“[Ingredients like] retinol, salicylic acid, and to a lesser degree, benzoyl peroxide, are best to avoid while pregnant,” says Shirley Chi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles. Why? Because they’re teratogenic, which means they could possibly increase birth defects. Dr. Chi notes that there is little research on how much of these ingredients is actually absorbed into your body when applying them to the skin, but she recommends nixing them altogether or talking to your dermatologist. Loretta Ciraldo, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skin care agrees, and emphasizes the big one to shy away from is retinol.
But don’t worry, there are still actives you can use during pregnancy. Keep scrolling for the MVPs of safely maintaining your skin during those nine months.
1. Vitamin C
Thankfully, the “little black dress of skin care” (as dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD calls it) is A-okay to use when pregnant. “I love topical vitamin C during pregnancy because it gives some of the same benefits as the ingredients you should avoid, plus it gives the added benefit of UV protection, which is more important during pregnancy when you’re typically more UV sensitive,” says Dr. Ciraldo. Using a vitamin C product will help with fine lines and dark spots, providing a more even complexion.
What to shop: Olay Tone Perfection Serum B3 + Vitamin C, $29
2. Azelaic acid
The multitasker azelaic acid also gets the green light to use while pregnant. It’s an ingredient beloved for its ability to diminish hyperpigmentation, combat inflammation, and help fight acne, plus it’s safe for those who have rosacea. “Azelaic acid has some skin lightening effects, and it’s really good as an acne treatment,” says Dr. Chi. Morgan Rabach, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical, adds that the ingredient can help with skin texture, too.
What to shop: The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%, $8
Peptides are amino acids that are naturally occurring in your skin, and as such they’re safe in a pregnancy skin-care routine. “Peptides and growth factors help boost collagen and elastin in the dermis, so both ingredients are best for anti-aging,” says Dr. Rabach. If you’re going to miss your retinol serum during pregnancy, Dr. Chi notes that peptides are a great replacement for similar effects.
What to shop: Skinfix Barrier+ Triple Lipid-Peptide Lotion, $38
4. Growth factors
Another collagen-stimulating ingredient that you can use while pregnant is a growth factor, the other retinol alternative that Dr. Chi and Dr. Rabach recommend. Essentially, your skin has its own growth factors that help to get your cells to heal and replenish themselves. As is the case with collagen and elastin, you lose growth factors as you age—so look to skin-care products that call these out on their ingredients list.
What to shop: Bioeffect Daytime Moisturizing Cream, $105
5. Indian ginseng
According to Dr. Ciraldo, Indian ginseng (also known as ashwagandha, an adaptogen) is another skin brightening ingredient that pregnant women can turn to. “Indian ginseng helps to prevent hyperpigmentation and even the skin tone, plus it provides great protection from blue light from both the sun and digital screens,” she says. So turn to this herb if you’re missing your chemical exfoliants for radiance.
What to shop: Grown Alchemist Balancing Toner, $34
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