Pregnancy is an exciting time for moms to be. Many changes occur throughout the body, and perhaps among the most notable of these is in the skin. Expecting moms are likely to be highly conscious of what they put in and on their bodies to limit potential harm to the developing baby. Let's discuss pregnancy-safe skin care and why you'll want to avoid certain products during this special time.

Standard Skin Care Products Are Usually Safe

When healthy and functioning properly, your skin is the first and best barrier you have against the outside world, and it does a great job of keeping bad things out and good things in. For the most part, that includes what you put on your skin.

The majority of what you apply to your skin stays within the skin, with only limited amounts, if any, absorbed into the bloodstream where it can affect a growing fetus. Most over-the-counter products such as sunscreen, moisturizers, and cleansers are completely safe when used as directed. As long as you don't look or feel any different than usual when you use these products, there's no reason for you to give up your favorites.

What Ingredients Should Moms to Be Avoid?

Expecting mothers should avoid two main ingredients: topical retinoids and hydroquinone.

Topical retinoids, a common acne treatment, come in the form of:

  • Retinol
  • Over-the-counter retinyl palmitate
  • Multiple prescription retinoids

According to an article in Canadian Family Physician, a few case reports have linked this popular topically-applied acne treatment to birth defects. While the current figures leave room for some doubt, doctors treat these findings as meaningful and urge women carrying babies to avoid retinoid use until the medical community develops a more conclusive ruling.

The other family of ingredients to avoid is hydroquinone, including arbutin, which is a derivative of this potentially harmful substance. These substances are commonly used for lightening dark and discolored skin to help fade the appearance of freckles, scars, age spots, and melasma, which can be brought on by pregnancy.

Despite these benefits for your skin, some evidence shows they could be less than safe for you. Scientists believe hydroquinone may have carcinogenic properties, leading countries across the globe to ban products containing this ingredient for cosmetic use. The article in Canadian Family Physician explains that hydroquinones are absorbed systemically through the skin at a high rate, meaning these harmful chemicals could make their way to your baby.

Pregnancy-Safe Skin Care Ingredients

Due to the irregular hormones your body produces during pregnancy, acne can flare. It's understandable that you'd want to do something about it and the scars and discoloration it may sometimes leave.

Instead of reaching for your retinoids and hydroquinone, consider azelaic acid prescribed by your Dermatologist as a safe alternative. Benzoyl peroxide can also be helpful. Additionally, salicylic acid is safe when used in limited quantities and frequency. Cleansers with salicylic acid to fight acne are safe, but using this ingredient in higher concentrations to achieve a chemical peel isn't recommended.

Other common ingredients in skin care that are safe to use include AHA, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid.

Finally, dry skin and stretch marks are also common complaints. Although there's no way to truly prevent stretch marks, continuing to use your high-quality body cream and face moisturizer daily can keep your skin healthy, minimizing dryness and markings.

Use Sun Protection

When pregnant, sun protection is just as important as always and can help you look forward to a cancer-free future.

Serious risks aside, melasma and hyperpigmentation common in pregnant women can be avoided by diligently using sunscreen. Although the debate over chemical versus mineral sunscreen formulas persists, know that both are perfectly safe, pregnant or not. Some find that mineral-based physical sunscreens containing only zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients are gentler on the sensitive skin that pregnancy may bring. For example, EltaMD® UV Pure Broad-Spectrum SPF 47 is water-resistant up to 80 minutes and offers great protection for the face and body.

Finally, see your Dermatologist for any skin concerns that don't improve with over-the-counter products. Many prescription medications are available for issues you may be experiencing, and pregnant or not, your Dermatologist is by far your best resource for helping you find what you need to look and feel great every day.


  • Dr. Jenny Liu (

    Dr. Jenny Liu is a board-certified Dermatologist and an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Her blog,, combines her professional and personal passions—dermatology and medicine, medical education, skin care, fashion, and motherhood.

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