Congratulations! Pregnancy is a magical, wonderful thing and there’s no dearth of dos and don’ts everyone wants to share. What to eat, and what to use, after all you want nothing more than a healthy, bonny baby. When it comes to skincare, there’s so much misinformation out there. So, we talked to experts to set the record straight on three of the most vilified skincare ingredients—retinoids, salicylic acid, and AHAs/BHAs. What should you be using and what should you toss?
THE ACCUSED: RETINOIDS
THREAT LEVEL: HIGH
Retinoids—Vitamin A derivatives—include topical retinols found in anti-aging serums and creams (Neutrogena Light Night Cream, Pond’s Age Miracle Deep Action Night Cream and Olay Regenerist Micro Sculpting Serum) and oral retinols, like isotretinoin (commonly known as Accutane), used in acne treatment. “Retinol is very effective in speeding up cellular turnover and revealing fresh, young skin. But it’s totally unsafe if you’re trying to conceive or are pregnant,” says Dr. Abhijeet Desai.
Why? Because Vitamin A derivatives can interfere with your fetus’ cell development and cause massive birth defects. That’s why Accutane users are required to be on two forms of birth control and have monthly blood tests while taking the medication. While topical retinoids in night cream are at a lower concentration, there’s still a chance they can be absorbed into the blood stream and make their way to the placenta. “I always advise patients not to use topical retinoids of any kind during the first two trimesters at the least,” says Dr. Desai.
THE ACCUSED: SALICYLIC ACIDS
THREAT LEVEL: MEDIUM
What’s that? Well if you’ve ever had acne, or a headache chances are you’ve used salicylic acid. It’s the main ingredient in aspirin and over-the-counter acne treatments (think L’Oreal Paris Go 360 Anti-Breakout Facial Cleanser, Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash, Vichy Normaderm 3-in-1 Mask, Scrub and Cleanser or La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo (+) Acne Treatment Cream). Great for clearing out your skin but not the best choice if you’re pregnant. “Salicylic acid sits on the fence because it hasn’t exactly been proven harmful to fetuses but there’s a possibility it might might be dangerous,” says gynaecologist Dr. Nupur Sharma. She says salicylic acid in high doses causes birth defects but the dosage levels haven’t been established.
If you’re pregnant its best to refrain from using all salicylic acids, including those applied topically, for at least the first trimester when the most damage can occur to the foetus. So what should oily skinned women use? “Stick to safe acne fighting skin-care products with glycolic acid or lactic acid,” she says, like Dermalogica Gentle Cream Exfoliant or Sebamed Clear Face Care Gel.
THE ACCUSED: BHAs/AHAs
THREAT LEVEL: LOW-TO-MEDIUM
Products that contain BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) and AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) like Olay Moisturizing Lotion, The Body Shop Vitamin E Moisture Cream and Kaya Brightening Day Cream-Lighter & Brighter offer great results for soothing problem skin and relatively safe too. But many doctors deem them off limits because they’re a form of salicylic acid. “Many experts suggest staying off BHAs and AHAs when you’re pregnant, but they’re not as harmful as retinoids or oral salicylic acids,” says Dr. Sharma. The jury is still out whether or not they can do damage when applied on skin.
Just to err on the side of caution, go herbal and natural as far as you can through your pregnancy. Who knows, maybe that nine-month pregnancy glow will be enough to give you the skin of your dreams.