Growing a new human inside your body is legitimately amazing, but with it comes a whole new slew of things to worry about, like people randomly feeling like they have the right to touch your belly or bringing up a child in our current political/environmental climate. Included in that list is your skincare routine. Your baby is like a sponge for all the things you put on and inside your body, which is why it's incredibly important to know what skincare products are safe to use when you're pregnant.
"For many women, pregnancy is the big push that gets them thinking about clean beauty. We want to stay far away from anything that could harm our baby, but there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the safety of skincare for moms-to-be," Tara Foley, founder of clean beauty retailer Follain, says. "There hasn't been much medical research done in this area, because what scientist or doctor wants to run a study on pregnant women? The risk is just too high." She notes that many doctors and dermatologists recommend erring on the side of caution. "The best way to do that is by switching to healthier, nontoxic products."
In addition to choosing products that are safe for your developing baby, you should change up your skincare routine to help with common skin issues that are related to pregnancy. To help, we consulted the experts to see what the ideal pregnancy skincare routine would look like. Check out their tips below.
Pregnancy-Related Skin Issues
"Pregnancy glow" is totally a thing, but, alas, pregnancy can also cause skin issues. "For many of my female clients, they don't get the 'pregnancy glow' that is often talked about," says Eileen Feighny, licensed esthetician, certified aromatherapist, and founder of Tribeca-based Tulura.
"Pregnancy can cause a lot of unwanted issues in the skin like melasma and hormonal acne, but the good news is it's temporary!"
"Melasma is a form of hyperpigmentation characterized by brown or tan patches across the face," Kerry Benjamin, celebrity esthetician and founder of StackedSkincare, says. "It's often tied to changes in hormones... but in most cases, fades in the post-partum months." Board-certified dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, notes that there are "many topical options available to decrease pigmentation from melasma, and even prevent it," during pregnancy and breastfeeding. These include chemical peels and topical ingredients such as kojic acid or licorice root. "A board-certified dermatologist can discuss these options," she says.
Stretch marks are also a common skin concern for pregnant women. They're caused by the skin stretching a lot in a short amount of time, Benjamin explains.
When you're in the first and second trimesters of your pregnancy, you also may experience hormonal acne. That's when your androgen levels are higher than normal. You also may notice that your skin is extra dry thanks to your changing hormones. "This can be temporary, but lots of women notice permanent changes," Benjamin says.
Ingredients to Eliminate
There are a lot of common ingredients to avoid in your skincare routine when you're pregnant. Benjamin says the following can be harmful to a developing fetus: salicylic acid, Retin-A, retinol, retinyl palmitate, benzoyl peroxide, hydroquinone, and some prescription acne medications. In addition, she says you should avoid professional treatments such as chemical peels with salicylic acid, Botox, and laser treatments.
So What Should Your Pregnancy Skincare Routine Look Like?
"Gentle" is the word you need to remember. "The best thing you can do is use gentle products and get regular pregnancy-safe facials," Feighny says. "Under the care of a licensed, trained professional, your treatment should be fully customized to include ingredients that are safe for you and your baby. Make sure they're using plant-based ingredients and are avoiding electrical modalities."
"The ideal pregnancy skincare routine is unique for everyone. Even if you’ve been pregnant before, your skin can react completely differently the next time around! That being said, it's a perfect time to treat your skin with extra TLC, as you might be experiencing changes like acne, extreme dryness, and irritation," Foley adds.
In addition, Benjamin says to gently exfoliate two to three times a week. "This keeps surface debris from building up on the skin and causing breakouts. It also helps alleviate dryness, which can be exacerbated by dead skin not allowing products to penetrate properly," she explains. She recommends using StackedSkincare Dermaplaning Tool to help remove dead skin cells on the surface as well as a hyaluronic acid serum to combat dryness.
To treat those pregnancy breakouts, she likes products with epidermal growth factors and yeast extract, which promote healing and cell turnover. She notes that both of these are in StackedSkincare’s EGF Activating Serum ($150).
"For an exfoliator, you can opt for glycolic acid, like Monastery Made XX Glycolic Gel ($74)," Feighny says. "Another AHA you can use is lactic acid."
Keep scrolling for more safe skincare products.
"My favorite ingredients are ones that are plant-based and rich in antioxidants like vitamin C, as well as those with natural healing properties like Moringa oil and tamanu oil," Feighny says. "I recommend this to most clients (pregnant ones included!) during this time of year, as it's one that nurtures and hydrates skin," she explains. You can also use a few drops on your body to help prevent stretch marks.
Benjamin recommends this cleanser for pregnant women because it's gentle and contains allantoin and panthenol. "Allantoin is a compound derived from the comfrey plant that soothes, hydrates, and heals skin, and panthenol is a form of vitamin B5 that hydrates, calms, and protects skin from irritation," she explains.
"The best thing you can do to prevent melasma from further developing is to wear a physical sunscreen every day like this one," Feighny says. "Shielding skin from UV damage will help ensure melasma doesn't get any worse."
All of True Botanicals' products are formulated without harmful ingredients, but they take extra care with the products in their pregnancy collection. What's deemed safe for an adult isn't the same as for a developing human. This serum is super gentle and contains a blend of hyaluronic acid plus green and white tea.
Foley recommends this "deeply nourishing moisturizer" for moms-to-be. It's brimming with good-for-skin fatty acids from apricot kernel oil and rose-hip seed oil.
Another pregnancy skincare must-have, according to Foley: This gentle cleanser formulated for sensitive skin from Tammy Fender. It contains lavender, which is a natural anti-inflammatory, and calendula, which is healing and soothing.
This belly oil from nontoxic beauty product line Hatch Collection is made with soothing calendula and sweet almond oil to help nourish skin and prevent stretch marks.
Kumari R, Jaisankar TJ, Thappa DM. A clinical study of skin changes in pregnancy. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2007;73(2):141.
Harvard Women's Health Watch. Unmasking the causes and treatments of melasma. Updated August 2018.
Brennan M, Young G, Devane D. Topical preparations for preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2012;11:CD000066. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000066.pub2
Makieva S, Saunders PT, Norman JE. Androgens in pregnancy: roles in parturition. Hum Reprod Update. 2014;20(4):542–559. doi:10.1093/humupd/dmu008