A Guide to Pregnancy-Safe Skincare: What to Avoid and What to Use

A Guide to Pregnancy-Safe Skincare: What to Avoid and What to Use

Until now, you’ve asked everyone not to talk to you until you’ve had your morning coffee. You’ve eaten sushi for lunch at least twice per week. You’ve indulged in a glass of wine (or three) as you unwind at the end of a long day. Then, one day, you learn you’re pregnant and suddenly begin to question everything that goes into your body.


But what about everything that goes onto your body? You begin researching all of the things you should avoid while pregnant, and you begin to notice a trend: retinol, hydroquinone, and salicylic acid. You begin reading your current skincare labels, and you realize the dark circles under your eyes from the lack of caffeine can’t be corrected with your eye serum, it contains retinol. And those dark spots that keep popping up? Forget about using a brightening serum that contains hydroquinone. And the hormonal acne? *Tosses salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide gel into the garbage.* (A big disclaimer: we are not medical professionals, just skincare ones, and you should always consult your doctor.)

Skincare Ingredients to Avoid

Retinol & Retinoids

When it comes to pregnancy-safe skincare ingredients, you can cross retinol and retinoids off your list, first and foremost. Retinol, a vitamin A derivative that can be found in everything from sunscreen to lipstick, is used primarily as an anti-aging ingredient and acne remedy because it encourages cellular turnover. It goes without saying that you should avoid oral retinoids when pregnant, but you should also avoid topical retinol. Much of what is applied on your skin is absorbed into the bloodstream, which could be potentially harmful to your baby.


Speaking of ingredients being absorbed into the skin, studies show that around 45% of the lightening agent hydroquinone goes directly into the bloodstream. Hydroquinone is typically used to combat melasma (dark spots) and is so common in pregnant women that it has been nicknamed “the mask of pregnancy.” Although effective, the side effects associated with hydroquinone use (including links to cancer) have caused it to be completely banned in the EU, Japan, and Australia. In the U.S., it can still be purchased over-the-counter if levels are at 2% or lower, so keep an eye out.


Parabens, used as a preservative in many cosmetics, mimic estrogen and are known endocrine disrupters. Research has suggested that they may even disrupt fetal growth. Although the jury is still out on whether the small amounts of parabens in cosmetics cause harm during pregnancy, we like to err on the side of caution.

Phthalates (Common in Synthetic Fragrances)

Studies have shown that phthalates—a group of chemicals widely found in artificial fragrances—may result in a higher risk of pregnancy loss as well as gestational diabetes. We recommend avoiding phthalates in skincare and cosmetics in general, but especially while you're pregnant. Look for "phthalate-free" labels on bottles or avoid synthetic fragrances all together.

Salicylic Acid & Benzoyl Peroxide

Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are the most common ingredients found in over-the-counter and prescription products designed to fight acne, but topical use over 2% is not recommended during pregnancy. Salicylic acid is in the same family as aspirin, and aspirin intake must be carefully monitored by your healthcare provider when pregnant. The same goes for benzoyl peroxide—its safety has yet to be established. We're often asked about the willow bark extract found in the Amla Purifying Cleanser and Enzyme Exfoliant, as it contains a natural version of salicylic acid. We consider this to be safe because 1) it is in a concentration lower than 2%, and 2) salicylic acid is considered safe during pregnancy for wash-off products because only a tiny amount is absorbing into your skin.

Skincare Ingredients to Try

For anti-aging: antioxidants (that aren't retinol!)

If you’re mainly concerned with pregnancy-safe anti-aging products, look for a serum packed with natural antioxidants that aren't retinol to help protect and restore your skin’s resilience. The Tracie Martyn Firming Serum boasts over ten potent sources of antioxidants ranging from the better-known like vitamin C and green tea to cutting-edge like superoxide dismutase—an enzyme naturally found in your body that protects against free radicals.

For hyperpigmentation and melasma: safe brighteners like kojic acid & vitamin C

If you’re one of the many who develop melasma over the course of your pregnancy, avoid hydroquinone and try kojic acid. This skin-brightening powerhouse is formed as a result of the sake fermentation process. It slows down the production of melanin and zones in on pesky dark spots (find this ingredient in our Enzyme Exfoliant). Antioxidants like vitamin C can play a role in resolving hyperpigmentation issues, too. Vitamin C works to even the skin tone by encouraging cellular regeneration (found in our Firming Serum). 

For acne: azelaic acid, lactic acid, and natural exfoliators like fruit enzymes

If your pregnancy glow is being overshadowed by hormonal acne, azelaic acid and lactic acid—both naturally found in the body—are among the safest acne-fighting agents for pregnant women. They work by removing dead skin cells to prevent congestion without stripping your skin of all moisture. Additionally, azelaic acid soothes inflammation and calms redness (it even works for rosacea skin). Keep acne at bay with the Absolute Purity Toner that contains azelaic acid and antibacterial botanical extracts. Similar to natural acids, fruit enzymes "unglue" dead skin cells and gently exfoliate the skin without irritation. Pineapple enzymes, found in our Enzyme Exfoliant, will simultaneously address hyperpigmentation while fighting acne for a bright and even complexion.

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  • Thank You so much for sharing this crucial information on the pregnancy face cream, as I was seeking such a good piece of knowledge for me and for my wife as well.

    Vasu Dev on

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