Pop quiz: what do alfalfa sprouts, alcohol, and sushi all have in common? 

You are correct if you guessed that these are all things that women should steer clear of while pregnant. But it’s not just certain foods that expecting moms should kick to the curb for nine months — there are ingredients in common skincare products that should be nixed, too. 

That said, here are some of the top skincare ingredients to avoid while you’re expecting:

#1: Retinol

Whether you’re hoping to boost skin integrity, smooth wrinkles, or clear acne; retinol, an ingredient derived from vitamin A, has your back. 

As a powerful type of retinoid, some people believe that retinol is an anti-aging beauty secret coveted by many for its ability to increase the turnover of skin cells. In fact, retinol can be especially beneficial for those with signs of sun damage, such as fine lines and hyperpigmentation. 

While adequate amounts of vitamin A are essential for embryonic growth, most experts say that retinol isn’t considered safe for pregnancy — and many doctors agree with that stance. 

There are quite a few studies that have linked excessive intake to malformations of the baby’s spinal cord, brain, heart, and head. Retinol has ties to a strong acne medication called Accutane (isotretinoin), which is known to potentially cause congenital disabilities

Put all beauty products with Retinol back on the shelf until after your baby is born.

#2: Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid can be a dream for those struggling with acne, one of the best-known beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) on the planet. This popular ingredient chemically exfoliates the skin, resulting in a smooth appearance. Others point to its ability to clean pores, which could aid in a blemish-free complexion. 

The problem? Salicylic acid, often found in peels, is not recommended for pregnant women — especially when taken orally. Although more research is needed, some studies show that this favorite acne-clearing ingredient (a component of aspirin) may cause the baby to have intracranial bleeding in the third trimester, which is not good. 

If pregnancy acne is raining down on your parade, we suggest 8 Sheep Organic’s Acne Spot Treatment. This all-natural pregnancy-safe acne treatment works quickly and effectively — without drying out your skin or harming your baby. 

#3: Hydroquinone

Is blotchy skin suddenly putting a damper on your pregnancy glow? Don’t worry; you’re not alone. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), up to 70 percent of women experience dark patches of skin or pigmentation while pregnant, a skin condition called melasma (aka the “mask of pregnancy”). 

For the moms-to-be, skin-lightening products are a godsend, but if you notice hydroquinone lurking in the ingredients list — skip them.

A prescription product used to lighten skin; hydroquinone is a highly controversial synthetic pigment reducer that is available in the United States but banned in Australia, Europe, and Japan. Hydroquinone has a high absorption rate into the body, meaning it may have questionable effects during pregnancy.

#4: Retin-A

Thanks to those fluctuating pregnancy hormones, your skin is likely to produce more oil. More oil production can result in pore blockage and lead to acne flares (*sigh*). To combat acne, you may consider using Retin-A, but whatever you do — don’t

Like retinol, Retin-A (aka tretinoin) is a vitamin A derivative as well as an FDA class C medication, which technically means there is a potential risk to the baby. 

To balance oil production, reduce redness, and tighten the appearance of pores, we suggest using 8 Sheep’s Calming Acne Toner. This oh-so-gentle toner was specially formulated for pregnancy or hormonal acne — so you can rest easy knowing this addition to your pregnancy skincare routine won’t harm your little one! 

#5: Oxybenzone

Whether you’ve got a bun in the oven or not, sunscreen cream is of the utmost importance. But the formula you opt for is especially important now that you have a plus one. 

With this in mind, it’s imperative to read the lotion’s label to ensure it contains only clean ingredients and nothing that could put your baby at risk — like oxybenzone.

A recent study revealed a link between oxybenzone — an organic compound commonly used in chemical sunscreens.

To keep your little one safe and sound as they grow in your belly, opt for a good quality topical mineral sunscreen that contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These pregnancy-safe ingredients are the only two that meet the FDA criteria for being considered Generally Recognized as Safe and Effective (GRASE). 

