Pregnancy brings a slew of changes to your body, lifestyle and routine, including your skin care regimen. Not only can your skin concerns change — oily skin can suddenly become dry, low-maintenance skin becomes newly sensitive — but the ingredients that are safe to use on your face and body also change too. In certain concentrations, our experts say oral retinol and salicylic acid both carry risks of possible birth defects, so you’ll want to discuss the topical use of these ingredients with your doctor. You’ll also want to consider the type of sunscreen you’re using too.
To help you navigate shifting skin concerns during pregnancy and identify the right pregnancy-safe products to treat them, we spoke to dermatologists about what ingredients to avoid and what to know when shopping.
SKIP AHEAD The best skin care products for pregnancy in 2023 | How to shop for pregnancy-safe skin care products | Skin changes during pregnancy | Ingredients to avoid during pregnancy
Our top picks
How we picked the best pregnancy-safe skin care products
We asked board-certified dermatologists about common pregnancy skin concerns like dryness and sensitivity and for their recommendations on pregnancy-safe formulas. During pregnancy, they recommend checking product labels for unsafe ingredients, which we explain in detail below, and switching to gentle formulas. Here’s what to keep in mind, according to experts:
- Risky ingredients: Many experts in the medical community consider certain common skin care ingredients — namely retinoids (vitamin A), salicylic acid (or BHAs), hydroquinone and oxybenzone — to be unsafe to use during pregnancy because of the potential to cause fetal damage, says Dr. Sejal Shah, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Smarter Skin Dermatology in New York. Most of the evidence behind these warnings comes from heavy doses, oral use (particularly oral retinoids and salicylic acid) or animal studies, and the risk of using these ingredients occasionally in the small amounts you would use on your face is likely theoretical, according to our experts. Still, there are plenty of pregnancy-safe alternatives that carry no known risks. “If you have an option that we know to be safe [during pregnancy], why use one that we don’t have enough information about?” says Dr. Rachel Nazarian, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with the Schweiger Dermatology group in New York.
- Moisturizing capabilities: During pregnancy, physical and hormonal changes can lead to sensitive, dry skin. Look for formulas designed to boost hydration and protect your skin barrier with ingredients such as niacinamide, hyaluronic acid and glycerin. When it comes to application, moisturizing is particularly important at night, according to our experts. “Having adequate hydration is how our skin repairs itself overnight,” says Dr. Erum Ilyas, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with the Schweiger Dermatology group in Pennsylvania. Having a healthy skin barrier protects you from bacteria and allergens, which is particularly important during pregnancy.
- Chemical vs. physical sunscreen: During pregnancy, our experts recommend looking for a mineral sunscreen instead of a chemical formula if you are not already using one. That’s because oxybenzone, the active ingredient in many chemical sunscreens, is linked to certain birth defects. Opt for sunscreens with physical UV blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide instead.
- Fragrance free: Our experts also recommend looking for fragrance-free products if your skin is more sensitive than usual during pregnancy. While scents are not considered harmful, synthetic fragrances can be irritating to skin.
The best pregnancy-safe skin care products in 2023
When pregnant, you do not have to ditch the entire contents of your medicine cabinet and start fresh, say our experts. Reading labels, discussing the risks with your doctor and adjusting your routine accordingly can go a long way. Below, we compiled the best dermatologist-vetted cleansers, serums, moisturizers and more to address all your pregnancy-related skin concerns safely.
Best pregnancy-safe sunscreens
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Mineral Sunscreen
Shah recommends switching to a mineral sunscreen during pregnancy. In addition to concerns about the effects of oxybenzone on fetal development, mineral formulas can be less irritating for sensitive pregnancy skin, she says. Our experts like La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios sunscreen for its sheer texture and blendability. This zinc oxide-based formula has an SPF of 50, and it’s also oil-free.
Coola Mineral Body Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
For a full-body option, our experts like Coola’s mineral sunscreen. The fragrance-free formula has broad-spectrum protection, which means it keeps your skin safe from both UVA and UVB rays. Plus, it has a sheer finish and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, according to the brand.
Best pregnancy-safe serums
CeraVe Hyaluronic Acid Serum
For pregnant patients, Ilyas recommends hyaluronic-acid based serums, which can add an additional layer of hydration to skin before you apply moisturizer. With it, you’re giving yourself a little boost of hydration to help minimize fine lines and wrinkles, without an active ingredient that can harm the baby in any way, says Ilyas.
