Even if they’ve never had a baby, most people know the foods that pregnant women ought to avoid – raw eggs, unpasteurized cheese, sushi, and even your regular coffee order is out. That’s nine months without brie, California rolls, and your go-to Starbucks latte, which is bad enough, but did you know there is also a whole lot of beauty products that it’s best to steer clear of?
Dr. Tiina Meder, dermatologist and founder of Meder Beauty Science, recommends erring on the side of caution when it comes to skincare, in particular because there are some ingredients that could have detrimental effects on both mom and baby. So what are they? Dr. Meder talks us through seven skincare ingredients that it might be worth avoiding – and where you might find them – if you’re expecting.
“Systemic retinoids, particularly Roaccutane used in acne treatments, are strictly forbidden during pregnancy – so much so that dermatologists advise women not to plan a pregnancy for the whole duration of therapy,” says Dr. Meder. Whether taken as an oral pill prescribed by a doctor or applied topically, systemic retinoids can cause harm to an unborn child, so they absolutely must not be used during pregnancy or if you’re trying for a baby.
“Skincare products formulated with retinol derivatives are not recommended,” says Dr. Meder. That means you should be looking on the ingredients list for things like retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, retinyl palmitate, and retinyl propionate, often found in anti-aging or acne treatments. “There is no definitive proof of any negative effects yet. But it has been suggested that retinol derivatives may pose a risk of harm, however minor, to the embryo.”
According to the NHS, skin-whitening products containing hydroquinone and/or corticosteroids (steroid medication), such as hydrocortisone that “haven’t been prescribed by a doctor are banned in the UK, as they can cause serious side effects if used incorrectly”.
“Whitening and brightening solutions with hydroquinone are safe to use during pregnancy and won’t harm the fetus,” says Dr. Meder. However, she recommends avoiding them for another reason. “Skin can become more sensitive during pregnancy, increasing the risk of side effects and complications from these treatments.”
A common ingredient in exfoliating products, salicylic acid is another ingredient that’s technically safe to use, according to Dr. Meder. “However, like hydroquinone, salicylic acid is not recommended either, for the same reason,” she says. “It can be found in many skincare products, including body care, so be sure to read a product’s ingredients list before use.”
“The jury is still out on glycolic acid, with some dermatologists recommending that it be avoided during pregnancy,” says Dr. Meder. Glycolic is an alpha hydroxy acid found in exfoliating products. “However, this doesn’t mean all AHAs need to be avoided. Citric and lactic acids, for example, are safe to use during pregnancy.”
“Although natural, there are several essential oils that should be used with caution during pregnancy,” Dr. Meder warns. “The agents they contain have small molecular weight and high volatility, so they may affect the body as a whole.” Plus, they can increase the chance of skin pigmentation. “Many essential oils increase the skin’s sensitivity to UV, which isn’t great considering the risk of pigmentation is higher during pregnancy.”
Camphor and Mint
“Camphor, peppermint extract, and mint oil are also not recommended during pregnancy, especially for those late in pregnancy or those with an increased risk of miscarriage,” says Dr. Meder.
Camphor is found in Vicks ‘VapoRub’, while peppermint extract can be found in things like face wash, especially those formulated for acne-prone skin types. “These ingredients are perfectly safe for use outside of pregnancy. However, pregnant women should ensure skincare products are free of these ingredients before using them.”