Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist - Written by Arpita Singh (Beauty Expert) on 19th Jan 2021
Skincare ingredients you can use without having to worry for the baby.
"Pregnancy takes you on a roller-coaster ride, with surprises waiting for you every single day," shares a newbie mother from Kolkata, India. Think about it. It is one of the most crucial phases of your life. You can be happy and nervous at the same time - a (messy) mix of emotions!
To add more to the thrill, your hormones are in a state of flux. Some days, your skin may glow, while on other days, it may behave oddly. Dryness, unwanted hair growth, and sudden flare-ups (acne) can make your pregnancy months all the more challenging.
Once you have given birth to your baby, things will gradually swing back to normal. However, you have to be still careful. As whatever you eat or the skin products you apply, their constituent ingredients can affect the baby as he/she depends on you for nutrition. So for the period you are carrying your baby inside you, or when you are breastfeeding him/her, choose your skincare ingredients carefully.
The FDA has a few rules for pregnant and breastfeeding women. It can help you make the right choice.
In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had replaced the former method of classifying drugs, which was applied to indicate pregnancy risks. The former one, based on five English letters (A, B, C, D, and X), validated information only for oral medicines.
Still, it has been studied and given vital importance by experts. They use it to categorize topical products in terms of the complications they can initiate in pregnancy and breastfeeding cases.
If you are pregnant or planning to become a mother soon, be a little cautious about letting a skincare ingredient become part of your daily routine.
According to the FDA's 1979 system, the skincare ingredients that come under two categories - A and B, are deemed safe for topical use during the critical periods of pregnancy and breastfeeding.
If a particular ingredient is assigned an 'A,' it ensures that adequate and well-controlled studies are already present. They all positively verify that the ingredient will pose no risk to the fetus in any stage of pregnancy. If given a 'B,' it tells you that research was carried out over the ingredient, but only on animal models (and not in pregnant women). However, they, too, don't stand as a threat to the fetus in any situation.
Hear this, though! Experts always warn that animal reproductive studies do not always predict actual human responses. Moreover, running experiments on pregnant women is completely out of the question; against the basic ethics, and hence, not accepted.
That is why it is advised that you always consult your doctor before proceeding with any new or existing set of ingredients once you become pregnant. Remember, you are not alone. You are carrying a whole new life inside you, putting in the simplest of terms, sheltering your baby in the safest haven on earth - your womb.
Being a mother is no easy work. It may so happen that the skincare products you use get absorbed to an unhealthy extent for you and the baby.
Understand what a teratogen is. It is a substance that may produce physical or functional defects in the growing embryo or fetus once the mother is exposed to it.
Teratogens can lead to embryotoxicity. It is a condition that defines the damage done to the embryo. It may result in retardation or abnormal development of any body part (affecting its structural or functional aspects). In an extreme situation, the embryo may even die.
Ingredients that are safe to use for pregnant and breastfeeding women
1) Azelaic acid
It holds its place firmly in the FDA pregnancy category (B).
It is mainly used to treat acne-related issues (i.e., inflammatory papules and pustules). It also relieves mild to moderate rosacea.
In 2005, a study was conducted to evaluate whether or not azelaic acid was toxic (or, in any way, damaging) to the embryos (developing within the womb). Oral doses of the acid were given to pregnant rats, rabbits, and cynomolgus monkeys (during a phase when the internal organs of their respective embryos were forming) and at a rate multiple times higher than the recommended human (topical) doses. Some amount of embryotoxicity was found in each of the three cases.
Later on, several experiments were conducted on different animal species. No teratogenic effects were observed in any of them.
In vitro and human data suggest that the topical application of azelaic acid (in the form of a 15% gel) will never increase its concentration in the human plasma beyond what is organically derived from nutrition and endogenous (internal) metabolism.
For a 20% azelaic acid cream, 4% of it is systemically absorbed. And this causes no significant harm to either a pregnant or a nursing mother.
It is mostly used as a natural alternative to retinol.
Retinols and their intake (be it topical or oral) should always be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
In a randomized 12-week study (2017), one group of people was asked to apply a 0.5% bakuchiol cream two times a day, while the other went with a 0.5% retinol cream once a day.
Both the ingredients significantly reduced the surface area of wrinkles and worked on hyperpigmented spots. However, retinol users experienced frequent episodes of scaling and stinging. At the same time, the other group had nothing of this sort.