La Roche-Posay 10% Pure Niacinamide Serum
Another gentle pregnancy-safe option is a niacinamide serum, which our experts recommend for its anti-inflammatory benefits. It works to reduce discoloration, hyperpigmentation and dark spots, plus, according to Ilyas, it nicely hydrates the skin overnight too. After cleansing, you can apply three to four drops every morning and evening on your face, neck and hands, according to the brand.
Neutrogena Hydro Boost + Niacinamide Serum
“Niacinamide is a real powerhouse ingredient, just like vitamin C,” says Shah. It can address fine lines and also has anti-inflammatory benefits. It can also help brighten the skin, which can be particularly useful during pregnancy when hormones stimulate the production of pigment in the skin, says Shah. You can use this 10% niacinamide serum twice a day before applying moisturizer, according to the brand.
Biossance Squalane + 10% Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum
This serum will target the hyperpigmentation many people battle during pregnancy, says Shah. Squalane helps lock in moisture, rose petal extract calms the skin and vitamin C helps tackle pregnancy-related pigmentation issues like melasma. “It’s going to help hydrate, protect, and brighten the skin, which is all stuff the skin needs during pregnancy,” she says.
Skinbetter Science Even Tone Correction Serum
Another pregnancy-safe serum our experts recommend for addressing pigmentation issues is Skinbetter Science’s Even Tone Correction Serum. The formula is free of hydroquinone, an ingredient our experts recommend avoiding during pregnancy and instead brightens the skin with pregnancy-safe kakadu plum extract (a form of vitamin C) as its active ingredient.
Best pregnancy-safe moisturizers
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer
For a thicker, extra-hydrating face moisturizer, our experts recommend La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer. It has three types of hydrators — niacinamide, glycerin, and ceramides — in it to help draw moisture into the skin and strengthen the skin barrier.
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Water Gel
For pregnant patients on the oilier side, our experts recommend Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Water Gel. Water-based gels like this hydrate your skin without adding oil that can potentially clog pores.. It also has a key hydrator in hyaluronic acid: “Hyaluronic acid is something found naturally in our skin, it’s safe during pregnancy, and it’s well-tolerated by everyone, including those in the hyper-sensitive state of pregnancy,” says Dr. Nazarian.
CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion
For a pregnancy-safe moisturizer you can use from head-to-toe, Ilyas likes CeraVe’s Daily Moisturizing lotion, which you can use on the face and body, because it doesn’t feel “slimy and uncomfortable,” she says. Formulated with three types of ceramides, it is particularly helpful in strengthening the skin barrier as it stretches during pregnancy, according to the brand.
Best pregnancy-safe retinol alternative
Tatcha The Silk Serum
Most of our experts say it’s best to err on the side of caution and eliminate retinol from your skin care routine during pregnancy. As a replacement, Shah recommends Tatcha’s silk serum. “It uses a combination of cranberry extract and sea fennel to help support collagen [production],” she says. Like a traditional retinol, it also helps to plump skin, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, according to the brand.
Best pregnancy-safe cleansers
Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar
When it comes to cleansers, our experts say the simpler the better. One of Nazarian’s all-time favorites is Dove’s Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar since it cleanses without being irritating. “It’s just a good solid basic,” she says. There’s also no added synthetic fragrances, according to the brand.
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Dermo Milky Cleanser
Particularly during pregnancy, “you want to keep that skin barrier super healthy and super moisturized,” says Nazarian. “The last thing you want to do is dry it out and make it irritated.” If you find your skin falling into the irritated, dry or sensitive categories, Shah recommends La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane Dermo Milky Cleanser. It has glycerin, which is a humectant that helps draw water into the skin to keep you hydrated, according to La Roche-Posay.
CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser
Like other options on our list, this CeraVe’s Foaming Facial Cleanser has hyaluronic acid, niacinamide and ceramides in it to hydrate your skin. “It’s not as irritating to the skin as some cleansers can be and it doesn’t have any active [ingredients] that are aggravating or irritating your skin further,” says Ilyas. There’s also no added fragrance, according to the brand.
Best pregnancy-safe acne treatments
Dermatologica Deep Acne Liquid Patch
Addressing pregnancy-related acne can be challenging if you’re avoiding salicylic acid — a staple in many acne-fighting formulas. This spot treatment, which has niacinamide in it to help reduce inflammation, is a pregnancy-safe alternative. “It’s a sulfur-based treatment, which is a safe ingredient for acne in pregnancy,” says Shah. A little goes a long way: dispense a drop of product the size of a grain of rice onto the back of your hand and then use your finger to dab onto your blemish before massaging it in, according to the brand.
