Pregnancy-Safe Skincare | Ingredients To Avoid

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Pregnancy-Safe Skincare: 6 Ingredients to Avoid

Includes retinol. Sorry

pregnancy safe skincare
Artem Varnitsin / EyeEmGetty Images

If you're currently cooking a baby – but 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.

While your entire skin set-up doesn't need to be altered beyond all recognition, know that pregnancy-safe skincare does mean that a few of your faves need to be put to one side for a while – much like gin and tonics with a grapefruit twist and cheese so soft you could use it for pottery.

Pregnancy-safe skincare: what's the deal?

The reason for this is straightforward. '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.'

6 ingredients to avoid if you're pregnant

1/ 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.'

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

      Protini Polypeptide Cream
      Drunk Elephant

      2/ 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.

      Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
      The Ordinary

      3/ Hydroquinone

      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.]

      4/ Formaldehyde

      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.

      Bumble and bumble Straight Blow Dry Balm 150ml
      Bumble and bumble

      5/ Spironolactone

      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.

      6/ Parabens

      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.

      Korres Sunflower and Mountain Tea Shampoo 250ml

      Your AM and PM pregnancy skincare routines

      To make this a little easier, WH has tapped up skincare expert and leading facialist Michaella Bolder, who has worked with some of the most glowing faces in the biz (hello, Naomie Harris and Frankie Bridge.) She's here to fill us in on the best in pregnancy beauty, from morning through to night.

      Pregnancy beauty: AM

          Cleanse your skin

          First things first, wake up and drink a warm herbal tea to up your hydration levels, Bolder advises. Many pregnant women experience dry skin, as a result of hormone changes. As such, she advises using micellar water with organic cotton pads to cleanse your skin in the morning, to avoid exacerbating any dryness by using a cleanser that you wash off with water.

          Bioderma Sensibio H2O 250ml

          Hydrate with a serum

          Parched complexions will be happy campers when they receive a dose of skin plumping hyaluronic acid. Yes, acid – Bolder says not to worry about the name, as: 'Even though it has acid in its title, it is safe to use, as it only affects the outer layers of your skin and it is extremely hydrating.'

          La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Hyaluronic Acid Serum 30ml
          La Roche-Posay

          Nourish your skin

          Once you've applied your hydrating serum, as ever, you want to seal it in. Apply a rich cream to park any lingering tightness.

          Avene Skin Recovery Cream RICH 50ml

          Protect with SPF

          Your skin is extra sensitive and can be more prone to pigmentation when you're pregnant, so SPF is even more essential than normal. If you find your complexion is feeling sensitive, try using SPF that has gentle mineral actives of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. We love:

          REN Clean Screen Mineral SPF30 Mattifying Broad Spectrum Face Sunscreen 50ml
          REN Clean Skincare

              Have a skin pick-me-up

              Just like you, '3pm is the time when your skin starts to slump', Bolder says. So if your complexion is feeling thirsty, try upping your water and giving your body a boost by choosing water rich foods like watermelon and cucumber.

              Need a quick fix? Pop some squalane oil in your handbag says Michaela, 'Don't worry if you're wearing makeup, just make sure you have clean hands and then gently press it on to your skin, don't move in circular motions, just pat.'

              Facetheory Squalane Oil O7 (100ml). 100% Pure Vegan Olive Squalane - An Exceptional Emollient for Dry and Sensitive Skin.

              Pregnancy beauty: PM

                  Cleanse (again)

                  'Take your make up off as soon as you can: so when you get home as opposed to before bed,' Bolder advises. (NB: this isn't pregnancy-specific, just general good skin practice.)

                  'If your skin is sensitive, and isn't dry or spot prone, then you may like to use an oil cleanser as they're very gentle on your face,' she adds. 'DHC's deep cleansing oil is great as it doesn't have anything [harmful] in it. But if that doesn't work for you then I'd stick to a micellar water,' advises Michaela.

                  DHC Deep Cleansing Oil 200ml


                  Once or twice a week, remove dead skin cells and improve blood circulation with natural cleansing balms that include crystals, or nourishing exfoliators.

                  You can't use salicylic acid when you're pregnant, so, if you're acne-prone, then try using a glycolic acid exfoliator instead. This can help to remove dead skin cells and unclog pores.

                  However Bolder advises that you proceed with caution. 'You need to note that your skin may react very differently to normal, so you might find that you get a lot of dryness, or peeling. So, try it out a very low percentage and try on area that's less sensitive or dry first.'

                  'And you also need to make sure you're protecting it fully from UVA and UVB rays the next day, which you should be doing anyway, baby or no baby. But with hormone levels so high your skin is less protected, so – again – SPF is essential.'

                  Pai Kukui & Jojoba Bead Skin Brightening Exfoliator, 75ml

                  Massage your skin

                  Apply the same hyaluronic acid that you patted on this morning to plump up the skin. Then, if you have time, Bolder advises, 'try applying some squalane oil and get some blood to the surface of your skin by giving your complexion a massage. No squalane? You can use other natural oils like Rosehip, argan or almond, but you need to avoid essential oils when you're pregnant.'

                  Apply a moisture-rich night cream

                  'If pregnancy is making your complexion seriously dry, it will benefit from a thick lotion like a cold cream', says Bolder. 'Weleda Skin Food is also very popular with pregnant women, as it's made from natural ingredients.'

                  Weleda Skin Food (75ml)

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