How Skin Changes During Pregnancy & Products You Should Avoid

by Dr Wan Chee Kwang
February 17, 2021

Every pregnancy is unique and comes with its highs and lows. Most pregnant women, however, experience skin-related changes due to hormonal changes. Some go through 9 months of perfect skin all thanks to the pregnancy glow, whereas others deal with dry skin, pigmentation and acne. This is especially so for those with preexisting skin conditions like eczema, rosacea or psoriasis. Because most aesthetic treatments like fillers, threadlifts and even certain types of chemical peels are a huge no-no for pregnant women, many mummies-to-be resort to loading up on their skincare products to save their skin. 

Here’s where you have to pull the brakes: part of pregnancy also includes keeping a close eye on your skincare products. This is all for a good reason, as certain ingredients can be absorbed by the body which would thereby affect the baby too. For what it’s worth, most over-the-counter products are safe for you and baby, but there are a few hidden ingredients that aren’t great for your body, let alone the little one growing inside.

Skincare ingredients to avoid during pregnancy

Before I start, I must add that clinical studies based on specific ingredients or products during pregnancy are limited — to even conduct such clinical trials on pregnant women would be considered harmful and unethical. So the following skincare ingredients below are based on case-specific studies or animal studies that have shown to be harmful in pregnant women.


Vitamin A is often primed as the nutrient that’s most beneficial for the skin. When absorbed through skin, your body converts it to retinol. Some anti-aging skincare products contain a type of retinol known as retinoids, which has been touted to reduce acne and fine lines. They do this by exfoliating skin cells faster and boosting collagen production. 

While over-the-counter products have generally lower levels of retinoids, prescription acne and anti-ageing medications like Accutane and Retin-A contain much higher doses of retinoids. Studies show that oral prescription retinoids pose a 20-35% risk of severe congenital defects and up to 60% of children show neurocognitive problems. As such, all pregnant women are advised against taking retinoids during pregnancy, and those trying to conceive should stop such medication 1-2 months prior. While topical retinoids have much lower absorption into the body, they are still not recommended during pregnancy.


Hydroquinone is often used as a skin-lightening agent in brightening serums to reduce skin pigmentation like melasma. I often recommend it to patients who come to me for pigmentation removal. While there’s nothing that proves the link between hydroquinone and severe congenital defects, pregnant women are still advised against using products that contain these ingredients. This is because the body can absorb as much as 45% of hydroquinone after topical application — even if there’s no known risk as yet, the amount of hydroquinone that enters your bloodstream is too high to justify the risk. 

To prevent dark spots especially during pregnancy, my best advice is to load up on sunscreen. But even so, there are some sunscreens you should avoid during pregnancy!

Chemical sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens

Ultraviolet filters like oxybenzone are commonly used in sunscreens due to their ability to protect against the sun, but they certainly shouldn’t be used by pregnant women. Oxybenzone by its nature is an endocrine-disrupting chemical, and many experts think it could disrupt hormones and result in permanent damage to both the mother and baby. A 2018 study concluded that oxybenzone exposure during pregnancy could possibly cause permanent changes to lactation and the mammary glands, and other animal studies have linked oxybenzone to neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. 

It’s no question that you should protect your skin from harmful UV rays during pregnancy but do it safely. Try mineral-based sunscreens instead — the ingredients you want to look out for include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

Practicing safe skincare during pregnancy

So what skincare products can you use to safely beat the skin woes that come with pregnancy? Look out for those with glycolic acid and azelaic acid — those help with reducing fine lines, reducing skin pigmentation, and brightening skin. Topical antioxidants like vitamin C, E, K, B3 and green tea are also great for protecting your skin from damage. 

If you’re looking for a moisturiser, I recommend those with coconut oil, peptides, hyaluronic acid and cocoa butter. To eradicate any doubts, always check with your doctor before using any product beforehand. There are also a few skincare brands out there dedicated to pregnancy. 

After pregnancy, if you feel like you need a little help from aesthetic treatments, feel free to contact me for a much-needed session! 


  1. Choi, J. S., Koren, G., & Nulman, I. (2013). Pregnancy and isotretinoin therapy. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne185(5), 411–413.
  2. LaPlante, C. D., Bansal, R., Dunphy, K. A., Jerry, D. J., & Vandenberg, L. N. (2018). Oxybenzone Alters Mammary Gland Morphology in Mice Exposed During Pregnancy and Lactation. Journal of the Endocrine Society2(8), 903–921.

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