The best skincare to use during pregnancy

Pregnancy can wreak havoc on your skin, or you might be one of the lucky ones that end up with a ‘pregnancy glow.’ Whether you’re lucky or not, it’s likely that pregnancy will make some impact on your skin

Skin changes during pregnancy

There are lots of changes that might happen to your skin when you’re pregnant, and that might mean a change in your pregnancy skincare routine. This could be in the first trimester as soon as you realise you're pregnant, or later in pregnancy as your hormones change further.

There are some particularly common changes to the skin that can happen when you’re pregnant:

Hyperpigmentation. This is when your skin becomes darker in patches. These happen because your body produces more melanin (a substance that causes pigment in skin and hair) during pregnancy.

Stretch marks. As your skin stretches and hormones change, the layers of your skin no longer bind together as well - leaving as many as 90% of pregnant women with stretch marks. These usually fade after pregnancy, but rarely disappear altogether.

Acne. Acne is particularly common in the first and second trimesters. It happens to around half of pregnant women.

Varicose veins. As your womb expands in pregnancy, it can cause pressure on the veins in your legs - leading to varicose veins. These are almost always harmless and usually disappear quickly after pregnancy.

Sensitive skin. Higher levels of some hormones might mean that your skin now reacts more harshly to different ingredients.

skincare during pregnancy

Dry skin during pregnancy 

Pregnant women often get dry skin. Changes in hormones mean your skin loses elasticity and moisture, making your skin susceptible to dryness as well as a host of other skin conditions. Your skin also has to stretch around your growing belly - further contributing to dryness.

There are lots of things you can do to combat dry skin in pregnancy.

1. Washing your face regularly
Washing your face regularly helps to remove all the dead skin that can pile up on your skin, causing dryness, itching and flaking. However, soap doesn't suit everyone - many people find it dries out their skin further. Oil-based cleansers are more gentle and less likely to dry your skin out.

2. Use hyaluronic acid
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few years, or you’re new to the world of skincare, you’ll have heard about hyaluronic acid. And even better, using hyaluronic acid during pregnancy poses no risk to either mum or baby. It’s found naturally within our skin and holds a thousand times its weight in water - making it a great choice for retaining moisture.

3. Eat and drink well
Despite the low-fat diet campaigns of the 1990s - eating fat isn’t bad for you. Mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats in particular - those found in olive oil, nuts and avocados - are great for your skin.

It’s also important to remember to drink enough water. When you’re pregnant, the extra hydration goes a long way to keep skin healthy and moisturised, as well as keeping you and your baby in the best health.

Dark skin and pregnancy 

Having darker skin does make you more prone to certain skin conditions and changes during pregnancy. Darker skin is more prone to chloasma and other forms of hyperpigmentation - these are brown spots on the face - often around the forehead, mouth and cheekbones.

A major risk factor for chloasma is sun exposure, so if you have dark skin it’s really important to wear a full-spectrum SPF cream with high protection. This is something everyone should be doing every day anyway - regardless of if you have dark skin or are pregnant.

If you still get hyperpigmentation despite this - don’t worry. It usually leaves without any treatment within a few weeks of childbirth.

Acne and pregnancy

The main cause of acne in pregnancy is a change in your hormones. Pregnancy causes your skin’s natural oils to increase, which means your skin creates more sebum. Sebum is an oily substance which blocks your pores, and leads to acne.

Acne during pregnancy usually happens in the first trimester - if you don’t have it then, it’s unlikely you’ll have any unusual breakouts in the second or third trimester. It’s also not easy to predict who will and won’t have acne. If you’ve had a history of acne before, or you get it at some point during your cycle then you’re more likely to get it during pregnancy - but this is by no means a rule.

It’s important to note that many of the conventional acne treatments are not suitable for use during pregnancy. It’s best to use gentle treatments and lifestyle changes to take care of your skin, rather than harsh treatments. Retinoids, doxycycline, minocycline, and oral isotretinoin should be avoided by pregnant women.

Ingredients you should avoid during pregnancy

Salicylic Acid

Over-the-counter topical salicylic acids can be used safely in small doses - less than 2% for toners and washes. However, full-body peels and high concentrations of acid cannot be confirmed to be safe.

Oral salicylic acid (which is related to aspirin) shouldn't be taken during pregnancy. Studies have shown it can increase the chance of intracranial bleeding - bleeding from inside the brain or skull.

