8 Skincare Products to Avoid During Pregnancy and Why

Pregnancy is a time of wonder and transformation for your life and body, and skincare products play an important role. Amidst the myriad changes, your skin might present new challenges and respond differently to your regular skincare routine.

It’s a time when the products lining your bathroom shelf warrant a closer examination, as they carry more weight during this time. They are, in part, responsible for the safety of you and your growing baby. 

With the landscape of skincare ingredients becoming increasingly complex, understanding what to avoid during pregnancy has never been more important. 

This blog is your compass into the intricate world of skincare during these precious nine months. We’ll review a list of products you should avoid and provide tips for skincare during pregnancy. 

Let's guide you through the essentials of curating a pregnancy-safe skincare regimen with the right skincare products, ensuring you can embrace this special time with peace of mind and radiant health.

The Role of Skincare Ingredients in Pregnancy

How Ingredients Get Absorbed Into the Skin

The skin acts as a barrier but also has the ability to absorb substances into the bloodstream. The rate and extent of absorption depend on several factors, including molecular size, skin integrity, and product formulation. 

Typically, smaller molecules penetrate more deeply and are more likely to be circulated in your system. Once absorbed, ingredients affect your skin and body and might make their way to the placenta. 

Potential Effects on Fetal Development

During fetal development, the placenta acts as a conduit for nutrients and a barrier against harmful substances. However, certain chemicals absorbed through the skin might cross the placental barrier, affecting the fetus. 

The effects range from mild to severe and include developmental and reproductive toxicity, birth defects, hormonal disruptions, etc. Since the fetus's organs and systems are in critical periods of development, even minimal exposure to certain chemicals might have significant impacts.

Importance of Ingredient Awareness

Given the potential for skincare ingredients to be absorbed and affect fetal development, ingredient awareness is crucial during pregnancy. 

Pregnant individuals should scrutinize product labels, familiarize themselves with safe vs. unsafe ingredients, and understand that even some natural ingredients can be contraindicated during pregnancy. It is essential to stay informed about the latest research and guidelines, as recommendations can change with new evidence. 

Consulting with healthcare providers ensures that skincare routines during pregnancy are effective and safe for the mother and the developing fetus. This vigilance minimizes risks and supports the health and safety of the pregnancy.

Now that we’ve explained why pregnancy skincare is so important, let’s look at what skincare products to avoid.

Skincare Ingredients

Skincare Ingredients and Products to Avoid


Retinoids are a class of compounds derived from vitamin A that are renowned for their powerful effects on the skin. They promote cell turnover, boost collagen production, and reduce hyperpigmentation, making them a popular ingredient in anti-aging and acne treatments. 

However, retinoids are on the list of skincare ingredients to avoid during pregnancy. The concern stems from studies showing a link between high doses of vitamin A and adverse effects on fetal development. 

Oral retinoids used for severe acne are known teratogens (substances that interfere with fetal development) and are strictly contraindicated in pregnancy due to the high risk of birth defects. 

While topical retinoids have not been proven to cause such severe outcomes, the lack of definitive research and the sheer potency of these compounds have led medical professionals to err on the side of caution. 

And for good reason. The skin can absorb topical retinoids, and though the systemic levels are lower than oral retinoids, there is still a potential risk that is not worth taking for pregnancy skincare. 

High-Dose Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) commonly used in skincare products for its ability to exfoliate the skin and treat conditions like acne by unclogging pores and reducing inflammation. 

While low-concentration salicylic acid is generally considered safe for topical use during pregnancy, high doses of salicylic acid, particularly in oral form, are advised against. 

This is because salicylic acid is similar to aspirin, which is known to cause complications and is not recommended during pregnancy. This is especially true in the third trimester when it could cause problems with the baby’s heart and lungs and prolong pregnancy and labor.

While the systemic absorption of topical salicylic acid is minimal, the lack of comprehensive research on the effects of higher doses means that it's better to be cautious. High-dose salicylic acid treatments like peels or oral medications can lead to higher levels of absorption, which could affect the developing fetus.  


Hydroquinone is a skin-lightening agent commonly found in products marketed for reducing hyperpigmentation. Examples include age spots, melasma, and scars. 

It works by inhibiting melanin production, the pigment responsible for skin color. As a result, the treated area is lightened. Despite its effectiveness, hydroquinone is advised against during pregnancy for the following reasons.

High System Absorption Rate

Hydroquinone has a high systemic absorption rate compared to other topical skincare ingredients, meaning a significant amount can enter the bloodstream after application. This raises concerns because there is a potential risk for it to affect fetal development. 

Animal studies have shown some evidence of teratogenic effects, and while these effects have not been conclusively observed in humans, the possibility leads to cautionary avoidance.

Sensitive Skin During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, the skin becomes more sensitive, and products like hydroquinone might cause irritation or dermatitis, which is more problematic during this time. 

Given the uncertainties and potential risks, most health professionals advise pregnant individuals to steer clear of hydroquinone. They recommend safer alternatives like Vitamin C or azelaic acid, which are generally considered safe during pregnancy.


Phthalates are a group of chemicals commonly used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. They are also found in various personal care products, including some skincare items, such as solvents and fixatives. 

During pregnancy, it’s best to avoid phthalates due to their potential endocrine-disrupting properties. These chemicals might mimic or interfere with the body's hormones, which are critical for fetal development. 

Studies have suggested that phthalate exposure may lead to reproductive system abnormalities, reduced fertility, and an increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome and obesity. 