Dr. Denis Dudley, co-founder of The Sunscreen Company in Canada, and a fetal/maternal specialist in GYN and O.B. Says
Bakuchiol, if not better, performs as well as retinol. Its anti-inflammatory properties make it fight acne. Also, it is an antioxidant, There are some promising data that indicates it regulates the genes that are impacted by toxicity arising due to retinol.
3) Rosehip oil
It is a highly rich vitamin C source and nourishes you with essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
It is, indeed, an excellent remedy for healing scars and stretch marks (during pregnancy). Moisturizing the skin and curbing the discolored patches - perks of the oil.
Experts always encourage its topical application, calling it a safe practice. But the oral usage of rosehip oil is surrounded by doubts and may bring alongside effects. It is better to stick to the former topical method.
4) Hyaluronic acid
Hydration is a key factor in your everyday regimen if you wish to maintain healthy, glowing skin. What is better than layering on your special hyaluronic acid serum?
Melissa Schweiger Kleinman, once a beauty editor of Sephora. Says
It is found in your body naturally and is a powerhouse of miracles. Its anti-aging and hydrating abilities are beneficial to your skin, It is quite a versatile ingredient and works well with all skin types, including sensitive and acne-prone skin.
5) Physical sunscreens
Sunscreens containing the mineral ingredients titanium dioxide (TiO2) and zinc oxide (ZnO) are hypoallergenic. They sit on the topmost layer of your skin, forming a white cast. They reflect the U.V. rays falling on your skin and scattering them in different directions.
The U.V. rays generate excessive free radicals in your skin and incur severe damage to the cells. They even trigger the melanocytes and cause dark patches to appear on the face, hands, etc.
According to a 2019 study, some pregnant rats were exposed to the nanoparticles of TiO2. The particles induced alteration in their gut microbiota (microorganisms living in the digestive tracts), leading to an increase in their fasting glucose levels. This further increased the chances of them suffering from diabetes.
To be on the safe side, people can avoid using a sunscreen spray or a mist. You may inhale the minute particles and expose your lungs to them. Otherwise, mineral sunscreens are pretty safe for you.
6) Topical vitamins
● Vitamin E
It is a fat-soluble vitamin, mainly acting as an antioxidant. It is available in most anti-aging creams, forming (0.5 - 1)% of their composition.
While you are pregnant, there can be times when the estrogen levels shoot up and cause brown patches to surface on your face. This is nothing but a condition called melasma (also known as the pregnancy mask).
Vitamin E has no teratogenic effects. Its topical applications will give you no harm. However, if you take excess vitamin E oral supplements, it can lead to adverse side effects. So, better keep it in the (22 - 30)mg range per day.
Massage your face with vitamin E oil, and do it before you go to bed. Leave it on throughout the night, and rinse it off in the morning.
● Vitamin K
Its topical use will cause you no trouble. Nor result in congenital disabilities for your little one.
Still, the oral intake of vitamin K is not recommended during pregnancy. Some reports point out that it may cause jaundice and other problems in the baby.
● Vitamin B3
Niacinamide is an active and water-soluble form of vitamin B3. When it is topically applied, a teeny-weeny amount of it is absorbed into the skin. The FDA has approved it, and experts call it safe to use during pregnancy.
In a randomized control trial (2005), a set of people applied a 2% topical solution of niacinamide for (4 - 8)weeks to relieve atopic dermatitis symptoms. The results were satisfying as it prominently reduced water loss and maintained the hydration of the stratum corneum.
According to the Journal of the British Society of Allergy and Immunology (2016), topical niacinamide applications are not associated with breastfeeding complications. But yes, you should have a word with your dermatologist and get informed on how exactly it can be used.
● Vitamin C
It is assigned an 'A' in the pregnancy category by the FDA. But yes, when used beyond the recommended levels, it is given a 'C,' indicating that it can negatively affect the fetus.
Lily Talakoub, MD, Virginia, USA. Says
Vitamin C plays a crucial/important role in the formation of collagen. We also like to call it the free radical scavenger, hunting down the unstable oxygen compounds, which damage the cell DNA and increase the risks of skin cancer
The dermatologists give you a green signal to use it topically, and so does the research.
7) Specific peptides
The short strings of amino acids build up the essential protein structure of your skin. Peptides are found in many anti-aging products.
When you topically apply them, the larger peptides break into smaller active forms and absorb your skin. But always speak to your doctor first regarding their use in your daily routine.
Try to look for peptide products that have no parabens or toxic preservatives added to them.