Hydroquinone

If you’re suffering from some form of hyperpigmentation related to pregnancy, it can be very tempting to use hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is a skin bleaching agent which can help treat different forms of hyperpigmentation. It’s definitely a type of skincare to avoid during pregnancy.

Hydroquinone is actually banned in the UK without a prescription, but many online and high street shops still stock products containing it. They can cause serious side effects if they aren’t used properly.

There are very specific instructions for how to use hydroquinone - and it is certainly not for use while pregnant or breastfeeding. There’s a chance it can cause abnormalities in unborn babies - as well as kidney or liver damage, scarring and thin skin in the mother.

pregnancy skincare

Chemical Sunscreens

You should definitely be using sunscreen during your pregnancy, but it's important for that sunscreen to be safe for you and your baby.

You should stay away from all chemical sunscreens - ones containing oxybenzone in particular. Oxybenzone can absorb into your bloodstream, and affect the health of your fetus. This means you should stick with mineral sunscreens while you’re breastfeeding too - oxybenzone traces have been found in breast milk, so you could feed them to your baby while nursing. Chemical sunscreens are often cheaper, but it’s worth shelling out the extra for the mineral sunscreens.

Aluminium Chloride

You might know this as the active ingredient in many antiperspirants. Most antiperspirants use aluminium particles to block the pores in your underarms from sweating. Some studies suggest that aluminium in deodorants can cause cancer and dementia - although this is still inconclusive. Our bodies are designed to sweat, it helps keep us cool and remove toxins so you might prefer to choose a deodorant over an antiperspirant.

Aluminium-free deodorants didn’t always have a great reputation for keeping you dry, but they are much better than they once were. There are plenty of options on the market now, from all-natural salt sticks to natural options produced by the big brands.

Safe ingredients to keep your skin in shape during pregnancy

Glycolic Acid

Alpha Hydroxy Acids, commonly called AHAs are a type of acid used to dissolve dead cells at the surface of the skin - they are chemical exfoliators. They have a range of benefits from stimulating collagen production, fading fine lines and hyperpigmentation and moisturising skin. Some common AHAs include glycolic acid, mandelic acid and lactic acid.

Many AHAs are considered unsafe to use during pregnancy. However, glycolic acid in concentrations less than 10% is safe to use on your skin. Acids can be irritating, and so if you’ve found your skin to be more sensitive during pregnancy, it’s worth using a low concentration of glycolic acid and keeping an eye on how your skin responds to it.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is an all-natural, extremely hydrating skincare ingredient that should be a go-to during pregnancy. It’s perfect for all skin types, as it’s found naturally within your skin. You can take it as supplements, as a serum or even as fillers. All three are considered safe during pregnancy - but it might be best to stick with topical hyaluronic acid to be on the safe side.

There are some important things to remember about hyaluronic acid. It should be used in either humid environments or alongside an emollient like squalane or ceramide, or an occlusive like oils and waxes. If it’s used in a dry environment or on dry skin, it can pull the hydration out of the skin.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is an all-natural, extremely hydrating skincare ingredient that should be a go-to during pregnancy. It’s perfect for all skin types, as it’s found naturally within your skin. You can take it as supplements, as a serum or even as fillers. All three are considered safe during pregnancy - but it might be best to stick with topical hyaluronic acid to be on the safe side.

There are some important things to remember about hyaluronic acid. It should be used in either humid environments or alongside an emollient like squalane or ceramide, or an occlusive like oils and waxes. If it’s used in a dry environment or on dry skin, it can pull the hydration out of the skin.

Topical Antioxidants

Antioxidants have a range of uses and benefits in skincare. They can correct signs of ageing, prevent sun damage, help repair and brighten skin. Topical antioxidants that aren’t retinol are a great choice to use during pregnancy.

Some popular antioxidants for skin include vitamin C, niacinamide, resveratrol, vitamin E, green tea polyphenols - and retinol, which shouldn’t be used while pregnant. They all have different primary ways in which they’re effective.

Vitamin C is sometimes known as ascorbic acid, and it’s known primarily as a skin brightener and anti-ageing ingredient. It has a range of skin benefits such as allowing your skin to better retain moisture, promoting the production of collagen, and fading hyperpigmentation and under-eye circles.

Niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, is a water-soluble vitamin that minimises and tightens pores, improves fine lines, and reduces the impact of environmental damage. It’s a great product that is compatible with any of the other products in your skincare routine - unlike many other skincare products.

Resveratrol is a plant-derived antioxidant - it’s the antioxidant found in red wine. Applied topically, it has great skin-calming properties and can protect well against environmental damage.

Vitamin E is just about everywhere - in our food, in creams and skincare products and in supplements. It’s a major antioxidant, meaning it’ll protect your skin and neutralise all the environmental stressors. Vitamin E helps to strengthen the skin’s ‘barrier function’, meaning it’s a great protector, and it actually provides a small amount of sun protection (although you should still be using sunscreen). It’s also extremely moisturising - helping to combat the dry skin that comes with pregnancy.

sun protection during pregnancy

Sun Protection

Sun protection is so important - it’s something everyone should be using every single day. It’s the number one most important thing you can do to stop ageing. A great choice is a sunscreen containing zinc oxide - whether you’re pregnant or not. The name might sound scary but it’s one of the safest and most effective sunscreen ingredients out there. Sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are often called ‘mineral sunscreens’ - they have no adverse effects on either humans or the environment. Mineral sunscreens have small particles that sit on top of the skin to reflect the sun’s rays. Mineral sunscreens are usually a bit more expensive than chemical sunscreens, but chemical sunscreens aren’t safe to use during pregnancy.

Conclusion

Skincare is always important, but skincare is even more important during pregnancy. The fluctuations in your hormones during pregnancy can lead to a host of new conditions and difficulties, including dry skin, oily, acne-prone and hyperpigmentation. It’s important to be hyper-aware of what you’re putting on your skin during pregnancy as harmful chemicals that can affect you or your baby can sometimes be absorbed into your skin.

There are a few key dos and don’ts to remember:

Do:

• Use mineral sunscreens every day
• Use hyaluronic acid and other safe moisturising ingredients
• Use safe AHAs like glycolic acid
• Use topical antioxidants - except retinoids 

Don't

• Use chemical sunscreens
• Use skin-lightening creams like those containing hydroquinone
• Use salicylic acid
• Use salicylic acid Use deodorants containing aluminium chloride

FAQ

Can I use vitamin C serums while pregnant?

Vitamin C serums are a great choice for pregnancy-safe skincare. Vitamin C is sometimes called ascorbic acid. It’s a particularly good choice during pregnancy as sometimes pregnant women suffer from hyperpigmentation. One of the primary benefits of vitamin C in pregnancy skincare is providing some protection from hyperpigmentation conditions like melasma.

Which skincare products can’t you use when you’re pregnant?

There are quite a few skincare products and ingredients that aren’t suitable for pregnant people. Retinols, both over the counter and high-strength prescription ones like Roaccutane should be avoided during pregnancy. In fact, the risk of birth defects with prescription retinoids is so high that people on them are encouraged to use two forms of birth control, and regularly monitor for pregnancy regardless of if they’re having symptoms.

Another ingredient to avoid is hydroquinone - which is illegal in the UK unless you have a prescription. While there is currently not a proven link between hydroquinone and birth defects, a large amount of the ingredient is absorbed into the bloodstream - so it’s best to be on the safe side.

Chemical sunscreens are another skincare product to avoid when pregnant. They contain oxybenzone, an ingredient that is easily absorbed into the bloodstream. If it reaches your baby, there is a risk of some abnormalities. Stick to mineral sunscreens, also called physical sunscreens if you’re pregnant.

pregnancy skincare products

What can I use instead of retinol during pregnancy?

Retinol might be extremely effective, but it’s not safe for use during pregnancy. There are some safe, natural alternatives that are much more gentle.

Rosehip oil is a great alternative to retinol for pregnancy. It contains vitamin A in a much more gentle form than retinols, meaning whether you’re pregnant or not, it’s a much less irritating alternative to retinol. It’s very easily absorbed by the skin and contains Vitamin C and E, making it one of the best choices in skincare for pregnancy.

If you want something that’s as close to retinol as you can get, but totally safe for pregnancy, there’s bakuchiol. A completely natural plant-based alternative to retinol, it improves collagen production, removes fine lines and wrinkles, and improve elasticity on your skin. Unlike retinol, it can be worn day and night (retinol should only be worn at night), and doesn’t make skin more sensitive to the sun - but you should still use sunscreen.