Skincare ingredients to avoid when pregnant or breastfeeding: Experts reveal what’s safe to use, and what to avoid

26th February 2024 | Author: Phee Waterfield

Knowing what is safe, and what isn’t, during pregnancy and breastfeeding can be a minefield. Let us take the stress out of it

Pregnancy and breastfeeding are special, unique times. But when you’re a first-time mum – or to be honest, any-time mum – it can be overwhelming being bombarded with information about what is safe to eat, drink, and wear, and more importantly, what isn’t.

This extends to skincare, and skincare ingredients. There are certain ingredients found in everyday products that might not be safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women, including the current ingredient-de-jour, retinol.

So whether you’re new to being a parent or on your 10th cherub, we have spoken to the experts to get the latest on which skincare ingredients to avoid while pregnant, and while breastfeeding.

FURTHER READING: How pregnancy affects your skin – from skin tags to itching, rashes and breakouts

What skincare ingredients to avoid while pregnant

We’ve all heard how skin becomes glowy and silky smooth during the trimesters, but due to hormones, there is a lot more going on than meets the eye, as Cydney Beasley, makeup artist and advanced skincare specialist explained to mamabella.


In summary, these are the skincare ingredients to avoid while pregnant are:

  • Caffeine
  • Hydroquinone
  • Retinol
  • Salicylic acid
  • Dihydroxyacetone
  • Erythrulose

This is not an exhaustive list and you should always check the labels on your skincare and makeup.

“Pregnancy is a big time of change for your body and skin and everyone sees different changes,” she said. “All pregnancies are hormone-driven and this creates many changes to your skin, in more than 90% of women.

“Many women flush due to blood volume increases, up to 50%,” she continues. “This increase can cause cheeks to blush and the face can increase in redness, cause rosacea, or create a so-called ‘pregnancy mask.'”

Beasley also said that hyperpigmentation is not unusual during pregnancy, either, nor is oily skin and acne.

With so many changes going on within the body, many parents might become overwhelmed by having to research which ingredients they can now use, but Beasley explains that strict safety laws are in place to help.

In the UK, the cosmetics industry is regulated by a European law known as REACH, which stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals.

Considered one of the most complex regulations in Europe, chemical manufacturers have to meet specific criteria before taking products to market, including processes such as animal testing.

“All cosmetic products in the UK will have a label on the packaging if they are not suitable for use during pregnancy,” Beasley told us, giving us some tips on what to avoid when we’re growing a human.


“One type of product that I would avoid using is any anti-ageing creams and lightening creams as these can be very harmful due to their ingredients such as caffeine, hydroquinone and retinol.”

Vitamin A, which is where retinol comes from, can be great for fetal development and it’s been shown to help with the development of organs and their immune system however too much Vitamin A can cause problems. It can disrupt these developmental processes which can lead to birth defects.

What constitutes “too much” can vary, though, and is subjective. This is why doctors advise limiting use of Vitamin A throughout pregnancy; to keep levels low.

This largely applies to supplements but also extends to retinol in skincare.

While the amount of retinol absorbed through the skin from topical products is generally low, there is still a potential risk and since fetal development is highly sensitive, especially during the first trimester, it’s worth avoiding just to be safe.

Essential oils

Beasley also advises that pregnant women should avoid essential oils in products, which can be toxic to the uterus — these include wintergreen and jasmine. “Most certainly, [you should avoid] any essential oils in the first trimester. If you like using essential oils you can get approved blends which are non toxic and less than 2%.”

Salicylic Acid

Kate Kerr, clinical facialist and founder of Kate Kerr London Advanced Skin Therapy, also advises against pregnant and breastfeeding mothers using products containing salicylic acid.

This is due to it being a metabolite of aspirin, which has been linked to cases of Reye’s syndrome – a rare but serious disorder that causes liver and brain damage.  “It’s a blanket ban [for children],” explains Kerr.

Fake tan

And if you like to top up their tan during the winter months, you may have to take a break.

