Diet, medications, and cosmetics – there are more changes in pregnancy than just your growing belly. Because your baby doesn’t have the same protections that adults do, there are many products that could be potentially harmful to your baby if applied to your skin. The products are intended to penetrate your skin and have their desired activity on the skin. As a result, they can get into your bloodstream and potentially transmit to your baby. Here’s a list of ingredient no-no’s to avoid when you’re pregnant.


Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A. These ingredients promote skin cell turnover, helping to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. High dosages of vitamin A and retinoids can be harmful to unborn babies. While there isn’t any study that says topical retinoids are harmful to babies, few research studies are conducted on pregnant women because of the potential harm to babies. Because doctors know oral forms of retinoids, like isotretinoin (Accutane) are harmful, they don’t recommend topical options either. Examples of topical retinoids or ingredients include:

  • Differin (adapelene)
  • Retin-A (tretinoin)
  • Retinoic acid
  • Retinol
  • Retinyl linoleate
  • Retinyl palmitate
  • Tazorac

Keep in mind that cosmetics brands also may add retinoids to their makeup products, such as powders. You’ll want to check the ingredients in your makeup products too.

Salicylic Acid

Similar to retinoids, topical forms of salicylic acid haven’t been shown to cause birth defects. However, oral forms of salicylic acid, like high-dose aspirin, have been shown to cause birth defects as well as pregnancy complications. As a result, most doctors recommend avoiding salicyclic acid applied topically during pregnancy. This is especially true for stronger facial and body peels. Smaller amounts, such as spot treatments to reduce acne or toners to improve the skin’s appearance, may be safe. Just talk to your doctor first. Sometimes salicylic acid is labeled as beta hydroxyl acid or BHA.

Another option, benzoyl peroxide, is generally considered safe for use during pregnancy to treat acne blemishes. Look for a skincare product that is 5 percent benzoyl peroxide or less.


Hydroquinone is a compound that cosmetic manufacturers add to their skincare products to lighten their skin. This is helpful for women who may have moles or skincare discolorations due to sun exposure. While hydroquinone hasn’t been tested on pregnant animals or women, doctors generally recommend avoiding the ingredient as a safety precaution. Ingredients to avoid include:

  • idrochinone
  • quinol/1-4 dihydroxyl benzene/1-4 hydroxy benzene

Exfoliation using alpha hydroxy acids may help to reduce the appearance of excess skin pigments while pregnant. After you have your little one and are done breastfeeding, you can go back to your previous treatments.

Ask your doctor if there are individual skincare products you should avoid given your health history. If you’re not sure if your product is safe, refrain from using it until you ask your doctor. When you do have your little one, keep in mind that ingredients in skincare products can affect your baby if you’re breastfeeding too.