Beauty & Skincare

What Skincare You Can and Can’t Use While Pregnant, According to a Dermatologist

written by BRETT NICOLE HAYDEN

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pregnancy-safe skincare"
pregnancy-safe skincare
Source: Pexels | Yan Krukau
Source: Pexels | Yan Krukau

Many moms know the story well: We find ourselves filled with excitement at the sight of a positive pregnancy test—and then the nerves kick in. The fact is, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to being pregnant. Not the least of which is how to be the healthiest version of ourselves to ensure the baby benefits from that. We may find ourselves Googling more than ever. What are the best pregnancy workout routines? Is it normal for my breasts to hurt? What foods do I need to cut out for the next nine months?

We may even find ourselves questioning our normal beauty and skincare routines as well. If there are foods that aren’t considered safe for pregnant moms, surely there are ingredients in skincare we want to avoid, too, right? Today, we get to the bottom of this question. We’re doing so with the help of Dr. Caroline A. Chang, MD.

A board-certified dermatologist and founder of Rhode Island Dermatology Institute, Dr. Chang has over a decade of experience in both medical and cosmetic dermatology. We couldn’t think of anyone better to shed light on the best pregnancy-safe skincare products and what to avoid while pregnant and nursing.

Meet the expert
Dr. Caroline A. Chang, MD
Board-Certified Dermatologist and Founder of Rhode Island Dermatology Institute

Pregnancy-Safe & Nursing-Safe Skincare

Ingredients to Avoid

Dr. Chang quickly pointed out that retinol products should be avoided while pregnant or nursing. She shared that this includes both over-the-counter forms of retinol as well as prescription tretinoin. Many women love retinol, which is a form of vitamin A, because of its acne-fighting and anti-aging abilities. The use of retinol products while pregnant, though, is not recommended because too much vitamin A can actually become toxic to the baby.

Dr. Chang also recommends avoiding hydroquinone, a skin-bleaching cream often used to combat hyperpigmentation. Only a handful of studies have looked into the exact effects of hydroquinone on pregnancy. Even so, sources agree that because of the substantial absorption that happens while using the product, use should be halted while pregnant and nursing.

Ingredients to Incorporate

Touching on some of the main reasons for skincare use, Dr. Chang was able to provide alternatives that are considered safe while pregnant and nursing. First, she recommends the use of glycolic acid or lactic acid to keep up with skin exfoliation and brightening. Both are natural acids that can be used to chemically exfoliate the skin.

She went on to explain that moms who want to keep up with skin lightening during pregnancy should look for products with kojic acid or licorice extract. Also naturally occurring, kojic acid is a fungal product that can be used to combat hyperpigmentation. Licorice extract is known for several benefits, including correcting hyperpigmentation, UV-fighting, brightening, and toning. It’s said to be a good alternative to retinol and hydroquinone for pregnant women.

Be Prepared for Change

Like nearly every part of our bodies during pregnancy, Dr. Chang pointed out the importance of understanding that our skincare will need to change as well. She shared, “Be prepared to change your skincare routine based on how your skin responds to your pregnancy.” You may notice that your skin is more oily than before or more sensitive. With this knowledge, we can accept and adjust accordingly.

Because of this, she suggests using simpler, more natural products when possible and minimizing fragrance or additional ingredients. The more we can limit harsh ingredients such as skin acids or drying agents, the better.

Best Pregnancy-Safe Skincare Products

When it comes to nailing down the best pregnancy-safe skincare products, Dr. Chang says ingredients are key. Opt for simple products that do not include fragrances or formaldehyde. Dr. Chang recommends the following specific products:

For Oily Skin

Target | Cetaphil
Dermacontrol Oil Absorbing Moisturizer

Great for sensitive and/or oily skin, Dr. Chang recommends this moisturizer from the popular, affordable brand Cetaphil. With SPF 30, you can protect the skin from UV rays while you moisturize without parabens or synthetic fragrances.

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Target | La Roche Posay
Purifying Foaming Face Wash

This face wash from acclaimed brand La Roche Posay has both raving reviews and Dr. Chang’s stamp of approval. Consider it everything you want from a cleanser that also maintains the skin’s natural protective barrier & pH.

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Target | Neutrogena
Ultra Sheer Moisturizing Face Sunscreen

A quality, lightweight sunscreen that’s perfect for all-day wear is a must. SPF 60+ and fragrance-free, this is an affordable option that is great for pregnancy, nursing, and beyond.

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For Dry or Sensitive Skin

Target | La Roche Posay
Cicaplast Balm

A skincare product that is great for both adults and babies alike is hard to come by. But recommended by Dr. Chang for any irritated spots on the face or body, this balm can be used for moms or babies with ailments like diaper rash.

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Ulta | Aveeno
Calm + Restore Face Moisturizer

For red, sensitive skin, a soothing cream is a must. This cream moisturizer from Aveeno is vegan and made with clean ingredients to hydrate skin and soothe facial redness.

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Target | La Roche Posay
Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Face Wash

Anyone with sensitive skin can appreciate a gentle cleanser. Another suggestion from celebrated brand La Roche Posay, the toleriane cleanser will allow the skin to retain essential moisture while cleansing.

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Target | La Roche Posay
Face Moisturizer Sunscreen Toleriane

All-day hydration and UVA/UVB protection​ meet in this moisturizing sunscreen. It’s also Dr. Chang-approved for sensitive skin.

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Exfoliating Products

Target | Cerave
Skin Renewing Nightly Exfoliating Treatment Glycolic Acid Face Serum

With a blend of glycolic acid and lactic acid, this nightly treatment gently exfoliates to renew and clarify skin cells. It also contains the licorice root extract that Dr. Chang recommends.

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Ulta | The Ordinary
Lactic Acid 10%

As Dr. Chang suggested, Lactic Acid is a great natural exfoliant to incorporate into the skincare routine. It offers a great solution for anyone dealing with uneven tones and textures on the skin.

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Body Products

Target | SheaMoisture
Raw Shea Butter Hydrating Body Lotion

For growing belly skin, Dr. Chang suggests a thick moisturizing lotion like shea butter.

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Target | Bio-Oil
Skincare Oil

Dr. Chang also touched on the benefits of a quality body oil. This option from Bio-Oil hydrates skin and helps improve the appearance of both stretch marks and scars.

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