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Skin Care Ingredients to Avoid During Pregnancy

Skin Care Ingredients to Avoid During Pregnancy

Ok, mom-to-be, long story short: pregnancy can make your skin look amazing…or it can wreak havoc and show up as a whole host of issues like adult acne, melasma, and redness. But before you whip out your skin care warriors, I want to bring your attention to ingredients you should avoid. 

Before becoming pregnant, I was passionate about skincare products and would research into the depths of ingredients to find out what would actually work for my acne-prone, sensitive, fair-skinned self. I was on topical medication prescribed by my dermatologist; I used sunscreen daily, and I had started to venture into the land of natural skincare products. However, when I went to my preconception doctor’s appointment, I was told some of the topical medication I was using was dangerous to use while pregnant. Most profoundly, this included Tretinoin, a retinol-based cream that I used at night to help keep my acne under control. Because this was my first peek into one of the many “pregnancy rules,” I decided to look into what other skin care ingredients I should avoid while trying to conceive/pregnant.

Now, I will say I am pretty conservative while pregnant. I don’t like to take any risks, so I am including those ingredients that are even questionable. Here is my list.

Unsafe Skin Care Ingredients During Pregnancy


Other names used. Retinol, Retinyl Palmitate, Retinoic Acid, Tretinoin, Isotretinoin, Tazarotene.

This is an ingredient that is honestly everywhere. Acne products, anti-aging products, sunscreen, moisturizers, and makeup. So, go through that long list of small font ingredients and make sure your products do not contain any retinol (or other iterations of it).

There is scientific evidence that this vitamin A derivative can cause birth defects in developing babies. Studies mainly include those that used Isotretinoin, otherwise known as Accutane. [1] Most doctors recommend avoiding all oral and topical retinoids when trying to conceive as well as when pregnant. That said, if you have unexpectedly become pregnant, don’t worry unduly. Simply stop using those skin care products immediately and contact your doctor for further advice.


Other names used. Idrochinone, quinol, 1-4 dihydroxy benzene, 1-4 hydroxy benzene.

Hydroquinone is a skin lightener found in some face creams. It’s a known carcinogen and a whopping 45% of the lightening agent can be absorbed directly into your bloodstream.

Salicylic Acid

This is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) and commonly found in acne and anti-aging products. It has been proven to cause birth defects. Some doctors I have spoken to say it’s OK to use below 2% concentration in select, small areas of your skin, but others say to avoid it during pregnancy. No reason to risk it, in my opinion!

Benzoyl Peroxide

This is found in acne products. It’s typically OK to use in pregnancy in small, select areas of your skin because only 5% is absorbed through the skin. However, I suggest you speak to your doctor before deciding if it’s safe for you and your baby. Personally, I used it sparingly during one of my pregnancies because I had fairly bad hormonal acne, and based on studies and speaking to my OB, I was comfortable using it.

Avobenzone, Oxybenzone

Avobenzone and Oxybenzone are found as active ingredients in chemical sunscreens. Most doctors will say any sunscreen is fine to use, but there are some inconclusive studies that suggest it may not be the best during pregnancy. Stick to the physical blockers found in mineral sunscreens: Titanium Dioxide and Zinc.


Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Ethylparaben, Butylparaben…Parabens are preservatives that mimic estrogen, so they are not the best during pregnancy. You find them in many skincare products, but many brands are starting to phase them out because it’s more widely known that they are hormone disruptors.

Safe Skincare Products

This is where it can get tricky for some of us anxious moms. You will find all kinds of information out there about what is safe and what is not safe during pregnancy. There are so many natural skin care brands that claim to be safe during pregnancy, yet if you go to the doctor’s office to ask what safe skin care products you can use during pregnancy, many doctors would say pretty much anything is safe except a very small list of ingredients (listed above!) Many recommend mainstream brands like Neutrogena, Cetaphil, etc.

Personally, I struggled with finding the right skin care products that both worked with my hormonal skin, and I felt comfortable and convinced they were safe. Natural products seemed enticing and certainly less “chemical laden,” but a lot of them are new ingredients in skin care that have not been studied and thus are deemed safe because they have not been proven to be unsafe. That made me nervous. So, I went with very conventional products that did not contain those ingredients that were proven unsafe to use in pregnancy. My thought process was that mainstream brands that did not contain unsafe ingredients were likely very safe since so many people use them when pregnant; if there was something very wrong with them, that would show up and create red flags for further study.

So, this is what I used…

Cleanser: Cetaphil

Good ole’ Cetaphil. It’s a simple cleanser that does not contain parabens, and it works with my skin.

Toner: Apple Cider Vinegar

Ok, so I did go a little natural with this one. I dilute it 1 part ACV to 2 parts water, and I stored it in a salad dressing bottle. I just lightly soaked a cotton ball and rubbed it on my face once per day. It smells like vinegar and then dissipates. Because it is acidic, I did feel like it brightened my complexion a bit and offered some level of exfoliation.

Moisturizer: Cetaphil Moisturizer

Tried and true. I imagine millions of people use this brand as it’s widely recommended and found in every Target, grocery, and pharmacy in America. Again, I kept things simple during pregnancy so my skin wouldn’t freak out too much more than it already was. I found this moisturizer to do the job.

Sunscreen: Clinique Mineral Sunscreen

So I plugged this into EWG skincare database and it had a very low score of 2. It didn’t have any glaringly bad ingredients and it uses physical blockers as active ingredients. It goes on smooth with no white residue.

Eye Cream: 100% Pure Coffee Bean Eye Cream.

Everyone knows the first sign to show age is the skin around your eyes. After age 30, your collagen production goes down dramatically and you might wake up with some laugh lines/crows feet, general darkness, and fatigue. This product is something I still use now that I’m breastfeeding. It’s full of natural ingredients. I was a little skeptical of some of the essential oil extracts in it, but extracts are very different than essential oils themselves.

Please ask your doctor for their medical advice before starting or stopping any medicine, including topical medication and over-the-counter skin care products. This article is not a replacement for medical advice. 



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