POSTED: 17 Aug 2023

Pregnancy Skincare, Here’s What You Can & Can’t Use

Expecting a baby is an exciting time! However, the hormonal and physiological changes during pregnancy can impact your skin. This can be for the better but sadly it might also be for the worst. To complicate matters, not all skincare is safe during pregnancy and it can be confusing to know what you can use. In this post we explore all the ways your skin can change during pregnancy. We also dive into which products you can and can’t use use during this period to help you put together a safe and effective pregnancy skincare routine.

How Skin Changes During Pregnancy

During pregnancy there are a number of hormonal, vascular, metabolic and immunological shifts in the body. Collectively, these can cause a number of skin changes during this period. Here are some of the ways pregnancy can affect the skin.

Glowing Skin

This is often referred to as the “pregnancy glow”. Many pregnant women experience brighter and more radiant skin. This glow is due to an increase in blood flow to the skin which feeds your cells and makes your skin look plumper and more radiant.

Increased Sensitivity

Hormonal changes can make the skin more sensitive to sunlight and skincare products. Some women might notice that products they’ve used for years without problem suddenly cause irritation or breakouts.

Hormonal Acne

The increase in hormones, especially progesterone, can cause the skin to produce more oil. This might lead to acne breakouts and is particularly common during the first trimester.

Melasma (Chloasma)

This is a type of hyperpigmentation often called the “mask of pregnancy”. Melasma is characterised by dark patches on the face, especially the cheeks, nose, forehead and upper lip. This condition is worsened by sun exposure and is more common in women with darker complexions.

Stretch Marks

As the body expands to accommodate the growing baby, many women develop stretch marks on their abdomen, breasts, thighs or buttocks. These appear as pink, red, brown or sometimes purplish streaks depending on your skin tone. They can fade to a more silvery tone over time.

Spider Veins and Varicose Veins

Increased blood circulation can lead to the appearance of tiny, reddish blood vessels (spider veins) on the face, neck, and arms. Additionally, the increased pressure on the leg veins can cause varicose veins to appear or worsen ones you already have.

Itchy Skin

This is especially common in the third trimester. In particular, the stretching skin on the abdomen might become itchy. There’s also a specific condition called PUPPP (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy) which causes itchy, red and raised patches.

Linea Nigra

Many pregnant women notice a dark line (linea nigra) running from the belly button down to the pubic area. This is due to raised melanin and usually fades post pregnancy.

Changes in Moles and Freckles

It is common for existing moles and freckles to darken and new ones might appear. While most of these changes are harmless, it’s vital to monitor for any irregularities. If you notice any new moles or a change in the appearance of the old ones, you should see a dermatologist to rule out potential skin cancer risks.

Increased Sweating

Due to an increase in metabolism and circulating blood volume, pregnant women might sweat more. This can increase the risk of skin irritation and conditions like heat rash.

Skincare Products You Can’t Use During Pregnancy

During pregnancy and breast feeding, it’s crucial to be mindful of what you apply to your skin. This is because certain ingredients might pose risks to the developing embryo. Here’s a list of skincare ingredients that you should avoid using in your routine during pregnancy:


This are skincare super stars that help treat acne, texture, hyperpigmentation and skin ageing. Retinoids are Vitamin A derivatives that include retinol, adapalene, tretinoin, tazarotene, and isotretinoin. Oral isotretinoin is known to cause birth defects and there have also been a few reports of this occurring with topical retinoids too. As such, its best to avoid all retinoids during pregnancy.


This is the most powerful topical topical treatment for hyperpigmentation and melasma. Hydroquinone is a prescription only medicine that can be used either alone or with Tretinoin to fade dark spots and even out skin tone. As there’s limited research on its safety if used during pregnancy, it’s best to avoid using it during this period as it has a high systemic absorption rate from the skin into the blood stream.


This is another pigment suppressor that inhibits tyrosinase, the enzyme involved in melanin production. Arbutin is a precursor to hydroquinone. Whilst arbutin is deemed safe for general use in skincare, its specific effects during pregnancy haven’t been well-studied. Due to concerns about the systemic absorption of hydroquinone and its potential risks, its generally best to avoid arbutin during pregnancy.

Salicylic Acid

This is the most common beta hydroxy acid (BHA) and is used a lot in acne skincare as it gets into the pores and helps unclog them. Whilst low strengths (less than 2%) in wash off products like cleansers may be less concerning, higher doses or products left on the skin like toners or peels should be avoided. In general, since salicylic acid can cause birth defects and because there are not enough studies on its safety in pregnancy, its best to avoid it all together.

Glycolic Acid

This is alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) commonly used in skincare products for exfoliation. It can improve texture, the appearance of wrinkles and brighten the skin. In general, concentrations of more than 10% glycolic acid are not considered safe during pregnancy.

