You know to absolutely avoid alcohol and smoke during your pregnancy—but whether or not you need to avoid certain personal care products isn’t quite as clear. But the ingredients in many common lotions, soaps, and cosmetics may be unsafe for moms-to-be—and some of them could be sitting in your medicine cabinet right now.
Here’s how to have safer skin care during your pregnancy.
Most of us assume that if a personal care product is easy to buy at stores, it must be safe, says Jessica Krant, MD, MPH, a Manhattan-based dermatologist. While most products do contain some synthetic chemicals, most experts agree that the small doses we’re exposed to don’t pose a risk. But babies are extra tiny—and their still-developing bodies can make them extra vulnerable to plenty of things that normally are considered okay, like coffee, sushi, and some personal care ingredients.
But you can also start reading product labels on your own to look out for red-flag ingredients, like these.
- What it is: An antibacterial agent and preservative that you’ll find in personal care products like deodorant, toothpastes and body soaps.
- How it harms: The FDA maintains that triclosan is safe, but some research suggests otherwise: Animal studies link the chemical to learning disabilities and infertility; a 2010 study from the University of Florida found that exposure to triclosan can affect the placenta ability to supply estrogen (the key hormone for fetal development and childbirth) to the fetus.
- How to avoid it: Check labels for triclosan and other names that the chemical sometimes goes by, including Irgasan DP-300, Lexol 300, Ster-Zac, Cloxifenolum or Triclocarban. Instead, opt for certified organic options, which by law cannot contain synthetic chemicals and are made with gentler ingredients like oils and fruit extracts.
- What it is: A chemical used in many sunscreens, lotions, concealers, and lip balms.
- How it harms: Oxybenzone is absorbed by your skin, and it could interfere with hormones in the body. It’s also been linked to low birth weight.
- How to avoid it: Look for alternatives that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, two common skin product ingredients that are considered safe during pregnancy and aren’t absorbed by the skin. Concealers from Rejuva Minerals are a good choice.
- What it is: The active ingredient in many skincare products that helps prevent pimples and blemishes.
- How it harms: High doses of salicylic acid in oral form have been shown to cause birth defects and pregnancy complications. Most doctors say pregnant women should avoid it.
- How to avoid it: Steer clear of facial soaps, creams, and peels that list salicylic acid on the label (or it’s other names: beta hydroxy acid or BHA). A cleanser that contains ingredients like lactic acid or lemon peel oil clean and exfoliate your pregnancy acne-prone skin in a healthier way. We love Belli Pregnancy Anti-Blemish Facial Wash.
- What it is: The milder form of tretinoin, prescription-strength vitamin A used to treat fine lines and wrinkles. It’s common in skincare and makeup products that tout themselves as anti-aging.
- How it harms: Vitamin A can cause birth defects in high doses—so since you’re prenatal multivitamin already contains vitamin A, using creams with retinol is a big no-no during pregnancy and breastfeeding. (Pregnant women ages 19 and older should be taking the recommended 770 micrograms of vitamin A daily.)
- How to avoid it: Steer clear of products containing the ingredients adapalene, tretinoin, retinoic acid, retinol, retinyl linoleate, retinyl palmitate, and tazarotene—all forms of retinol.
Krant suggests discussing your skin care regimen with both your obstetrician and dermatologist, who can help you figure out which products you might need to avoid (and if there are any replacements).