8) Cocoa Butter
It is a moisturizing skincare ingredient that can help your belly to get rid of its stretch marks.
No scientific studies exist to prove that it can be implicit in the development process of the fetus. However, numerous anecdotal instances have come up, which indicate that cocoa butter helps maintain the skin's elasticity and keeps it healthy.
According to a report published in the (2008) International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 210 pregnant women applied cocoa butter to their abdomen, breasts, and thighs during the first trimester. No considerable difference was seen in the severity of stretch marks after that.
9) Essential oils
First things, first! You should avoid taking essential oils, in the form of oral supplements, both when you are expecting and breastfeeding.
Its topical applications, be it the face serums, creams, or body oils, all are precisely safe for use during the sensitive phases.
Dr. Janet Buckle, Ph.D., R.N., U.K. Says
There are no records of abnormal fetuses/miscarriages due to the normal and balanced use/application of important essential oils, either by inhalation or topical use/application
Chrissie Wildwood, the author of "The Encyclopedia of Aromatherapy," repeats the same argument.
● Grapeseed oil
It has little or no odor at all. It primarily works towards making your skin soft and preventing the formation of stretch marks. Being a source of omega-6 fatty acids, it provides a sense of nurturing to pregnant women.
● Tangerine oil
It is no doubt safe to use it during pregnancy. It improves the symptoms of melasma and may help fading scars and other discolored spots. It even provides sun protection.
● Chamomile oil
Its topical application calms the discomforts of pregnancy and has a relaxing effect on the body.
● Coconut oil
It keeps your skin hydrated, locking the moisture in. It also wards the infections off and reduces swelling occurring on any part of the body. Bonus, it works to diminish the stretch marks.
10) Linoleic acid and Lactic acid
Linoleic acid is essential for building ceramides, the elements which help to retain moisture in the skin. It is also responsible for keeping the skin barrier in order, which keeps the irritants out.
Linoleic acid and lactic acid both are mild acids, but they are effective in treating acne.
Ingredients that you need to apply with caution.
Now, let's take a roundabout the ingredients, which are in one way safe, provided a dermatologist guides you throughout, and you take them in the appropriate levels.
1) Glycolic acid
It is the most widely known alpha hydroxy acid and is best used to treat acne and the skin's dull texture.
But will it be okay if you use it? Well, many skincare experts agree that the topical application of glycolic acid (at a concentration not more than 10% in lotions and creams) is entirely safe.
Acne that shows up in the first trimester can cause trouble for real. So, look for the lower strengths, and you are good to go.
Even the American College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (ACOG) approves the use of OTC topical solutions containing glycolic acid as minimal amounts of the acid are expected to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
2) Salicylic acid
The star beta hydroxy acid can be used by pregnant women as well as those lactating. But there are some conditions which you need to follow:
- The salicylic products you use (be it a cleanser, face wash, or a toner) should not be stronger than 2%.
- You can use it once or twice daily or as per the instructions passed by your dermatologist.
- Its oral medications can have adverse effects on the growing embryo or the fetus. According to a 2009 report, the intake of oral forms of the acid (especially during the later stages of pregnancy) can increase the risk for intracranial bleeding in the fetus.
- Make sure you wash the specific area of your skin (where you have applied the acid) before it comes in contact with the baby.
Although it is under the FDA's 'C' pregnancy category, it can still be used if its potential benefits outweigh its possible risks. Consulting a dermatologist is always the best road to take.
3) Benzoyl Peroxide
Its topical applications are permitted during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Take into notice the concentrations you use. Gels, creams, or lotions, ranging from (2 - 5)%, are deemed safe.
According to ACOG, your body will absorb very little of the topical product (less than or about 5%). No congenital disabilities in the fetus have been encountered so far. One more thing, take extra care that the treated parts of your skin don't come in contact with the baby.
4) Topical Steroids
Dermatologists assure that the steroid creams are safe for pregnant women and nursing mothers. They prescribe a maximum of 6% topical corticosteroids to them. Usually, the lowest potency steroids should be preferred for treating eczema and other skin conditions.
As a precautionary measure, they ask you to wash off the cream applied around the breasts. So, the baby, while feeding on milk, doesn't get exposed to the ingredient.
Earlier, several studies have indicated that the highly potent steroid medications can lead to restricted fetal growth or defects in the orofacial (related to the mouth and face) clefts. However, these are associated with their oral use and not topical. Because the steroids, in the latter case, get absorbed in minuscule amounts.