As bodies adjust, those who are pregnant and breastfeeding may notice a lot of shifts in their skin, including rashes and acne. “Pregnancy can be accompanied by many skin changes and susceptibilities,” Lucky Sekhon, a fertility specialist and board-certified OB-GYN in New York City, explains. “It is important to look after your skin during this dynamic time.”
One of the most common — and honestly frustrating — are breakouts due to the overproduction of hormones. “Elevated hormone levels can lead to increased oil production and sebum,” says Suzanne Friedler, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist. “Oil is food for Propionibacterium acnes, which is the bacteria that cause breakouts.”
Though there’s an influx of products on the market to combat acne, many of them are much too harsh, and possibly even harmful, for women who are pregnant or nursing. “Our skin has the ability to absorb vitamins, minerals, medications, and toxins,” says Sekhon. “This is particularly important in pregnancy, where anything that contacts your skin can act as exposure or influence on your baby.”
The biggest no-no is retinoids, retinol, and other vitamin A derivatives. “While vitamin A is crucial for proper fetal development when consumed, too high of a dose can cause serious birth defects and liver toxicity,” says Miami-based board-certified dermatologist Roberta Del Campo. “There are no known safe amounts of topical vitamin A derivatives that can be used during pregnancy, so it’s recommended to avoid it altogether to eliminate any potential risk of absorption.”
Now with all the potentially harmful ingredients identified, it’s time to focus on the ingredients that pregnant folks can and should use in their acne skin-care routine. Glycolic acid is a popular pick to combat acne and, according to Friedler, it’s totally fine to use. However, the products with glycolic acid she typically recommends to her patients require a prescription.
If you prefer to shop over-the-counter, Del Campo says that anything formulated with less than 10 percent of glycolic acid is safe. Other common ingredients that diminish acne and are safe for pregnant folks to use include sulfur, bentonite clay, and benzoyl peroxide.
Overall, it’s best to keep your pregnancy skin-care routine pared down with minimal ingredients. “I like to focus on clean, simple products for pregnant skin as skin becomes more reactive, more sensitive, and more irritable,” says Del Campo. “Less is more. Overwhelming the skin with too many products, especially those products that can be drying to the skin, can backfire.”
We know that’s a lot to keep in mind, so to help, we’ve curated a list of dermatologist-approved skin-care products packed with effective, acne-fighting ingredients that are safe to use when pregnant and breastfeeding.