There are countless articles out there about what to do while pregnant, and what to avoid, and sifting through all of this information can be overwhelming, sometimes even frightening. So, whether you’re expecting, or planning to have a child, we hope to take some of the work and the stress off your shoulders by putting all our research on the topic in one place.
We know you’ll want to be as cautious as you can with a baby on the way. Retinoids, Acids, Sunscreens, you name it—we’re going to take a look at some of the ingredients and products you’ve probably been warned about, to break down and explain the known risks associated with them. We’ll also give you some additional pregnancy-safe options to consider incorporating as you embark on this journey.
The things you’ve (likely!) been warned about, and some alternatives:
Retinol and retinoids
You may have already been told to avoid retinols and retinoids while pregnant, and while breastfeeding. This one’s true: oral retinoids, like accutane and isetrenitoin, are known to cause birth abnormalities.
Topical retinoids present us with a more complicated picture. There have been ‘4 published case reports of birth defects’ in research associated with topical use, according to this paper by Pina Bozzo, Angela Chua-Gocheco, MD, and Adrienne Einarson, RN., even if there have been no fully confirmed cases. Until more is known, it’s advisable to steer clear of retinoids during pregnancy.
For over the counter topical retinols, it is unclear whether absorption takes place. These, being derivatives, contain lower amounts of vitamin A. That being said, your doctor is still very likely to recommend avoiding any and all vitamin A products if you’re either pregnant, planning to be soon, or breastfeeding.
We suggest listening to your doctor’s advice on this, so always check in with them if you need to.
If you love your retinol, we suggest that you look up Bakuchiol, an ancient Ayurvedic herb that activates the same receptors as Retinoids. It is pregnancy-safe and does not cause the same drying side effects of Retinoids. And, if you’re using retinol or retinoids for well-ageing reasons, look into incorporating barrier-strengthening ingredients like peptides and humectants. These will firm the skin, smoothing over fine lines and wrinkles. For the collagen boosting and clarity benefits of a retinol without the risk, our pregnancy-friendly Triphala Pigmentation Corrector employs alternative botanical ingredients for radiance and clear skin.
Salicylic and glycolic acid often come up as things to avoid while pregnant.
While an excessive absorption of salicylic acid can cause a toxicity called salicylism, this largely happens due to an excess oral consumption of aspirin: this study reported that even women who consumed ‘low-dose acetylsalicylic acid’ (aspirin) while pregnant showed no increased risk of ‘adverse events’. Additionally, topical absorption of salicylic acid is very unlikely, meaning that ‘it is unlikely to pose any risk to a developing baby,’ as is reported by Bozzo, Chua-Gochecco, and Einarson.
Glycolic acid has been shown in animal studies to have adverse effects on reproductive systems, but, again, only in very high doses. It is reasonable to conclude that ‘topical glycolic acid during pregnancy should not be of concern.’
We believe in consistency over higher strength acids. Here are some of our favourite acids: Dioic Acid can penetrate the pores to unclog your pores. It acts on sebum, dead skin cells and bacteria to soothe spots. Mandelic Acid is another great option, with a gentle exfoliating effect that removes the top layers of dead skin cells. It also has antibacterial properties to help unclog pores.
We’ve also seen people caution each other about sunscreen use, particularly chemical sunscreen. But systemic absorption of sunscreen is unlikely, and they have already been ‘used in pregnancy to treat or prevent melasma’ with ‘no adverse events’ reported, according to this paper. Again, we have an option for anybody who still very understandably wants to err on the side of caution, which is mineral sunscreen.
Topical Antibacterials, like clindamycin and erythromycin, are used to treat acne topically. This study has shown that use of the former resulted in ‘no increased risk of malformations among 647 women’ with first-trimester use, and ‘oral use of erythromycin’ has not been linked with embryo malformation in pregnancy, as quoted in this source.
Benzoyl peroxide also has a low absorption rate, and gets completely metabolised by our body; it’s expected not to have effects on pregnant women. This is often prescribed by doctors as an alternative to Tretinoin during pregnancy. Again, always check in with your doctor!
This ingredient is controversial for its sensitising effects and generally best to avoid during pregnancy because of this reason. One study shows that 35-45% of hydroquinone is absorbed into the body when used topically. Another study shows no adverse effects during pregnancy whilst using Hydroquinone yet this was conducted on a small sample size. So it might be best to minimise exposure during pregnancy until further studies emerge with more data that can confirm safety when pregnant.
If you are still intent on working on your pigmentation concerns during your pregnancy, all hope is not lost. Hexylresorcinol is an innovative peptide that we have worked into our Triphala Pigmentation Corrector that has comparable effects to Hydroquinone with none of the risks. There are also other fantastic brightening ingredients and in clinic solutions available. Head over to our free Hyperpigmentation Guide to read more.
Importantly, when in doubt, please consult a healthcare professional for personalised advice. We hope that this list provides some clarity on the skincare ingredients you might have felt a little nervous about before. We hope, ultimately, that we’ve helped you figure out what you’ll need to formulate a pregnancy skincare routine that you feel safe and happy with! <3
Disclaimer: The information provided (written and visual) is only for information purposes and it is not intended to be a medical diagnosis, advice, or treatment.