pregnant skin care

Products and Skincare Ingredients to Avoid During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a beautiful time, but it can also be challenging. You'll be introduced to new sets of rules, habits to help with a healthy pregnancy, and a long list of things to avoid. Some of the products are fairly straightforward and understandable—mercury and lead are dangerous to everyone. However, things get a little more complicated when it comes to skincare products. We've compiled a comprehensive guide to help you understand which cosmetics you can use during pregnancy and which skincare products to avoid.

Beauty Products and Ingredients to Avoid While Pregnant

Skincare products hold the promise to turn back aging and fix our imperfections, but does anyone actually read the labels? Even if you do, the list of ingredients can be complicated or confusing without any understanding of what's what. Although your skincare routine should always be filled with healthy cosmetic products, avoiding certain ingredients while pregnant is important. This is because ingredients are absorbed through the skin and could have potential implications for your baby. So, to be safe, consider the following ingredients during pregnancy should be avoided.


Although this isn't a typical part of a skincare regimen, Accutane is a form of vitamin A used to treat acne from the inside out. However, Accutane and other generic formulas (like Tazorac) are some of the most dangerous products to use during pregnancy. Both are prescription products, so you won't come across either in any OTC products. They are known to cause birth defects, and women who are prescribed either usually need to submit a monthly pregnancy test to receive their next prescription. If you have acne during pregnancy, several options are safe to use—from pregnancy-safe face washes to spot creams. If acne persists, talk to your doctor about your options once you've stopped breastfeeding.

Retinol Products

Retinol (Retin-A; retinyl palmitate) products are derivatives of vitamin A applied topically to the skin. Since the amount of product absorbed into the bloodstream is unknown, the risk of using ingredients like retinol isn't worth it. Excessive vitamin A intake during fetal development may cause birth defects, especially those relating to neural tubes. Retinol products (including tretinoin) are not safe for pregnant women, but there are other options.

Try glycolic acid for a retinol alternative that's safe to use during pregnancy. This gentle exfoliant can help you smooth fine lines and skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

Aluminum Chloride

Aluminum has been used in deodorant for decades, but it may be linked to certain cancers or even Alzheimer's disease. While these studies aren't definitively "proven," it might be better to opt for a natural alternative. However, aluminum may be safe to use in lower concentrations, so if you find that natural options don't work, ask your doctor about recommendations.

Essential Oils

Many people swear by essential oils, as they're a "natural" product that can help treat stress, anxiety, and several skin conditions. However, the FDA does not test or regulate essential oils, and they're often sold as products containing extremely high oil concentrations. Two essential oils stand out: tea tree oil can be toxic when ingested, and rosemary oil can raise blood pressure. If you want to know if certain products are safe that contain essential oils, it's best to discuss it with your doctor.

Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid

Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most powerful acne-fighting ingredients in OTC products. Unfortunately, if it's one of the products you use regularly, you may need to find an alternative for a while. Benzoyl peroxide is classified as a risky ingredient that poses some threat to your baby. The same applies to salicylic acid. Although hormonal skin changes like acne can be frustrating, certain beauty products are best avoided during this time.

If you need an alternative acne product during pregnancy, try to find something with glycolic, lactic, or mandelic acid. Your doctor may also approve a low dose of salicylic acid (2% or less), as this quantity is thought to be safe during pregnancy. However, always discuss your options with your doctor to ensure you're making an educated decision.


Hydroquinone is a skin lightener that's often used to reduce skin pigmentations like dark spots or melasma. Unfortunately, it's easily absorbed through the skin, and these products may negatively affect fetal development. Melasma-related pigmentation of the skin also usually goes away after pregnancy, so don't stress about it too much.

Products that contain vitamin C and niacinamide can replace hydroquinone and are safe during pregnancy. The vitamin C will act as a brightener, while the niacinamide hydrates.


Formaldehyde is a common ingredient in nail polish. While it's not technically classified as one of the specific products that's "dangerous" during pregnancy, most healthcare professionals recommend limiting your exposure. That doesn't mean you can't get your nails done but try to use polishes that don't add formaldehyde. It's also common in certain hair-straightening procedures, but this is mostly important for salon workers to be aware of. Exposure to high levels of formaldehyde during pregnancy can cause issues with fertility or even miscarriages, so be cognizant of your client's needs.

Hair Dye

Hair dye is a difficult product to assess, as the formulas can differ and often change. Avoid coloring your hair for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to reduce the risk of any negative effects of dye. You can get your hair done occasionally, but it's best to try and limit it to once or twice during your pregnancy. If you have any concerns, talk to your salon about the ingredients they use and discuss them with your doctor.

Chemical Sunscreens

Pregnant women should avoid using chemical sunscreens as well. This doesn't mean skipping the UVA/UVB protection altogether, but avoid products with oxybenzone and avobenzone. Oxybenzone exposure during pregnancy may negatively impact fetal development. Although there hasn't been enough research to definitively say that chemical sunscreens harm your baby, several effective alternatives exist. Look for products that rely on the physical components to physically deflect the sun's rays. These include mineral sunscreens that have titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as their active ingredients. Always choose a broad spectrum and make sure they have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 or higher.

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA)

Dihydroxyacetone is often an ingredient of self-tanners. Although it's safer than sun tanning or tanning beds, it's one of the skincare ingredients you should avoid during pregnancy. While it's not directly absorbed into your skin, it's easily inhaled during the application and is unhealthy for you and your baby.

Parabens and Phthalates

Parabens and phthalates are commonly found in various personal care products and may not be safe during pregnancy. Exposure to parabens and phthalates has been linked to adverse effects on fetal development, including potential disruptions to reproductive health, neurodevelopmental issues, and even increased risk of preterm birth. While more studies are needed to fully understand the extent of their impact, it's best to avoid them during pregnancy to help mitigate risks.

Botox and Fillers

There's not much that's known about the effects of Botox or fillers on your developing baby, but considering the ingredients, it's best to err on the side of caution. Botox is a toxin that can enter the bloodstream if it migrates from the application site. Although filler often uses hyaluronic acid, which is already produced in the body, it may not be the best procedure to get done during pregnancy.

Household Products to Avoid While Pregnant

While there's been a spotlight on the beauty industry and a push to create more pregnancy-safe personal care products, they're not the only chemicals to consider. Household products, from cleaning supplies to mosquito repellent, can also pose a danger to pregnant women. Additional products and ingredients you should avoid include the following:

  • Pesticides
  • Herbicides
  • Certain cleaning products
  • Solvent-based paint
  • Lead paint
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Mercury (in food)
  • Flame retardants
  • Dry cleaning chemicals
  • Bisphenol A (BPA)
  • Naphthalene


While some of these items are safe to a certain degree, it's best to avoid using them or at least make sure you're properly protected when doing so.

If you have any questions about how to create a pregnancy-safe skincare routine or whether active ingredients are harmful, don't hesitate to contact your doctor. When you're pregnant, it's better to be on the safe side, especially when it comes to what you put in or on your body.

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