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Non surgical treatments and ingredients to avoid during pregnancy

Do your skin – and baby – a favour and avoid these treatments and ingredients until after the birth

The hormonal surges of pregnancy can result in significant skin changes—if you’re lucky you may be complimented on your healthy glow, but if the beauty pendulum swings in the other direction,  acne breakouts, patches of  pigmentation, or the infamous ‘mask of pregnancy’ can all be an unwelcome possibility.

Eliminating potentially toxic or harmful ingredients from our beauty regimes is becoming more and more the norm, but during pregnancy you’ll want to be extra vigilant.

Your instinct will be to do what’s best for both your body and your baby, which means paying closer attention to what you are using in the name of beauty.

But just because an ingredient is natural, botanical or organic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good choice when you’re pregnant. Some essential oils are off the list during pregnancy, for example.

So what should you be avoiding during pregnancy? We highlight the ingredients and treatments to cross off your shopping list until your bundle of joy makes its entrance into the world.


Retinoids including retinol

Retinoids are potent vitamin A derivatives that are found in both prescription and over the counter skincare products – they include retinol, retinoic acid, retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde and tretinoin. It can take a while for even resilient skin types to get used to retinoids, let alone sensitive pregnancy skin. Tolerance aside, studies have found vitamin A to be harmful to unborn children so its best to avoid using retinoids during pregnancy.

Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)

Salicylic acid, the most popular BHA, has been shown to cause birth defects and other pregnancy complications in its oral form (it’s found in aspirin). While only very small amounts would be absorbed into the skin when applied topically, doctors nevertheless recommend that salicylic acid-based skincare products are best avoided during pregnancy.    

Essential oils

The reason you should avoid essential oils is because they have the ability to penetrate into the bloodstream due to their concentrated formulations. As well as increasing the skin’s sun sensitivity, there’s a risk of harm to the developing foetus. Ones to watch include basil, juniper berry, peppermint/mint/tea tree, jasmine, camphor, cypress and camomile; in addition rosemary can raise your blood pressure, while clove and cinnamon could even induce contractions.


This relatively common ingredient found in nail polish, fragrance and hair products has been linked to increased risk of birth defects in pregnancy, cancer and other respiratory factors. There is limited data on this, but to be on the safe side opt instead for nail polish brands which are ‘5 free’ or ’12 chemical free’, as they will be formulated without formaldehyde.

Aluminum chloride/aluminium chloride hexahydrate

This comment ingredient found in antiperspirants isn’t considered safe for pregnant women (in the US they are in FDA pregnancy category C), but there are lots of natural alternatives to choose from, should you need to use them.

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA)

The main active ingredient in self-tanning products is DHA or dihydroxyacetone. While there is no proof that this non-toxic ingredient is harmful during pregnancy, some experts recommend avoiding spray tans as the chemicals could be inhaled and enter the bloodstream. If you still want to fake a golden glow instead of basking in the sun – which isn’t recommended when you are pregnant as skin may be more sun sensitive and prone to hyperpigmentation or melasma – opt for creams and lotions instead which sit on top of the skin.

Chemical sunscreens including oxybenzone

Chemical sunscreens often get a bad press but when you’re pregnant you definitely need to scrutinise labels: some common ingredients such as oxybenzone are not thought of as safe, although there’s no concrete evidence here. The good news is that physical or mineral blocks include titanium dioxide or zinc oxide which sit on the skin’s surface deflecting UV rays and are safe for you both.


Pregnancy is the one time we don’t advocate some non surgical treatments, and a responsible practitioner will also recommend that you put any of the following regimes or procedures on hold until after the birth and the breastfeeding period. Want to hear it from an expert? We asked EV Editorial Panel member Julie Scott of Facial Aesthetics for her opinion:

Botulinum toxin

While it’s not set in stone that toxins are harmful to your baby, many practitioners will tell you to steer clear for a number of reasons.

"Because clinical trials can’t ethically be conducted on pregnant women, there’s very little evidence to support whether botulinum toxin injections can be safely administered to pregnant women," says Scott.

"I would always advise to err on the side of caution and delay any treatments until after pregnancy. There are no studies on whether botulinum toxin is safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women for obvious reasons, but we do know that during pregnancy, skin can behave very differently and become sensitive and reactive due to hormone changes.

"Overall, the MHRA advise against botulinum toxin during pregnancy, and the FDA labels botulinum toxin as Pregnancy Risk Category C, which means it should only be administered if the potential benefit of treatment justifies the potential risk to the foetus. This potential benefit will never be for cosmetic use such as easing glabellar lines, and it could only ever be argued to apply to conditions such as debilitating migraines."

Dermal fillers

"Similarly to botulinum toxin injections, there are very few clinical studies examining the safety of dermal filler injections during pregnancy due to the potential risk of harm to the foetus," says Scott. "Furthermore, many of the dermal fillers available today contain lidocaine, which may be absorbed into the bloodstream and affect the foetus, even though the amount of lidocaine is so low.

"Despite dermal fillers being labelled as FDA Pregnancy Risk Category B which means they are most likely safe for use during pregnancy, the potential risk of harm is not worth administering the treatment to practitioners, including myself.

"It is also important to consider that hormonal changes during pregnancy can affect emotions and self-esteem and perhaps create more motivation for cosmetic treatments than one would normally have, and this motivation may fade after pregnancy."


"Certain peels are safe during pregnancy, but it is important to remember that skin can behave very differently due to hormone changes – you might not be able to tolerate the same peels while pregnant that you were having before pregnancy," says Scott. "Therefore, it is very important to be careful and understand which ingredients are safe and which aren’t.

"Avoid deeper peels and salicylic peels that penetrate deeper layers of the skin during pregnancy, because the active ingredients can enter into the bloodstream and cross over to the foetus. Some light chemical peels are fine during pregnancy, such as AHA peels with glycolic, lactic, and fruit acids, which only stay active on the skin for approximately five minutes, not leaving enough time to penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream.

"However, for those susceptible to the cold sore virus, peeling during pregnancy can precipitate a breakout even with these lighter peels. So while we all recognise the benefits of peeling, I don’t personally think pregnancy is the time to challenge the skin due to its unpredictability."


Intense microneedlng is not recommended during pregnancy. "Essentially what this treatment does is create microtrauma to the skin, triggering an injury response and healing process," says Scott. "This involves the body directing vitamins and nutrients to the face, in turn directing them away from the foetus. Furthermore, the skin could be more sensitive and slower to heal, hindering the results from microneedling.

"Lastly, the skin produces more melanin during pregnancy and microneedling makes the skin more photosensitive – this is not a good combination when it comes to preventing pigmentation!"

Facial laser treatments

"Due to the nature of laser therapy and the risks that go along with it such as redness and irritation, facial laser treatments are not recommended during pregnancy," concludes Scott. "Again, the skin is likely to be more sensitive and prone to hyperpigmentation, so should be avoided."

Julie Scott, Owner & Clinical Director

Julie Scott has over 25 years experience in the field of plastics and skin rejuvenation and is a member of the BACN...

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