6 Skincare Ingredients To Avoid If You’re Pregnant

Claudia Canavan
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From Women's Health

Pregnant? If you had your SPF, vitamin C, retinol routine sorted out a long time ago, then you might be feeling a little trepidatious about what needs to change. Because, just as some of life's finest consumables things – gin and tonics with a grapefruit twist, cheese so soft you could use it for pottery – are out when you're expecting, so too are a few skincare heroes.

"Certain active cosmetic ingredients may be absorbed through the skin during pregnancy," says Dr Anjali Mahto, a consultant dermatologist and author of The Skincare Bible (Penguin, £14.99).

"There is increased systemic blood flow in the body whilst pregnant so absorption through the skin means that certain agents may pass into the blood stream. Once in the circulation, they have the potential to cross the placenta and affect the developing foetus."

"Pregnancy hormones can cause breakouts, sensitivity and dry skin," says dermatologist Dr. Gary Goldfaden, founder of Goldfaden MD.

"While topical skincare products or a ‘cosmeceutical’ are not legally classified or recognised as a ‘drug’, there is a lot of controversy surrounding what does or does not actually get absorbed into the body." The upshot? "It's best to be cautious whilst pregnant."

Skincare and beauty ingredients to avoid if you're pregnant

Retinoids (Retinol, and some acne medications such as Roaccutane)

"These should be avoided during pregnancy," says Dr Mahato. "Even though the absorption rates of retinol and prescription retinoid through the skin are low, there have been isolated case reports of retinoid-caused embryopathy [a developmental abnormality of an embryo or foetus] and general advice is that these are best avoided in pregnancy."

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Instead of retinol, try Drunk Elephant's Protini Polypeptide Cream, which helps your skin to maintain its collagen.

Salicylic acid

Often used to fight acne, low concentrations of this are totally safe to use in in pregnancy. "There are no real studies looking at salicylic acid use in pregnancy but as very little is absorbed through the skin," Dr Mahato says.

"In low concentrations of up to 2%, it's unlikely to pose a risk to the developing baby – but should not be used in high percentages such as those found in chemical peels." To be super safe, before using it, it's best to check in with your GP or a dermatologist.

Instead of salicylic acid, try a non-prescription topical azelaic acid, which can be helpful with blemishes.


Used as an ingredient in skin brightening and illegal skin lightening creams, this "is not safe during pregnancy," says Dr Mahato. [Of course, illegal skin lightening creams are highly dangerous and should not be used, ever.]

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This used to be used in some professional hair-straightening treatments, but its use became severely limited after it was found to be a carcinogen around 2014. If, however, you do come across a product or treatment in which this is offered, step away.

"This is a carcinogenic and may be absorbed into organs. You should not be using this pregnant or not," advises Dr Goldfaden.

If you're looking for straight hair, try Bumble & Bumble's straight blow-dry balm. Activated by the heat of your hairdryer, it'll loosen up your curls.


This is a drug, as opposed to an ingredient, but is sometimes prescribed to treat acne. Use of it during pregnancy has been liked to birth defects, and so should be avoided, advises Dr Mahato.

Again, you could use a spot-fighting topical azelaic acid, instead.

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When it comes to the safety of parabens, which are often used as preservatives in things like shampoo, some science has pointed towards them elevating the levels of oestrogen in the body.

Research published by the University of Reading in 2012, for example, found the presence of parabens and aluminium in samples taken from women who had undergone mastectomies for breast cancer – although no definite causal link has been identified. As such, some women choose to avoid them during pregnancy.

"Parabens have been shown to cause cell changes in animals and thus should be avoided in pregnancy," says Dr Goldfaden, who would advise eliminating them totally.

If you want to avoid parabens in your shampoo, try the Korres range. Made with organic plant extracts, it's a nourishing treat.