Azelaic acid is a workhorse when it comes to everything having to do with the skin’s surface appearance, but emerging research suggests that it might also impact testosterone production by disrupting the process that converts this hormone into its more potent form, DHT. While further study is needed, the potential for azelaic acid to impact testosterone in a developing fetus means it is best to avoid this skincare staple while pregnant.
Another go-to acne fighter, the antiseptic known as benzoyl peroxide, is also an ingredient that some doctors recommend steering clear of as there are no specific studies on its use during pregnancy. Although there are experts, Dr. Garshick says, who do “believe, because very little gets absorbed systemically, it may be okay to use in limited areas.”
While often lauded for their “natural” properties, essential oils are also something to keep an eye on. “Essential oils can be used in moderation during pregnancy, but I recommend avoiding direct contact with skin due to their ability to induce intense skin allergies,” says Dr. Samantha Ellis. She notes that some essential oils like cinnamon, clove, rosemary, and sage “have been touted for their ability to induce contractions, which typically should be avoided until late in the third trimester.”
This is also the time to skip out on your neurotoxin treatments (aka, Botox and fillers), since there have been very limited studies on their effects on pregnancy. Because of this, doctors recommend avoiding injecting toxins into your skin during this time.
It’s understandable to be cautious about what you’re using on your face and body during fertility treatments and pregnancy, but as long as you keep an eye out for the ingredients to avoid, you should feel comfortable with your preferred skincare regime.
“There are two key things to keep in mind. One, is that we have very few current clinical studies with the use of these products in regard to their safety during pregnancy,” says dermatology nurse practitioner, Allie McAllister. The second is that “very little — like, less than 5% — is absorbed systemically.”
But there are also plenty of high-results ingredients that are completely safe (and effective) to use during pregnancy.
Glycolic acid and lactic acid
Often touted for its exfoliant powers, glycolic acid is a popular ingredient in the fight against acne, but it can also boost the skin’s collagen production and help treat any discoloration issues due to hyperpigmentation or acne-scarring. McAllister notes that while alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid have not been studied topically in humans, “In theory much smaller amounts would be absorbed through a topical treatment and would be considered moderately safe during pregnancy.” Lactic acid, another AHA, “is across the board considered a safe option for pregnancy.”
L-ascorbic acid (or vitamin C)
McAllister also emphasizes that L-ascorbic acid — aka vitamin C — is considered safe during pregnancy and “is something everyone should be using in their AM routine.” A potent antioxidant, L-ascorbic acid can help address conditions ranging from hyperpigmentation to redness and is generally recognized for giving skin that coveted healthy glow. (But don’t forget to be a good label reader and make sure that whatever vitamin C product you use doesn’t also contain hydroquinone, the other common hyperpigmentation ingredient that is on the “avoid” list.)
Dr. Garshick also recommends hyaluronic acid, which, she explains, “naturally occurs in our skin so it is considered safe for topical use.” This ingredient, which often comes as a serum, is a powerful moisturizing agent that helps skin stay hydrated, dewy, and smooth.
Niacinamide is another ingredient doctors often choose for pregnant and breastfeeding patients. A form of vitamin B3 often found in moisturizers and serums, niacinamide is praised for its ability to treat both acne and skin discoloration issues, including hyperpigmentation and rosacea.
And after you have a baby? Experts say just keep doing what you’re doing until you are finished breastfeeding. Then, you can celebrate your skincare freedom with whatever products strike your skin’s fancy!