What’s Safe (& What’s Not) To Use On Your Skin During Pregnancy

If you’re expecting or nursing, two things are certain. First, life is dramatically different than it was before you became pregnant. And second, you’re going to need to take a look at your usual skin-care routine. Just as there are certain foods your doctor may ask you to avoid during pregnancy, there are also some skincare ingredients that can wait. It’s something many women aren’t aware of, but need to educate themselves on in order to make sure they are being cautious of.

The tricky thing is that by default, studies in pregnancy are limited. “We don’t perform studies on pregnant women,” Dr. Desai says, “so a lot of the information goes back a very long time, and we extrapolate from what we do know.” Generally, doctors advise being cautious if there’s any potential risk — the old “better to be safe than sorry” adage in action. “If there is a chemical that we just don’t know what it may or may not do, I advise opting to stay away from that,” she says. For instance, doctors aren’t sure whether injectables such as Botox and Juvederm pose any risk, but few dermatologists use needles on pregnant patients.

Generally, doctors advise being cautious if there’s any potential risk — the old “better to be safe than sorry” adage in action.

Here’s what doctors do know for sure. Without a doubt, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid vitamin A in all its forms. “We know that high doses of vitamin A can cause birth defects,” Dr. Desai says. Those are well-documented in the case of isotretinoin, or Accutane, an oral medication used to treat severe acne. It’s FDA-classified as a category X drug, a serious label that means the risk clearly outweighs any benefits. Risks are lower with Retin-A, a topical sister drug, but doctors still advise against using retinoids and retinol during pregnancy.  “We just don’t want to take those chances,” Dr. Desai says, adding that she takes all of her pregnant patients off any form of retinol.  

You’ll want to take a break from other common active ingredients, too. Hydroquinone, often used to lighten hyperpigmentation, is a category C drug; animal studies have shown it to have an adverse effect on the fetus, but no human studies have been conducted, for obvious reasons. So, unless directed by your doctor, best to steer clear of it. While you’re cleaning out your medicine cabinet, set beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) aside as well. “Salicylic acid is derived from the aspirin family of medication, and we know that high doses of aspirin are not safe for pregnant women — that’s where the idea comes about,” says Dr. Desai. “We know that absorption is minimal, but we have alternatives that are completely safe.”

So which ingredients will safely keep your skin radiant from the first trimester through weaning? Some pregnancy-safe superstar ingredients include vitamin C and kojic acid for overall brightness; hyaluronic acid for hydration; and squalane to moisturize. 

To maximize that pregnancy glow, Dr. Desai likes glycolic acid. “It’s gentle enough to be used while you’re trying to conceive, while you’re pregnant, and during nursing,” she says. “It can brighten the skin and help with cell turnover, which can help with pigment issues and acne pregnant women might have.” Other pregnancy-safe acids include lactic acid and azelaic acid, often used to address breakouts and rosacea. “[They are] great for acne and treating redness, which can flare up during pregnancy,” she says. 

The bottom line: If you’re expecting or nursing, it’s best to be extra-cautious, so consult your doctor for advice on which ingredients will work for you. 

Hint, hint — these Glow Recipe products free of retinol, BHAs, and hydroquinone:

Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser

Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask

Watermelon Glow Pink Juice Moisturizer

Watermelon Glow Ultra-Fine Mist

Pineapple-C Bright Serum

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Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser

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Pineapple-C Bright Serum

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Glow Recipe

Watermelon Glow Pink Juice Moisturizer

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Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask

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Glow Recipe

Watermelon Glow Ultra Fine Mist

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