Pregnancy can be a magical experience filled with a host of benefits from better sex to increased body confidence. But for some women, it can mean months of nausea and fatigue, as well as dermatological conditions ranging from acne to hyperpigmentation. While many of these issues are easily remedied with everyday over-the-counter solutions, there are some skincare ingredients that pregnant women should avoid using.
“It’s difficult to say how much of a topical solution is absorbed and drawn into the bloodstream,” says Dr. Roni Munk, director of MunkMD in Montreal. “It depends on the area it’s being applied to and the quantity being applied. But we do know that the thinner the skin, the more it will absorb — what you put on your eyelids will be absorbed more than what you put on your back. Regardless, you’re probably absorbing anywhere from two to five per cent of the drug.”
Also known as Retin-A and retinyl palmitate, this is a derivative of vitamin A. While adequate amounts of vitamin A are important for embryonic growth, some studies have linked excessive intake to malformations of the baby’s head, heart, brain and spinal cord.
It’s also related to Accutane, a potent acne medication, which can cause birth defects, Munk says.
“The amount of retinol that gets absorbed through the skin is minimal and probably OK, but we don’t want to take that risk,” he says. “I usually tell my patients to use glycolic or oleic acid to combat acne. If they’re using it for its anti-aging benefits, I just tell them to stop using it until after the baby is born and to wear sunscreen — it’s the most effective anti-aging treatment, anyway.”
Speaking of sunscreen
We know that everyone benefits from wearing sunscreen, but pregnant women should opt for a physical (or natural) sunscreen versus a chemical one.
“Chemical filters like oxybenzone and avobenzone are possible hormone disruptors,” Munk says. “It’s a controversial issue, but some studies show that those disruptors can play a major role in fetal health.”
Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid
The hormonal fluctuations and increased androgen production that happen during pregnancy can result in acne. While we know that strong medications like Accutane should be avoided, the jury is out on more common acne-fighting ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.
“If taken in large quantities orally, these ingredients can have negative consequences,” Munk says. “But topical formulations haven’t shown to be a factor. I personally prescribe benzoyl peroxide to my patients, but it’s important that it’s applied in the right quantities, and on not-too-big an area to avoid significant absorption.”
Sometimes pregnant women will experience melasma, a pigmentation of the skin also known as the “mask of pregnancy.” Although it usually goes away after pregnancy, women may be tempted to use an over-the-counter topical treatment, many of which contain hydroquinone.
And while studies haven’t linked hydroquinone to any particular adverse effect, its high absorption rate — 35 to 45 per cent — is troubling to experts.
“Most potent anti-pigment agents like hydroquinone are contraindicated for pregnant women,” Munk says. “The safest compounds to use are glycolic or linoleic acids, and sunscreen.”