#6: Parabens

A common preservative used to prevent mold and bacteria growth, parabens are also a common ingredient in skincare products. What’s more, parabens are easily absorbed into the skin. 

This group of chemicals is known to disrupt the endocrine system. This system regulates the hormones that play a major role in reproduction, metabolism, and growth, and it’s easy to see how parabens are a big no-no while pregnant or breastfeeding.

What’s more, research has shown that exposure to parabens during pregnancy may increase the baby’s likelihood of weight gain in infancy and obesity in adulthood. 

#7: Formaldehyde

Did you know that formaldehyde is a naturally-occurring, organic compound produced in living organisms, including the human body? Yup, it’s true — the natural substance is also present in fruits and veggies, such as bananas, pears, apples, carrots, and peas. 

So, if it’s already in our bodies and the food we eat, it must be A-OK, right? Not exactly. You see, both the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the National Toxicology Program classify this confusing ingredient as a human carcinogenic

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says formaldehyde can also increase the risk of fertility and miscarriage — so if you’re expecting, be sure to skip things like nail polish and hair straightener products that include formaldehyde in their ingredient lineup. 

#8: Phthalates

Phthalates are a group of ubiquitous synthetic endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in many personal care products, from over-the-counter to prescription products, especially those that contain fragrance. 

Like parabens, these hormone disruptors are not recommended during pregnancy. Why? Because prenatal exposure to phthalates is linked to health conditions including preterm birth, preeclampsia, and maternal glucose disorders. 

#9: Avobenzone

An oil-soluble synthetic ingredient used in sunscreen to absorb the full spectrum of UVA rays, avobenzone is another harmful additive that should be avoided. 

Like all other petrochemicals, avobenzone is a known endocrine disruptor, meaning it’s especially harmful to pregnant women. Other potentially unsafe ingredients commonly found in chemical sunscreens include:

  • Ensulizole
  • Octisalate
  • Homosalate
  • Octocrylene
  • Octinoxate

If you’re planning a day of fun in the sun, stick with physical blockers and mineral sunscreens that have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater. 

#10: Spironolactone

Spironolactone is a drug commonly used to treat adult acne, thanks to its anti-androgenic effects. While it works wonders to support a clean and clear complexion, its use during pregnancy has been linked to potential health issues.

To heal blemishes and prevent further breakouts, steer clear of spironolactone and opt for pregnancy-safe skincare, like 8 Sheep’s Turmeric and Tea Tree Facial Cleanser

This unbelievably gentle facial cleanser is pregnancy-safe and great for sensitive, acne-prone skin. Simply massage a small amount of cleanser onto damp skin and rinse thoroughly before gently patting dry.

For an extra boost of skin support, follow up with our Hydrating Facial Moisturizer to lock in moisture, reduce redness, and help support your skin. 

A Final Word

A lot can happen to a pregnant woman’s skin, from stretch marks and dryness to hyperpigmentation. There are quite a few skincare ingredients that are best to be avoided during pregnancy.

Sort through your brighteners, toners, and cleansers for products that remain safe even when you’re expecting.

To ensure the safety of your developing baby, always read the product label and watch for the ingredients listed above. If you come across an ingredient that leaves you a little confused, don’t hesitate to reach out to your dermatologist or OB/GYN, who can guide you in the right direction.


Frontiers | The Endocrine Disruption of Prenatal Phthalate Exposure in Mother and Offspring | Public Health

Formaldehyde - Reproductive Health | NIOSH | CDC

Titanium dioxide nanoparticles oral exposure to pregnant rats and its distribution | Particle and Fiber Toxicology | Full Text

Chloasma--the mask of pregnancy | PubMed

Aspirin use during pregnancy and the risk of bleeding complications: a Swedish population-based cohort study | PubMed


Fetal Retinoid Syndrome | NORD (National Organization for Rare Disorders)