Pregnancy skin care: What products are safe or unsafe to use?

Most over-the-counter skin care products are safe during pregnancy. However, it is a good idea to avoid certain ingredients, such as retinoids, hydroquinone, and phthalates.

Skin changes such as stretch marks, dryness, and hyperpigmentation can all happen during pregnancy. A skin care routine is unlikely to need major changes, but pregnant people should avoid certain chemicals in products.

Due to hormonal changes, a pregnant person may have:

stretch marks



linea nigra, a dark line that runs from the naval to the pubic area

spider veins

varicose veins

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) recommends speaking with a healthcare professional before applying any products to stretch marks. This is because some creams, lotions, and gels that claim to treat stretch marks contain retinol, which can harm a fetus.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends using a heavy moisturizer during pregnancy to help keep the skin soft.

Some ingredients to avoid during pregnancy

Certain skin care chemicals can cause complications. Pregnant people should avoid products that contain any of these ingredients: 

Retinoids: Retinoids are a synthetic form of vitamin A that can treat skin conditions such as cystic acne. Pregnant people should not take oral medications that contain retinoids during pregnancy, as these can lead to congenital disabilities, such as fetal retinoid syndrome. 

Some topical products, such as creams and ointments, also contain retinoids. According to 2020 research, negative effects of these products during pregnancy are unlikely, but it is still advisable to avoid topical retinoids until after pregnancy.

Some over-the-counter products contain retinoids. Checking labels carefully is key. 

Hydroquinone: Hydroquinone is in prescription products that people use to lighten their skin. Research from 2021 reports that the skin absorbs approximately 35%–45% of the hydroquinone in these products. While this is unlikely to cause adverse effects, healthcare professionals recommend avoiding this ingredient during pregnancy and lactation.

Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is no longer a common ingredient in cosmetics because it is known to increase the risk of cancer and pregnancy loss. However, some cosmetics contain chemicals called “formaldehyde releasers,” which decompose over time, turning into molecules of formaldehyde. Such chemicals include:


bronopol, also called 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol

diazolidinyl urea

DMDM hydantoin


imidazolidinyl urea


It remains crucial to check ingredients lists before making a purchase.

Phthalates: Phthalates interfere with the body’s hormones. They are harmful to fetuses, and when possible, children and adults should avoid these chemicals. Research from 2020 reports that prenatal exposure to phthalates disrupts levels of:

thyroid hormones

sex hormones

25-hydroxyvitamin D

This can lead to:

preterm birth


maternal glucose disorders

infant cryptorchidism, which is when the testicles are not in the correct position

infant hypospadias, which is when the urethra is not in the correct position in the penis

a shortened distance between the anus and genitals in newborns

growth restrictions

Safe ingredients

Many skin care ingredients pose no risks. For example, the ACOG reports that the following ingredients in acne treatments are safe to use:

azelaic acid

glycolic acid

topical benzoyl peroxide

topical salicylic acid

A person might also opt for products that contain:

cocoa butter

aloe vera

antioxidants, such as vitamin C or E

shea butter

coconut oil

During early pregnancy, hormonal changes can worsen acne. It tends to improve during the later stages of pregnancy.

Speak with a healthcare professional before deciding on an acne treatment. However, the AAD reports that the following are likely to be safe:

topical antibiotics

oral antibiotics, including azithromycin and clarithromycin

azalaic acid

benzoyl peroxide, in limited amounts

laser and light treatments

If a person uses cosmetics, they should for oil-free types.

Pregnant people should avoid the following acne treatments:







Also, stop any treatment that contains doxycycline, minocycline, or tetracycline before 15 weeks of pregnancy, as these chemicals can stain the teeth of the fetus.

Salicylic acid may be safe for a limited time. 


As the AAD notes, sunscreen plays a crucial role in preventing skin cancer, sunburns, and premature aging. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently proposed that two sunscreen ingredients be “generally recognized as safe and effective.” These ingredients are:

titanium dioxide

zinc oxide

These are typically present in mineral-based sunscreens, which sit on the skin’s surface, deflecting harmful UV rays. They are also called physical sunscreens.

Anyone with questions about the safety of their skin care routine should speak with a dermatologist. An OB-GYN can also describe whether certain skin care products are safe. 


Endocrine disruptors. (2022).


Fetal retinoid syndrome. (2019).

Formaldehyde – Reproductive health. (2019).


Is any acne treatment safe to use during pregnancy? (n.d.).


Skin conditions during pregnancy. (2018). 


… and more. See the full article at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/pregnancy-skin-care

Exclusive content from CARE magazine

Previous Story

What is the best sleeping position?

Next Story


Latest from Health