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Safe skincare during pregnancy

The body is full of surprises during pregnancy and our skin is no exception. For some, the pregnancy glow is real, whereas others struggle with issues such as itchiness, dryness, acne, and discoloration – or even a combination of it all! As if those changes weren’t enough, it can be hard to know what products are safe and effective to use. Here’s a quick look at some skincare dos and don’ts.

What to avoid?

First up, there are a few ingredients you should definitely avoid. These include:

  • Retinoids, or vitamin A derivatives, such as Retin-A or Renova (commonly found in anti-ageing products). Although over-the-counter products contain low doses of retinoids, birth defects have been linked to higher doses, meaning this ingredient is best left out altogether.
  • Salicylic acid – a lot of cleansers and toners contain salicylic acid and they are generally safe; however, doses above 2% should not be used. Higher doses are more frequently found in acne treatments and anti-ageing peels.
  • Hydroquinone – this can be found in lightening creams. While no link has been identified with birth defects, absorption rates are a lot higher during pregnancy, and it can cause irritation at a time when skin may be more sensitive.
  • Phthalates – this chemical is used in many plastic products, making it hard to avoid entirely. However, it’s better to limit exposure to plastics where possible due to the risk of hormone disruption[1].
  • Chemical sunscreen – non-mineral sunscreens containing oxybenzone can be absorbed into the bloodstream and lead to the rare condition Hirschsprung’s disease[2]. The ingredient is also considered an endocrine disruptor, adversely affecting development, the reproductive, neurological, and immune systems.
  • Parabens – The most common parabens in cosmetics are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. There is some evidence to show that if they sit on the skin for extended periods of time they can cause weight problems in children[3]. The FDA is continuing to monitor data and evaluate their impact on health[4].

Side note: Something to be mindful of is just because an ingredient is labelled organic or natural doesn’t always mean that it’s safe. Soy, for example, has estrogenic effects, which can make dark patches worse. Plus, several essential oils are classified as unsafe. Always do your research or speak to a healthcare provider first.

Make up

Most widely available makeup choices are safe, but do check and avoid any ingredients listed above. Look for labels such as ‘BPA free’, ‘fragrance-free’, ‘no DEA’, ‘paraben-free’, and ‘no phthalates’.

Mineral makeup is the ideal choice, because it’s comprised of naturally derived ingredients (i.e. minerals) and doesn’t contain chemical nasties. It sits on top of the skin and the ingredients don’t penetrate the dermis or enter the bloodstream. Mineral makeup is also better for sensitive skin, which is a godsend if your complexion is struggling with hormonal changes. Plus, the natural zinc oxide acts as a broad spectrum sun protector.

Treatment etiquette

A soothing facial can be just the thing to treat troubled skin during pregnancy, just say no to anything too abrasive, which will only aggravate any sensitivity. Also stay away from chemical peels, retinoids, or aromatherapy based treatments. Prenatal massages are generally considered safe after the first trimester. Choose a therapist that has experience in this area and caters to pregnant women. Do not lie on your back as this could reduce blood flow to the placenta.

[1] JCEM: “Early Prenatal Phthalate Exposure, Sex Steroid Hormones, and Birth Outcomes”


[2] Parents: https://www.parents.com/news/using-chemical-sunscreen-during-pregnancy-may-cause-a-rare-birth-defect/

[3] Science Daily: “If pregnant women use cosmetics containing parabens, this may have consequences”  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200212111438.htm

[4] FDA: “Parabens in Cosmetics” https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/parabens-cosmetics

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