Pregnancy is a time when many women really focus more on the quality of products they use on their face and body. They are ultimately responsible for the safely of their unborn child and their choices are influence by understanding exactly which ingredients are safe to use on the skin.
The truth is there are many high quality products on the market that can be safely used by women during pregnancy. However, the skin is a highly absorbent surface and the average woman absorbs over 2 kilograms of potentially toxic ingredients through her skin each year.
It is therefore essential to cut through the media myths and understand the truth behind safe skincare during pregnancy.
Many women are more sensitive to skin irritation during pregnancy so it is wise to avoid ingredients that may be potentially irritation or drying such as alcohol based products and highly perfumed products.
There are many topically applied ingredients that are capable of reaching the bloodstreams and may be able to cross the placenta. Whilst many ingredients are perfectly safe there are a number of ingredients that may be harmful to a growing baby.
Here are the broad rules:
Ingredients not recommended for human application due to their questionable safety profile
If it not safe for a non-pregnant human, then it is not safe for a pregnant woman. Many studies have been performed on various skincare ingredients that may be potentially dangerous. Whilst it is not necessary to panic if you have been using them, I personally choose NOT to formulate with them. This list includes, but it not limited to:
Parabens and other formaldehyde donor preservatives
Chemical sunscreens (minerals: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (non-nanosized) are preferred)
Artificial colour (mineral based colour contain larger particles which are not absorbed)
Artificial fragrance (known irritants)
Sodium laureth sulphate/SLS foaming agents (known irritant)
A note on phthalates:
Pthalates are solvents and fragrance additives. There of often not listed on labels as you are only requires to list: ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’, and not the individual constituents of a fragrance. There have been findings that excess exposure pthalates during pregnancy can cause male infertility and ADHD in children. This is added to artificial fragrance to make the scent last longer. It is also used on hairsprays to make hair more bouncy and less ‘stiff’. Synergie does not use pthalates or artificial fragrance as they only use essential oils.
For more details, please refer to the ‘Questionable ingredients in skincare’ link below:
Ingredients to avoid in skincare
Ingredients specifically not recommended during pregnancy
It is important to note that whilst many ingredients are not recommended during pregnancy, this is often a purely cautious approach. Scientists are not ethically permitted to test ingredients on the skin of pregnant women. Many of the findings and recommendations of ingredient which are safe during pregnancy are based on anecdotal evidence, assumption and animal studies. Animal testing for cosmetics and skin care is now banned in many countries.
Retinoids (Vitamin A)
This ingredient is one of the most popular active ingredients and is known for improving cell renewal, reducing wrinkles and reducing sun damage.
Some scientific studies conducted many years ago showed that high doses of Vitamin A taken orally (not topically) during pregnancy can be harmful to an unborn child. However, there is no data that these ingredients used on the skin during pregnancy are harmful. As a scientist, Terri Vinson formulator of the Synergie brand, believes caution is the best approach. However, please do NOT panic if you discover you are pregnant and had been using retinoid skin care. Following is a list of commonly used Vitamin A ingredients:
Medical prescription only retinoids
Retin-A/ Renova /Tretinoin (medical prescription only)
Tazorac /Tazarotene(medical prescription only)
Retinoic acid(medical prescription only)
Retinol (most powerful nonprescription retinoid if in a stabilised form)
Salicylic acid/Beta hydroxy acid(BHA)
Salicylic acid is an exfoliating BHA (beta hydroxy acid) and is excellent for unblocking pores in acne and addressing skin redness. It is in the same family as aspirin, an ingredient that is not recommended during pregnancy. Studies have shown that oral salicylic acid (aspirin) could cause birth defects and other pregnancy disorders. Whilst the amount of salicylic acid in home use products would be a small fraction of that found in aspirin, it is recommended to avoid the use of BHA’s during pregnancy.
Please note, AHA’s (alpha hydroxy acids) such as lactic acid, malic and mandelic are perfectly safe during pregnancy.
Soy is an estrogenic ingredient which can influence hormonal levels. Whilst soy is not dangerous to the unborn child, if you are prone to melasma (large dark pigmented patches on the face), soy products may worsen this condition during pregnancy.
It is therefore wise to avoid:
Soy based skincare
Textured vegetable protein
Essential oils are extremely powerful herbal concentrates that have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. These oils must be treated with respect and it is best to avoid using high levels of essential oils over large areas of the body during pregnancy.
It is considered safe to apply low concentrations (less than 0.3%) of essential oils in skin care products on the face only or in rinse-off products such as shampoos and cleansers. We suggest you avoid using essential oils on large areas of the body (over 10% of the body surface) during pregnancy. Never apply essential oils undiluted directly on the skin.
Safe essential oils during pregnancy in low concentrations and on small areas of the body:
Avoid the following essential oils during pregnancy:
Almond – bitter
The ideal makeup for pregnancy is mineral makeup. Choose brands which are free of artificial colour and parabens. The natural zinc oxide will act as a broad spectrum (UVA and B) sun protector which is also essential during pregnancy. Mineral basically sit on top of the skin and do not contain ingredients which enter the bloodstream and may be potentially damaging to cells.
There are some questions arising regarding the effects of chemical sunscreens which absorb into the skin. Tests have shown these chemicals to be present in the bloodstream just a few hours following application. It is wise to choose zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (mineral) sunscreens as these protect from both UVA and UVB rays
Common chemical absorbing sunscreens include:
Para-aminobenzoic acid / PABA: banned in many sunscreens due to irritation
Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC)
The skin is often even more vulnerable during pregnancy and requires nurturing, hydration and sun protection. Naturally derived oils, Vitamin B, Vitamin C ,lactic acid and hyaluronic acid are all recommended to replenish the renew skin during pregnancy. There are many excellent products available for pregnant women. In general, avoid ingredients that are ‘questionable’ and use natural mineral based sunscreens. Most importantly, relax and enjoy this magical period of your life!
Written By Terri Vinson (BSc Dip Ed ASCC) founder of Synergie Skin