Given the vulnerability of the developing fetus and the critical nature of proper hormonal balance for growth, avoiding skincare products and other items containing phthalates while pregnant is a precautionary measure to support the health of both mother and child.

Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde Donors

Formaldehyde is a colorless gas often used in cosmetic products as a preservative. Formaldehyde donors are preservative chemicals that slowly release formaldehyde to keep the products free from contaminants. 

It’s critical to avoid both during pregnancy, as these substances are potential carcinogens and cause skin and respiratory irritation. There's increased sensitivity in pregnancy, and the risk of irritation increases. 

Formaldehyde exposure has also been linked to fertility issues and miscarriage. Due to these health concerns, choosing products without formaldehyde or its donors is safer for expectant mothers. 

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens contain organic (carbon-based) compounds that absorb UV radiation, transforming it into heat, which is then released from the skin. Common ingredients in chemical sunscreens include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. 

During pregnancy, it is advisable to avoid chemical sunscreens, particularly those containing oxybenzone. Oxybenzone, for instance, has been shown to penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream, where it acts as an endocrine disruptor. 

Such chemicals mimic hormones in the body, potentially interfering with normal hormonal functions and developmental processes in the fetus. 

Given hormones' crucial role in fetal development, the potential risks associated with the systemic absorption of chemical sunscreens make mineral-based alternatives, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, preferred options during pregnancy. 

These mineral sunscreens sit on the skin's surface and reflect UV rays, offering protection without the risk of absorption and subsequent hormonal interference.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are concentrated extracts from plants, capturing the essence of their scents and flavors. They are popular in aromatherapy and various natural health applications. However, during pregnancy, caution is advised with their use. 

Some essential oils are potent and, when absorbed through the skin or inhaled, might affect the body in ways that are not safe for the developing fetus. Certain oils might stimulate contractions or adversely affect the baby, especially in the first trimester when the fetus is most vulnerable. 

Additionally, pregnant women have a heightened sense of smell and are more sensitive to strong scents, potentially leading to nausea or headaches. Given these risks, avoiding or limiting the use of essential oils during pregnancy is recommended.

Alcohol in Skincare

Skincare products containing alcohol typically list ingredients like ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, alcohol denat, or SD alcohol, which are used for their quick-drying properties and ability to help other ingredients penetrate the skin. 

During pregnancy, it's essential to avoid these alcohol-based products. They can cause excessive dryness and irritation, particularly as pregnant skin can be more sensitive and prone to dryness. 

There is also a theoretical risk that significant absorption of alcohol through the skin could have harmful effects on fetal development. Although the amount of alcohol absorbed through skincare is generally small, minimizing any potential risks during pregnancy is advisable. 

Opting for alcohol-free skincare products ensures that the skin remains hydrated and avoids any potential harm to the developing baby, aligning with many expectant mothers' precautionary measures.

Now that we’ve looked at all the ingredients to avoid during pregnancy, let’s look at some general tips for skincare during pregnancy. 

Skincare During Pregnancy

General Tips for Skincare During Pregnancy

How to Read and Understand Labels

Understanding skincare product labels is essential for ensuring pregnancy safety. The ingredient list on skincare products follows a descending order, with the highest concentration items listed first. 

Look for known harmful ingredients like retinoids, high-dose salicylic acid, hydroquinone, phthalates, formaldehyde, certain chemical sunscreens, and specific essential oils. 

Recognize that terms like "unscented" or "fragrance-free" do not necessarily mean a product is free from irritating substances. Additionally, "non-comedogenic," "hypoallergenic," or "dermatologist tested" are not guarantees of safety for pregnancy. 

Always check for clinical trials that mention "tested on pregnant women" for more assurance.

Patch Testing

Before using a new skincare product during pregnancy, it's wise to perform a patch test, especially since pregnancy can change how your skin reacts to substances. 

Apply a small amount of the product to a discreet area of skin, such as the inside of your wrist or behind the ear, and wait 24 to 48 hours. If there's no reaction, the product will likely be safe for you. 

Avoid the product if you experience redness, swelling, itching, or other signs of irritation. Patch testing prevents widespread skin reactions and potential systemic absorption of problematic ingredients.

Natural and Organic Options

Natural and organic skincare options are often recommended during pregnancy, but it's important to note that "natural" doesn't always mean safe. Some natural ingredients are potent allergens or irritants; not all organic components are free from side effects. 

However, products with fewer and more recognizable ingredients are easier to assess for safety. When choosing natural or organic, look for certifications like USDA Organic or ECOCERT, which help ensure the ingredients meet strict safety standards. Remember that even natural and organic products should be patch-tested before regular use.

You’ll create a safer skincare routine throughout your pregnancy by becoming savvy with label reading, performing patch tests, and carefully considering natural and organic skincare products. Always consult with a healthcare professional if you're unsure about the safety of a product.

Skincare During Pregnancy With Kalahari Rose

As you journey through pregnancy skincare, let Kalahari Rose be your trusted companion, ensuring every day is met with the assurance of safety and the touch of nature's care. 

Our entire range of Kalahari Rose skincare products is meticulously formulated to be completely safe for pregnancy, giving you one less thing to worry about during this beautiful time. 

Indulge in the purity of all-natural ingredients that cater to your skin's changing needs while nurturing the life within. We invite you to experience the gentle, effective, and loving embrace of Kalahari Rose. Your skin and your baby deserve the kindest care.