When you’re pregnant, everything revolves around the life growing inside you. There are so many ways that your lifestyle changes, from the clothes you wear to the food you eat. Some expecting mothers also change up their beauty routines in order to avoid certain ingredients. It’s typical to wonder how the shampoo, body wash, moisturizer, or face serum you use every day might affect your growing baby.
Fortunately, the majority of over-the-counter products are perfectly safe to use during pregnancy, Sherry Ross, M.D., an ob/gyn and women's health expert at Providence Saint John's Health Center, tells SELF. But there are a handful of ingredients that doctors generally tell their pregnant patients to steer clear of. In most cases, the science isn’t crystal clear on whether or how dangerous they might be for a developing baby, but since it’s pretty easy to take particular products out of your skin-care and beauty regimens, the guidance is to play it safe. (Some are definite no-gos—read on.)
Annoyingly, several ingredients that make the do-not-use-for-40-weeks list are great for treating the exact skin issues that crop up during pregnancy as a result of your hormones going bonkers. For moms-to-be battling breakouts—a common side effect of pregnancy—stay away from the oral prescription treatments Accutane and spironolactone, which are known to cause birth defects. There are alternatives—including the antibiotics erythromycin and clindamycin—which can be safely used during pregnancy, according to Dr. Ross. When it comes to over-the-counter acne treatments, benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are generally assumed to be fine when applied topically, but there’s little research and no set safety limit, so check in with your doctor before using them.
We regret to report that retinol users will want to keep their skin-smoothing serums on the shelf. Anna Guanche, M.D., a dermatologist at Bella Skin Institute, warns that pregnant women should avoid anything with Retin A (tretinoin), retinol, retinoic acid, or any other vitamin A derivatives, because they may be associated with birth defects. Not much is absorbed into the body, and the link is still controversial, but doctors recommend nixing retinoids to be safe, especially during the first trimester.
If you happen to experience hyperpigmentation or melasma, which are both common during pregnancy, you can use a skin-brightening treatment as long as it doesn’t contain hydroquinone. There’s only limited evidence that it could cause pregnancy complications, but because it’s known to absorb well into the body, pregnant women are advised not to use it, warns Kameelah Phillips, M.D., an ob/gyn.
Some pregnant women choose to avoid nail polish containing formaldehyde, though that might be more of a concern for whoever is doing your nails. The chemical—which is often used as a preservative and can be found in countless places—is a known carcinogen that can cause developmental defects and negative pregnancy outcomes when inhaled in large amounts or for long periods of time. The Centers for Disease Control warns women who work in health-care settings, funeral homes, and, yes, salons to be wary of exposure during pregnancy. If it makes you feel better, you can switch to “3-free” polishes from brands such as Essie and OPI (or Sundays, which calls their polishes 10-free) that exclude formaldehyde, along with dibutyl phthalate (part of a group of chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens) and toluene (which can cause birth defects if inhaled at very high levels).
While all of this might sound scary and intimidating, the truth is that most of what you pick up at the store is perfectly safe to use while you’re pregnant. And it’s your choice to cut out ingredients that make you uneasy—your peace of mind during pregnancy is important, too! If you have any questions about the products you use, go over your skin-care and beauty regimen with your doctor. That’s what she’s there for.
It’s a lot, we know. So we asked moms who’ve already gone through it to share the beauty products they loved most while they were expecting. Not only did they feel confident using them, but they stand by the results.