Pregnancy health

Which beauty products are safe to use during pregnancy?

A breakdown of the most common pregnancy safe skincare ingredients.

Whether you’re struggling with a sudden case of hormonal acne, or dark patches appearing across your cheeks (also called the “mask of pregnancy”), you may be shopping for some new beauty products and wondering what’s safe to use with baby on board.

“We all want pregnancies to go well, so it’s natural to be cautious about what we’re putting on our skin,” says Allison Sutton, a medical and cosmetic dermatologist in Vancouver.

Some face washes, body lotions and makeup contain ingredients that are proven to pose a threat to a developing fetus, and others have to be avoided postpartum since they can pass into breastmilk.

“Double-check ingredient lists, and if there’s anything you’re worried about, ask your physician,” says Sutton.

Here’s our list for a quick rundown of what’s safe—and what’s not:

Aluminum Chloride

You’ll find this controversial ingredient in antiperspirants. (It’s the ingredient that stops you from sweating). It’s hotly debated, but some research does suggest it’s potentially cancer-causing and we don’t know conclusively if it passes to breastmilk.

Verdict: Avoid

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)

These popular skin brightening and exfoliating ingredients are a bit of a question mark because they may disrupt the skin barrier, which could open the skin up to penetration of other substances. Lotions containing AHAs and BHAs are best avoided during pregnancy.

Verdict: Avoid

Azelaic Acid

This antibacterial ingredient is found in rosacea treatments and some acne products, because it works to reduce redness and decrease pigmentation. It’s not known to have any negative side effects for mom or baby.

Verdict: Safe

Bakuchiol

This extract comes from the leaves and seeds of the babchi plant, known for its purple flowers (which is why some products that contain it maintain a violet hue) and is touted as a natural alternative to retinol. While experts advise against using retinol while pregnant, there’s not enough conclusive evidence at this time to determine whether bakuchiol is a safer option, so it’s best to consult your doctor first.

Verdict: Consult with your doctor

Benzoyl Peroxide

This powerful pimple fighter is too tough for a developing baby. Studies show it poses a risk to the fetus and should not be used during pregnancy.

Verdict: Not safe

CBD Oil

Some alternative acne fighting products, vegan makeup and even all-natural face masks contain this trendy ingredient. Since CBD oil doesn’t have any THC, the threat to mom and baby is low. But, because it’s safety in pregnancy and postpartum has yet to be studied, some moms will err on the side of caution and pass on it.

Verdict: Consult with your doctor

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA)

Although it’s found in many self-tanners and professional spray tans, DHAs aren’t recommended for use during pregnancy. The possible side-effects for a developing baby (via skin absorption or if you accidentally inhale it) are unknown, so this chemical may pose harm.

Verdict: Not safe

Essential Oils

Many moms-to-be swear by aromatherapy and massage to soothe symptoms from morning sickness to backaches. Talk to your doctor or midwife about which oils are best bets for topical products. In general, tangerine, chamomile and peppermint are considered safe, but others like clary sage, juniper and thyme should be avoided.

Verdict: Consult with your doctor

Formaldehyde

This chemical, found in some in-salon hair-straightening procedures and nail polishes, has been linked to respiratory issues and even cancer.

Verdict: Not safe

Grapeseed Oil

Often found in face serums and body oils, this all-natural ingredient can be used topically during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Note: grapeseed oil supplements should NOT be taken during pregnancy.

Verdict: Safe

Hyaluronic Acid

When it comes to skin plumping and hydrating, this natural substance should be a go-to ingredient, especially during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It works well and poses no threat to mom or baby.

Verdict: Safe

Hydroquinone

Brightening or skin-lightening creams containing hydroquinone are readily absorbed into the body (by as much as 45 percent, according to some studies), and may pose a danger to a developing baby.

Verdict: Not safe

Lactic Acid

This particular alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) is found in exfoliating and products and poses no threat to mom, or a developing baby.

Verdict: Safe

Niacinamide

Found in some gentler alternatives to the typical acne and rosacea treatments, this form of vitamin B3 can help to reduce redness and inflammation.

Verdict: Safe

Oxybenzone

In 2019, the US FDA called for more research on oxybenzone and 11 other chemical sunscreen filters (including avobenzone and octisalate), which are suspected endocrine disruptors and possible carcinogens. Until we know for sure that they’re safe, you may want to stick to mineral-based sunblocks during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

Verdict: Avoid, if possible

Parabens and Phthalates

Found in anything from foundation to shampoo, these chemicals have been used to preserve and stabilize product formulations. They are known endocrine disruptors that can affect the reproductive system.

Verdict: Not safe

Retinoids

Vitamin A derivatives (which can be listed under many names, including retinoic acid, tretinoin, palmitate and retinaldehyde) are commonly found in acne treatments and anti-aging serums. Products containing retinols have been linked to severe birth defects and should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Verdict: Not safe

Salicylic acid

Used sparingly as a targeted spot treatment, this acne fighter is deemed safe by most experts, including our dermatologist. But, salicylic acid (which is a type of BHA) should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding in concentrations more than 2 percent (sometimes found in wart-removal products or salon facials) because there could be a risk for baby.

Verdict: Safe in over the counter doses of 2% or less

Titanium Dioxide

As the primary active ingredient in many mineral sunscreens, it works by sitting on the surface and deflecting damaging UV rays. Products containing titanium dioxide can be used on face and body during pregnancy and postpartum.

Verdict: Safe

Thioglycolic acid

Hair removal creams often contain this chemical (sometimes listed as mercaptoacetate or mercaptan). While there’s no solid research on the side effects, it’s considered not worth the risk.

Verdict: Not safe

Vitamin C

When it comes to treating dark spots and skin-tone issues during pregnancy and breastfeeding, vitamin C should be your go-to. It has a retinoid-like effect and boosts collagen production.

Verdict: Safe

Zinc Oxide

This is a main active ingredient in many mineral sunscreens, which can be used during pregnancy and beyond because they aren’t absorbed into the skin, but simply sit on the surface. You’ll also find zinc in mineral makeups, which are a good choice during pregnancy.

Verdict: Safe