Moms are very careful about what they eat during pregnancy. Should you be just as cautious about what we put on our skin? Here’s what you need to know about the skincare treatments and ingredients that you need to avoid or minimize whether you plan to get pregnant, are already pregnant, or are still breastfeeding.
Completely stop during pregnancy
It’s very important to stop taking any form of retinoids when you decide you want to try for a baby. There’s a link between retinoids and an increased risk of birth defects. It’s found in prescription acne and anti-ageing medicines (and if you’re not pregnant, it’s actually one of the best ingredients for cystic acne and deep wrinkles). Just wait until after you’ve given birth to include it in your skincare routine.
Accutane is a common retinoid medicine, but check your skincare labels to be safe. It’s sometimes listed as retinoic acid, retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, adapalene, tretinoin, tazarotene and isotretinoin.
If you’re using retinoids for acne, consider using witch hazel extract — one of the best natural ingredients for clearing out pores and fighting breakouts. For stubborn pimples, spot-treat with tea tree.
Often used for hyperpigmentation, hydroquinine hasn’t been linked to birth defects of pregnancy problems. But the FDA advises to avoid exposure during pregnancy, since it’s absorbed more than other ingredients that give similar benefits. Some plant extracts that fight pigmentation: licorice extract, tomato extract, arbutin (derived from the bearberry plant), and papaya. Vitamin C also brightens and evens out skin, but if your skin has sensitive during pregnancy, start with low concentrations.
Laser and microcurrent treatments
This includes both facial treatments and laser hair removal. While it may not hurt the baby, your skin can become more sensitive during pregnancy. It’s best to have this after your baby’s born (or even after breastfeeding) when your hormones have settled down.
While fillers are “inert” (meaning they won’t spread around the body, but stay where they’re injected) they haven’t been tested or cleared for use during pregnancy. Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at the prestigious Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, says it’s not just about the fillers themselves but what can happen after. “If the patient develops severe swelling or an infection and needs an antibiotic, treatment options may be limited as some can affect a developing baby.”
Avoid or minimize
Parabens and phthalates
There’s a lot of fear surrounding parabens, phthalates and other chemicals, but studies that link these ingredients to cancer or slower fetal growth were working with huge amounts of phthalates – far more than what you’d use every day (unless you swim in your body lotion and eat it for dinner).
If there is any particular paraben you should be careful about, it is BPA. It has been linked to low birth weight and impaired fetal growth. Researchers are also looking into how it can worsen behavioral problems like ADHD.
Other parabens don’t pose that level of risk. On the other hand, natural skincare advocates say that we get so much chemical exposure from food, air, household products, pollution and more. So, a clean, green skincare routine is at least one way to protect the baby from unnecessary risk.
Natural beauty advocates even say that you shouldn’t wait till the positive pregnancy test to start looking for paraben-free or phthalate-free beauty products. “It may be beneficial to start cleaning up your skincare routine as early as six months before you start trying to conceive,” says Raquel Nowak, prenatal health coach.
There are some studies that triclosan — found in some soaps, hand sanitizers and antiseptics — affects thyroid hormones that your body needs for the baby’s development. But just like parabens and phthalates, you need to be exposed to a lot of triclosan for it to affect your system. The body’s also very efficient at flushing this out.
But if you want to play it safe, some companies like Johnson & Johnson and Proctor & Gamble are phasing it out of their products. Germ experts also say that even just regular soap and water can kill most germs — you don’t necessarily need an anti-bacterial hand sanitizer or hand-lotion.
Some pure essential oils
This may come as a surprise, but some natural oils can be dangerous during pregnancy. Jasmine and clary sage may trigger contractions, sage and rosemary oil may cause bleeding, and rosemary may increase blood pressure. But these are very pure oils — those found in aromatherapy treatments are probably diluted. Just take extra precautions if you are mixing your own blends and handling very concentrated plant oils.
Stop if you get a skin reaction
These skincare ingredients and skincare treatments won’t hurt your baby, because the body only absorbs really low amounts and it doesn’t enter the system.
- Salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide
- Mild superficial peels with lactic acids and glycolic acids
- Aluminum chloride (found in deodorants)
- Topical hair removal or depilatory creams
“If taken in large quantities orally, these ingredients can have negative consequences,” says Dr. David Munk. “But topical formulations haven’t shown to be a factor. I personally prescribe benzoyl peroxide to my patients, but it’s important that it’s applied in the right quantities, and on not-too-big an area to avoid significant absorption.”
However, there’s a small chance that they will irritate your skin. Pregnancy hormones can make your skin more sensitive and reactive. If you notice any itching, redness, flaking or breakouts, try taking them out of your skincare routine.
That being said, dermatologists say that you still need to be careful when you pick an all-natural product. Some plant extracts and plant oils can still cause redness and irritation. If your skin is especially sensitive, look for skincare products that are hypoallergenic or have been clinically tested.