Pregnancy & Skin-Care: Which Products Are Safe?

Pregnancy is an exciting time for women, but it comes with many health-related challenges for both the baby and mum-to-be. Concerns include everything from what to eat and what not to eat, what medicine you can take or not, and what to do or not do about the many changes your body is going through. Pregnant women also wonder about which skincare products are OK to use and which ones are not — that's where we can help!

Because some ingredients — both from prescription drugs and some skincare products — are absorbed into the body when applied to skin, it's important to know what's safe for use during pregnancy and what to avoid.

Although it's always important for you to check with your GP, as a general rule, most skincare products are fine to use throughout your pregnancy. However, prescription and over-the-counter skincare ingredients are a different issue. Below we explain what you need to know to make an informed decision.

What to use and what not to use

We're often asked about whether products containing benzoyl peroxide, skin brightening ingredients, sunscreen actives or salicylic acid are safe to use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Unfortunately, many doctors don't have an answer at the ready, leaving mums-to-be frustrated and confused. We consulted the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists regarding the products of which we are asked about most. Here is what they had to say:

  • Retinol. While pregnant or nursing it's best to avoid retinol (vitamin A), prescribed forms of retinol or retinol derivates (retinyl retinoate, retinaldehyde or hydroxypinacolone retinoate).
  • Skin brighteners (that contain hydroquinone). It is best to avoid using them during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Paula's Choice would also not recommend using products that contain arbutin due to its correlation with hydroquinone.
  • Benzoyl peroxide is an excellent ingredient to combat blemishes and is considered safe in low concentrations (5% or less) when you are pregnant.
  • Prescription topical antibiotics are considered safe for use during pregnancy.
  • Salicylic acid (BHA) is a superior exfoliant for skin but when used in high concentrations for professional peels, it is considered a risk when you are pregnant. However, the small percentages used in skincare (2% or lower) are considered safe. You can also consider using glycolic acid or lactic acid (AHA) exfoliants as an alternative as these are perfectly safe to use during pregnancy.
  • Sunscreen actives, as demonstrated in several studies, are not known to be a risk during pregnancy. Despite fears incorrectly promoted in the media by a few fringe groups, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has not found any of the alleged fears about sunscreen ingredients substantiated by medical research. As a result, daily sunscreen use is strongly recommend by dermatologists. If you find your skin is more sensitive during pregnancy, consider using sunscreens with gentle mineral actives containing titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide.

Adressing skin concerns during pregnancy

How can you address your skin concerns in a safe manner during your pregnancy? Don't worry! There are ways you can take great care of your skin while having peace of mind that your baby is safe. Depending on your skin concern, here's what you can do (of course, be sure to discuss these recommendations with your GP):

Skin discolourations (hyperpigmentation) during pregnancy):

  • When used on a regular basis, exfoliation can help to fade discolourations. While mild scrubs are an option, they are not as effective as a chemical exfoliant, i.e. AHA or BHA. Paula's Choice offers several different exfoliants for the face comprised of low concentrations of AHA or BHA. There's one for each skin type and concern. Want to address skin discolourations on the body? Consider an AHA body lotion, like Paula's Choice Skin Revealing Body Lotion with 10% AHA.
  • Always apply a sunscreen rated at least SPF 30 every day, all year round, without exception! Due to its immediate protection upon application, a mineral sunscreen is excellent for preventing and minimising pigmentation Because many foundations and pressed powders contain mineral sunscreen ingredients, you can add sunscreen to your skincare routine when applying your makeup. Keep in mind you must apply sunscreen daily, rain or shine, and apply it liberally!
  • Ask your GP about using azelaic acid. It is a topical medication considered safe for use during pregnancy and has good research showing it can improve brown skin discolourations. Or try our 10% Azelaic Acid Booster that helps to fade brown spots.

Stretch Marks:

Stretch marks that occur during or after pregnancy are caused by the skin becoming stretched and expanded for a period of time. The abnormal stretching causes a breakdown or rupture in the skin's support structure of collagen and elastin (particularly elastin, which gives skin its bounce-back quality).

  • Stretch marks seem to be genetically related as some women get them and others don’t, yet no one is sure why.
  • Stretch marks are one of the toughest skincare concerns to treat because there are no cosmetic ingredients or products that can really improve them.
  • Massaging your skin with a serum or non-fragrant plant oil during pregnancy can help it become more pliable and reduce the risk of stretch marks.
  • After delivery and past the breastfeeding stage, certain prescription retinoids can improve stretch marks slightly.
  • Other medical cosmetic corrective treatments to consider (again, after the delivery and breastfeeding stage) include: Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) or Pulsed Dye Laser (PDL) treatments, alpha hydroxy acid or beta hydroxy acid peels.

Rosacea During Pregnancy:

  • Topical nitroimidazole antibiotic medications are considered safe for use during pregnancy.
  • Azelaic acid can help with acne and discolouration, but some find it effective for controlling symptoms of rosacea, too. It is safe for use during pregnancy. Our Azelaic Acid Booster works to reduce breakouts and diminish red marks from past blemishes.
  • A gentle mineral sunscreen with titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide is advised for those with rosacea, whether they're pregnant or not. For extra protection, use a foundation or tinted moisturiser with a mineral-based sunscreen.

Anti-Ageing/Wrinkles During Pregnancy.

  • Avoid prescription retinoids and over-the-counter products with retinol (due to its relation to prescription retinoids). If you normally use this type of product, consider switching to an anti-ageing serum that does not contain retinol, like Paula’s Choice Resist Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum.
  • There isn't any documented concern about common "cosmeceutical" ingredients such as vitamin C, niacinamide, peptides or other types of antioxidants and cell-communicating ingredients when used during pregnancy.
  • Ongoing use of skincare products loaded with antioxidants and skin-repairing ingredients is highly recommended, but again, be sure to check with your physician and follow his or her advice.

Although the information above isn't meant to be exhaustive, it should give you a clear idea of what's OK to use during pregnancy and what should be avoided. The most important takeaway is you can achieve your skincare goals during pregnancy, and that's sure to put your mind at ease! As a reminder, it is always a good idea to consult your physician about the use of any over-the-counter or prescription drugs you're considering while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Sources: Canadian Family Physician, June 2011, pages 665-667; Precarie International, June 2005, pages 100-101; American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, Volume 4, Issue 7, 2003, pages 473-492; Teratology, May 2001, pages 186-192; and

Related products

All Skin Types
Normal skin, Dry skin
Normal skin, Dry skin
All Skin Types

Customer Service

Need help with finding the right product for you skin? Our customer care team are skincare and product experts and can guide you to the best skin of your life.


Sign up for our newsletter to receive exclusive offers and expert skincare advice