Skin Care Ingredients to Avoid When Pregnant

I actually think this title is scary. Why should we have to avoid any skin care products when we are pregnant. Shouldn’t the skin care products that we use on a regular basis be safe enough to use during pregnancy? My answer to that is no. If you follow me at all you know that the United States limits only a handful ingredients from skin care products where as the European nations limits over a thousand. I wanted to put a list of  together a list of skin care ingredients to avoid when pregnant.

Lets talk about the pregnancy category of an ingredient  first. The pregnancy category is an assessment of the risk of fetal injury due to the a specific ingredient. Ingredients can be categorized as,

A  No risk in controlled human studies.

B  No risk in other studies performed on animals.

C  Risk not ruled out, there is concern for damage to the fetus.

D Evidence of harm to the fetus.

Skin Care Ingredients to Avoid When Pregnant

Hydroxy acids and benzoyl peroxide

Hydroxy acids and benzyl peroxide are a common ingredient in  facial washes, acne medication and chemical exfoliants.  They are used to help improve and prevent blemishes. They help exfoliate the skin by  increasing cell turnover. Unfortunately, these ingredients are considered a class C which means we are unsure of the effects on the fetus. In addition, some women who are pregnant may develop sensitive skin. These ingredients can be drying and cause increased inflammation if the skin is already sensitive. We know that salicylic acid found in aspirin and should be avoided during pregnancy, we do  not know its effects when it is used on the skin.

Retinoic acid

May be listed on ingredient labels as retinoic acid, retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, adapalene, tretinoin, tazarotene and isotretinoin. These ingredients help increase cell turnover and have been shown to diminish fine lines. Oral retinoids is known to cause birth defects. The March  of Dime’s website summarizes the concerns for possible birth defects. It is unknown whether the topical form of retinoids can cause birth defects. I found  one study that suggested that topical retinoids do not harm the fetus but it is not worth the risk and women are asked to avoid retinoids during pregnancy.


Hydroquinone is found in skin lightening creams, it helps lighten dark spots or dark patches. It is unclear whether hydroquinone can affect the fetus. The amount of hydroquinone in a product as been limited.  EWG’s Skin Deep nice summarizes the concerns with this particular ingredient. There are concern for allergies, organ toxicity, cancer, developmental and reproductive issues as well as harm to the environment. It is no wonder why hydroquinone is grouped with skin care ingredients to avoid when pregnant.

Essential oils

Although essential oils are loved by a number of people their effects on a fetus have not been studied. The Washington Post  summarized some of the concerns of essential oils.


Pthalates are used in the creation of some plastics, they are also found in perfume and nail polish. Look for ingredients such  BzBP, DBP, DEP, DMP, or diethyl, dibutyl, or benzylbutyl phthalate.

According to the CDC,

“Human health effects from exposure to low levels of phthalates are unknown. Some types of phthalates have affected the reproductive system of laboratory animals. More research is needed to assess the human health effects of exposure to phthalates.”


Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, look for ingredients such as quaternium-15, dimethyl-dimethyl (DMDM), hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, and 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol).

According to the CDC, “Working with formaldehyde may increase your chances of having fertility problems or a miscarriage”. Some companies have removed these ingredients voluntarily.

Chemical sunscreens

Avoid chemical sunscreens, mineral-based sunscreens are a safer alternative ingredient. The worrisome chemical sunscreen is oxybenzone which can cause allergic skin reactions. “In laboratory studies it is a weak estrogen and has potent anti-androgenic effects (Krause 2012, Ghazipura 2017)”. EWG’s Skin Deep does a great job summarizing oxybenzone.


Aluminum chloride hexahydrate is used in antiperspirants, it helps prevent sweating. The safety of Aluminum chloride hexahydrate is unknown in pregnant women, it is considered a class C.

Hair Dye
According to the Mayo Clinic, “These chemicals aren’t generally thought to pose harm to a developing baby. However, given the lack of available evidence, you might consider postponing any chemical hair treatments until after you deliver”. If you do decide to dye your hair, do it later in the pregnancy when the baby is more developed. Ammonia can be irritating to the lungs, consider applying hair dyes in a room that is well ventilated.

Hair removal creams

Hair removal creams contain Thioglycolic acid. Look for ingredients such as acetyl mercaptan, mercaptoacetate, mercaptoacetic acid and thiovanic acid.  Thioglycolic acid is the active ingredient found in most hair removal creams. Its use is restricted in the Unites States and European nations, there is concern for allergy and workplace exposure.


According to Allergan’s website, “There are no studies or adequate data from postmarketing surveillance on the developmental risk associated with use of BOTOX® Cosmetic in pregnant women. There are no data on the presence of BOTOX® Cosmetic in human or animal milk, the effects on the breastfed child, or the effects on milk production. ” It is recommended that pregnant women not receive Botox treatments.


Medications such as doxycycline and minocycline are antibiotics that should be avoided during pregnancy. They are used to treat a wide variety of skin conditions such as acne as well as Lyme disease.  There is an increased risk of dark teeth developing in the baby if these antibiotics are used during the second and third trimester.

What do you think of skin care ingredients to avoid when pregnant?

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