The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% Exfoliator
Azelaic acid is another dermatologist-recommended alternative to salicylic acid during pregnancy. It not only effectively addresses acne, but most azelaic acid formulas are nonirritating to sensitive pregnancy skin, says Ilyas. Azelaic acid is also favored by our experts as a brightening ingredient to help address pregnancy-related pigmentation conditions like melasma.
How to shop for pregnancy-safe skin care
When shopping for pregnancy-safe skin care, experts say the best approach involves assessing your skin’s changing needs and talking with your doctor about what ingredients you feel comfortable using. Below, we highlight where to begin when evaluating the best products for pregnancy.
- Assess your skin care needs. “When you are pregnant, your skin is different,” says Shah. A combination of vascular, hormonal, and physical changes mean that skin texture can change, and many pregnant people experience dryness and itchiness as a result. Making sure your skin care routine includes products with ultra-hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid is important as are products with ceramides to help strengthen the skin barrier, according to our experts. If you’re experiencing irritation, try eliminating products with synthetic fragrances and replacing them with fragrance-free options, say our experts.
- Read ingredient labels. You don’t need to overhaul your entire skin care routine during pregnancy, says Shah, but you should be aware of ingredients that could pose a risk during pregnancy. Our experts recommend stopping the use of retinoids, avoiding brightening creams containing hydroquinone and acne treatments containing salicylic acid.
- Talk to your doctor. No matter how conservatively you approach your topical skin care routine or if you exclusively use over-the-counter ingredients, talk to your doctor about any oral medications you’re taking. Medications including isotretinoin (Accutane) and spironolactone, which are prescribed by a dermatologist for concerns including acne and hair loss, are dangerous during pregnancy and can seriously impact fetal development.
Skin changes during pregnancy
Your skin care needs may completely change during pregnancy. Shifting hormones, increased blood flow and blood volume, and the physical stretching of the skin that occurs during pregnancy can trigger acne, dryness, sensitivity and hyperpigmentation. Most skin changes during pregnancy are nothing to worry about, but if you have a rash, especially if it is itchy, you should consult a doctor. “There are some skin diseases that are very specific to pregnancy and we often do like to check those out,” says Shah. Below are some of the most common skin changes to expect during pregnancy.
- Pigmentation. Pigmentation-related skin changes are very common during pregnancy, says Shah. Melasma, commonly called “the mask of pregnancy,” is a type of hyperpigmentation that most often shows up in a freckle-like pattern of brown or grayish spots on the face, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. It’s also common to experience hyperpigmentation around the areola, inner thighs, and abdomen, according to our experts.
- Vascular changes. Vascular changes are also common during pregnancy. Our experts say that you may notice the appearance of varicose veins and spider veins thanks to the increased blood flow and blood volume that occurs during pregnancy.
- Sensitivity. Dryness and itchiness are common, especially on the abdomen, according to our experts. “Skin just doesn’t hold onto moisture as effectively as before,” says Ilyas. “It is not only hormonally driven, but a physical phenomenon — as skin stretches, it’s thinned out and doesn’t hold onto moisturize effectively because there is less actual substance that can hold onto or retain moisture in the skin as effectively as before.” Pregnancy skin may also be more prone to irritation and skin conditions like eczema.
- Acne. Shifting hormones during pregnancy can cause breakouts — both cystic acne and rosacea-based breakouts are common, according to our experts. “It does tend to happen in the first trimester, so if you’ve made it through the first trimester without an issue, it’s less likely to occur in the second and third trimester,” says Shah.
Ingredients to avoid during pregnancy
When approaching skin care ingredients to avoid during pregnancy, our experts say that context is important. Using a topical retinoid on your face a few times a week is very different from taking an oral retinoid like isotretinoin, using a prescription cream with a high concentration of the active ingredient or even using a retinol body cream that you apply to large surface area of skin, says Nazarian. The risk of impacting fetal development with the former practice is present, but very low, she says. “Most people are fine, even if they’re not being super, super, super cautious about what they’re [using].”
That said, our experts all agree it’s best to be cautious when using retinoids and other ingredients, especially when there are so many great alternative ingredients that are safe to use in pregnancy. “I tend to tell my patients it’s probably safer to avoid ingredients that we know are not safe at higher concentrations because we don’t know how much they’re going to absorb at an individual level,” says Ilyas.