Spray tans and tanning products typically contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and erythrulose and there is contradicting scientific evidence about whether or not this harms the baby or not.

What skincare ingredients to avoid when breastfeeding

For breastfeeding, similar rules apply.

“When breastfeeding you have to be careful as all products are absorbed into the skin and they can also be directly absorbed into our bloodstream,” continued Beasley. “You need to check for retinoids, petroleum and paraben.

“Also, what many people might not know is that what you put on the skin can affect your milk production. Therefore I would recommend choosing organic and natural skincare products, and avoid fake tanning.”

What skincare ingredients are safe during pregnancy?

So, what can you use?

“Anything with lactic acid, glycolic acid (AHAs) and hyaluronic acid (HA), antioxidants, peptides, and shea butter can all be used safely.”

Kerr also recommends that pregnant women should cleanse with gel-based products, exfoliate with scrubs, and use plenty of SPF.

FURTHER READING: The truth about the acids lurking in your skincare  and What SPF do I need? 

Pregnancy and breastfeeding-safe skincare and makeup

Disclaimer: Be sure to read all product labels before using them on your skin. Always consult a doctor or midwife if you have any concerns about the safety of a product or a particular ingredient. 

♥︎ Biotherm Aquasource Daily Regenerating Gel

£54.53 | BUY NOW

Why we love it: This cooling gel is enriched with medicinal Aura Leaf and Life Plankton, is paraben-free, and mineral oil-free.

If prefer your skin to feel fresh and creamy, this gel is perfect for you as it melts on the skin. It is also suitable for all skin types, even sensitive, and provides up to 48 hours of hydration for your skin.

How to use: You can apply this product in the morning and at night to the face and neck avoiding the eye area.

FURTHER READING: The truth about beauty supplements


♥︎ Neal’s Yard Mother’s Balm Moisturiser

£20 | BUY NOW

Why we love it: It’s organic. It’s fragrance-free. It’s great for sensitive skin. What isn’t to love about this moisturiser?

This balm helps reduce the appearance of stretch marks, using ingredients such as nourishing oils and beeswax to replenish, soothe, and boost the skin’s elasticity. It is also AllergyCertified so great for those who are prone to outbreaks due to skin allergies.

Of course, because it uses beeswax, it’s not suitable for vegans.

How to use: Warm a small amount of balm in your hands and gently massage into skin, avoiding the nipple area. This is because you don’t want the baby to ingest it during breastfeeding. This balm can be applied morning and evening during and after pregnancy. For best results apply twice daily.

FURTHER READING: Best stretch mark cream: From Bio Oil to Burt’s Bees Belly Butter, these are the best ways to prevent stretch marks


♥︎ Dr. Hauschka Blackthorn Toning Body Oil

£21 | BUY NOW

Why we love it: The blackthorn blossom in this body oil tones the skin and keeps it supple, reducing the look of stretch marks. It also includes ingredients such as birch leaf extracts, which enhance skin elasticity, St. John’s wort, and jojoba oil, which support the skin’s natural processes of renewal and fortification.

Dr. Hauschka products are PETA-certified cruelty-free, too.

“Dr. Hauschka also does a lovely range of lead-free lipsticks made with rose and almond oils,” added Beasley.

How to use: The oil can be applied to the skin after bathing or showering when absorption is most effective.

Apply evenly and massage into the skin — or get your partner to do so.

FURTHER READING: The best body firming creams, lotions and oils that *actually* work


♥︎ REN Glow Daily Vitamin Cream Gel

£38 | BUY NOW

Why we love it: We’re big fans of REN’s skincare range so we’re happy that we’re allowed to use it when pregnant.

Vitamin C is pregnancy safe and also helps combat any areas of hyperpigmentation. This light gel-cream moisturiser hydrates and illuminates the skin, using Tara Pod extract to help with your complexion. Magnesium, along with Vitamin C, helps smooth and re-energise the skin, giving it that perfect glow.

How to use: Massage into face and neck morning and evening after cleansing.

FURTHER READING: Skin serum, facial oil or moisturiser: What’s the difference and which one do you need?


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