Chemical sunscreens

Whilst sunscreen is essential to use during pregnancy to protect your skin from skin cancer. It also helps reduce the severity of melasma, a little caution is needed. Chemical sunscreens in particular those containing oxybenzone might not be safe to sue during pregnancy. This is because ozybenzone and its derivatives can potentially cause foetal abnormalities like Hirschprungs disease if used during pregnancy.

In addition to the above, there are also a number of common skincare ingredients in popular products which are not to considered safe to use in your pregnancy routine. This includes Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. These can be toxic. In addition, avoid Parabens & Phthalates as there is a link between them and hormone disruption or developmental issues. Furthermore, you should also avoid essential oils like sage, rosemary, and juniper as these can cause uterine contractions.

Skincare Products You Can Use During Pregnancy

Whilst it might be disheartening to think you can’t use your favourite skincare products; it’s not all bad news. There are a number of skincare products that are safe to use during pregnancy. There’s also several that could be a good alternative to the ones that can’t use.

Physical Sunscreen

Protecting your skin from UV radiation is important. This is especially since pregnancy can increase the risk of hyperpigmentation and melasma. Look for physical (or mineral) sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They are generally considered safer than chemical sunscreens during pregnancy.

Hyaluronic Acid & Glycerin

Both hyaluronic acid and glycerin are humectants which grab onto water. This is a hydrating ingredient that boosts your skin’s moisture content.

Ceramides, Peptides & Squalane

Moisturisers containing ceramides, peptides and/or squalene can help to strengthen the skin barrier and seal-in moisture. They keep skin moisturised and help fill in gaps to smooth the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Vitamin C

This is a powerful antioxidant that you can find widely in serums and moisturisers. Vitamin C can help to brighten the skin and fade hyperpigmentation.

Azelaic Acid

This is a gentle exfoliating acid that has shown a lot of promise in treating acne and rosacea. Azelaic acid can be a good alternative to salicylic acid and retinoids for treating acne breakouts. It can also stand in for pigment suppressors like hydroquinone and arbutin for fading hyperpigmentation.


One of the few skincare ingredients that can actually reduce the appearance of pores, niacinamide also has other benefits. It can sub in for retinoids and pigment suppressors to help treat hyperpigmentation and acne.

Lactic Acid

This is a milder alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that is derived from milk. It is normally considered safe for use during pregnancy in over-the-counter strengths. It can sub in for glycolic acid.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is thought to be safe for use during pregnancy when it is in topical forms like gels, creams and washes. This is because most of the product remains on the skin’s surface. Hence very little should absorb into the bloodstream. However, concentration matters; over-the-counter products typically contain benzoyl peroxide in strengths ranging from 2.5% to 10%. In general, its best to stick to the lower end of this range and only use small amounts as spot treatment during pregnancy to reduce potential risks.

Pregnancy Skincare Routine

It is especially important to listen to your skin during pregnancy as its concerns and needs may change during this period. If you are experiencing new or severe skin problems then see a dermatologist as they can advise on safe and effective prescription skincare or professional skin treatments to help you. In general, keep your skincare routine simple and avoid any irritants or skincare products that are not safe to use during this period.

Morning Routine:

  • Wash skin with a gentle hydrating cleanser.
  • Apply a vitamin C serum for antioxidant protection.
  • Moisturise with a light weight product containing humectants like glycerol or hyaluronic acid. Look for one containing niacinamide if you need help woth pores, acne or hyperpigmentation.
  • Finish with a mineral based sunscreen.

Night Routine:

  1. Double cleanse using an oil or balm then a cleansing foam or lotion to remove the day’s dirt, makeup and sunscreen.
  2. If you suffer from hyperpigmentation, acne or want to improve skin’s appearance apply an azelaic or lactic acid toner, serum or lotion.
  3. Moisturise with a rich night cream containing ceramides, squalene and/or peptides.


Use a lactic acid mask for exfoliation once a week if you want to improve skin texture or hyperpigmentation.

Understanding the skin changes that come with pregnancy is the first step to putting together a safe and effective pregnancy skincare routine. Remember, every person and hence every pregnancy is unique. Your skin might change for the better or it might change at all. However, if you are experiencing skin problems or changes during pregnancy, it’s always best to consult with a dermatologist for a proper diagnosis. They will also ensure you get the best and safest treatments to use for your pregnancy skincare routine. Whilst many pregnancy related skin problems often improve by them selves after this period, some like melasma may persist. If this is the case, then the same caution applies to breast feeding. This is because some skincare products can pass through the breast milk.

We are passionate about personalised skincare and effective treatments. Our virtual skin clinic provides prescription-strength treatments like Arbutin, Tretinoin and Hydroquinone to treat acnehyperpigmentationmelasma and skin ageing. Arrange a virtual consultation with one of our doctors today and begin your journey towards great skin.


Authored by:

Dr Amel Ibrahim
Aesthetic Doctor & Medical Director
Founder City Skin Clinic
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Associate Member of British Association of Body Sculpting GMC Registered - 7049611

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