Below are the most common skin care ingredients to remove from your routine during pregnancy (or at least discuss with your doctor).
- Retinoids. Retinoids, or vitamin A derivatives, can address acne and signs of aging including fine lines and wrinkles. They’re a skin care staple recommended by many dermatologists and are widely considered unsafe to use during pregnancy. But with retinoids, “it’s a fine line between erring on the side of caution and fear mongering,” says Nazarian. “We know that isotretinoin and oral retinoids can be pretty damaging to a fetus. We have lots of evidence that suggests topically, however, it’s not.” She says she personally used adapalene, a retinoid-like compound throughout her pregnancy. In other words, using a topical retinol during the earliest days of pregnancy (perhaps before you found out you were pregnant,) isn’t a reason to panic, according to our experts. If you want to continue using a topical retinol, our experts recommend speaking with your doctor.
- Salicylic acid. Salicylic acid, a common acne fighter that may appear on an ingredient list as a BHA (beta hydroxy acid), is similar to retinoids in that it is not safe for use during pregnancy as an oral medication. The safety of salicylic acid as an over-the-counter topical treatment is murkier. “The general thought is that if it’s a limited amount, such as a low percentage treatment applied to a limited area, it’s probably safe to use,” says Shah. Because there isn’t consensus in the medical community, “it’s always best to clear that with your OB-GYN,” she says. For a pregnancy-safe alternative acne treatment, our experts recommend azelaic acid or benzoyl peroxide, which is considered safe to use during pregnancy by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Alpha hydroxy acid (also called glycolic acid) is also considered safe when used topically, says Shah.
- Oxybenzone. Oxybenzone, the active ingredient found in many chemical sunscreens, is not safe for pregnancy. As an endocrine disruptor, it can impact fetal development, particularly the development of neurological, reproductive, and immune systems. Since you typically use sunscreen on your entire body, it’s important to find a pregnancy-safe formula. Studies show that you can absorb oxybenzone through the skin, pass it through the bloodstream, and have it reach the fetus in concentrations high enough to be concerning, according to the National Institutes of Health. Our experts recommend switching to a mineral sunscreen during pregnancy.
- Hydroquinone. Hydroquinone, a brightening treatment that can address pigmentation issues like melasma, is no longer available over the counter so it’s unlikely to be in your medicine cabinet unless you have a prescription. While the risks of using hydroquinone during pregnancy are low, according to the NIH, our experts recommend avoiding it. Instead, they say to choose formulas with pregnancy-safe brightening agents like vitamin C or azelaic acid.
- Phthalates. Phthalates are a group of chemicals found in plastics and many beauty products. Like oxybenzone, they are endocrine disruptors, meaning they have the potential to impact fetal development. Exposure to phthalates during pregnancy is also linked to an increased risk of preterm birth, according to the NIH. Phthalates are admittedly difficult to avoid during pregnancy, according to our experts, since they are found in so many products we interact with on a daily basis. You can minimize your exposure by looking for hair and skincare products labeled “phthalate-free.”
- Essential oils. When pregnant, your dermatologist may also advise limiting your exposure to certain essential oils — including camphor, clary sage, cinnamon, tansy, and hyssop.“People think of essential oils as safe because they’re natural ingredients, but a lot of [them] can do things like induce uterine contractions or can block certain hormones,” says Shah. Again, the amount that you’re exposed to with topical skin care ingredients is likely low enough not to cause a panic, she says, but it’s worth discussing with your dermatologist if you’re pregnant.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Dr. Sejal Shah, M.D., FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Smarter Skin Dermatology in New York. She specializes in cosmetic dermatology and treating skin of color.
- Dr. Rachel Nazarian, M.D., FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist with the Schweiger Dermatology group in New York. Her areas of research include the treatment of skin disease and she also specializes in cosmetic treatments including lasers and injectables.
- Dr. Erum Ilyas, M.D., FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist with the Schweiger Dermatology group in Pennsylvania. Her expertise includes pediatric and medical dermatology and skin cancer treatment.
Why trust Select?
Macaela MacKenzie is a journalist and former Glamour editor who has been covering beauty and wellness treatments for over a decade. For this article, MacKenzie spoke to three dermatologists about the best perinatal skincare products, including ingredients to avoid during pregnancy.
Catch up on Select’s in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to stay up to date.