lsodecyl Neopentanoate, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer, Chlorphenesin, Dimethicone, Yeast Extract, Succinoglycan, Fragrance, Actinidia Chinensis (Kiwi), Fruit Water, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Seed Extract, Acylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Citrus Limon (Lemon) Peel Extract, Dimethinconol, Sodium Hydroxide

    • 15mins
      Author
      January 12, 2019 / 6:07 pm

      This looks fine! I’ve never seen these, are they new?

  10. Karlee
    January 14, 2019 / 5:12 pm

    Hi there,
    I am using the tea tree facial wash from the body shop and wondering if safe. Thanks

    ALL INGREDIENTS
    All Ingredients

    Aqua/Water/Eau, Glycerin, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Polysorbate 20, Alcohol Denat., Sodium Chloride, Phenoxyethanol, Panthenol, Melaleuca Alternifolia Leaf Oil/Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil, Sodium Benzoate, Calophyllum Inophyllum Seed Oil, Citric Acid, Allantoin, Menthol, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Limonene, Sodium Hydroxide, Leptospermum Petersonii Oil, Tocopherol, CI 19140/Yellow 5, Caramel, CI 42090/Blue 1.

    • 15mins
      Author
      January 16, 2019 / 11:03 am

      Unfortunately the Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane is Avobenzone, a chemical sunscreen so I would avoid that one. But you’re right, any liquid primers like that aren’t much different than a face primer.

  11. January 14, 2019 / 7:48 pm

    Hi! Im 2mos pregnant. Ever since im using cruelty free make ups and skin care. Im using natural ingredients. But since im pregnant i want to make sure that this routine in skin care is safe for me and my baby.
    Here are the list of product and ingrediates that i use.

    TOTAL POTION
    – Aqua, Tamarindus Indica Seed Gum (Plant Detived), Pentylene Glycol, Glucano Delta Lactonw (Food Grade), Sodium Benzoate (Food Grade), Calcium Gluconate (food grade), PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil (Plant Derived), Fragrance

    CPC+ G OIL
    -Capric Triglyceride (natural derived), Camelia Japonica (Tsubaki) Seed Oil, OxalisbTriangularis (love plant) oil, Eremanthus Erythropappus Flower/leaf oil, Pentaclethra Macroloba (pracaxi fruit) seed oil, Citrofortunella Microcarpa (Calamamsi) Essential oil, Citrus Paradisi (grapefruit) peel oil, alpha bisabolol, tocopherol, phenoxyethanol (preservatives) Ethylhrxyglycerin (preservatives)

    COPAIBA OIL
    – Copaiba Officinalis (Copaiba Balsam) Resin, Pongamia Glabra (karanja) seed oil (natural preservatives) tocopherol (vitamins)

    Thank you so much for your help. GOD Bless

    • 15mins
      Author
      January 16, 2019 / 10:40 am

      All look ok

  12. Cristina Dita
    January 16, 2019 / 4:35 am

    Hello! I have Lumafirm Lift & Glow from Pevonia with the following ingredinets. Is it safe during pregnancy?
    Water (aqua), Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Saccharomyces/Xylinum/Black Tea Ferment, Lecithin, Sodium Oleate, Oligopeptide 68, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptides-3, Steareth-20, Cetearyl Glucoside, Glyceryl Stearate, Resveratrol, Titanium Dioxide, Polysorbate 20, Polymethyl Methacrylate, Trilaurin, Diacetyl Boldine, Ethoxydiglycol, Cetareth-20, Panthenol, Allantoin, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Dimethicone, Phenoxyethanol, Citrus Aurantifolia (Lime) Oil, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethyl-hexylglycerin, Hexylene Glycol.

    • 15mins
      Author
      January 16, 2019 / 10:52 am

      This is ok!

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