Pregnancy-Safe Skin-Care Products That Actually Work

Photo: Natalia Deriabina/Getty Images

I have adult acne plus adult wrinkles. When I got pregnant, I had to stop using the prescription retinoid cream I’d relied on for years to treat both the lines and the zits, which got worse with all the androgen coursing through me. I already felt uneasy about my changing body, so having to change up the products I’d come to trust threw another wrench into what was already a pretty gummed-up system.

The FDA designated tretinoin a category C medication, meaning it hasn’t been tested on human fetuses (because who would sign up for that?) but has been shown to have adverse effects on animals. If you’re pregnant or nursing, you should also avoid benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and the dark spot–lightener hydroquinone, advises Connecticut dermatologist and Yale School of Medicine professor Mona Gohara, M.D., a mother of two. Here are some of her and my favorite products containing powerful ingredients that you can still safely slather on your face.

For Acne

“In concentrations below 10 percent, alpha-hydroxy acids [AHA] are considered a safer alternative to salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide and can be a nice option for acne,” says Gohara. Not all products will tell you how strong their acids are, but Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Lotion puts the percentage right in the name. The AHA it contains is called glycolic acid, a leave-on chemical exfoliant that helps you shed dead skin without having to dirty a washcloth.

For Redness

Pregnancy can aggravate rosacea and even trigger first-time flare-ups. I’m not someone who generally believes in food-as-skin-care; while a lot of moms swear by coconut oil for their baby’s eczema, I didn’t blink when our pediatrician prescribed a steroid cream and bleach baths (yes, bleach). But Gohara says that the colloidal oatmeal — tiny particles extracted from boiling finely ground oats — and avocado oil in this IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Redness Correcting Cream are legitimately soothing. I thought it provided enough complexion-evening coverage that I didn’t need makeup on top, which IT says is optional, but it wasn’t so heavy that I couldn’t pull my mock-neck sweater on afterward.

For Sun Protection

Sunscreen is the best way to prevent hormone-triggered pigmentary issues like melasma, a.k.a. “the mask of pregnancy.” Colorescience Sunforgettable Brush-On Sunscreen SPF 50, contains the physical blockers titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which sit on top of the skin rather than being absorbed. “Chemical sunscreens are not contraindicated in pregnancy, but mineral sunscreens are much less likely to irritate the skin,” says Gohara. Plus this one is in powder form, so you can reapply it throughout the day over your makeup.

$52 at Dermstore
with code: COLORE25

For Anti-aging

Can one embrace approaching 40 while also attempting to mitigate the wear and tear of getting older? Like, yes, I can appreciate a vintage motorbike, but that doesn’t mean I won’t shine the chrome and condition the leather. Which brings us to Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2, a not-too-heavy cream containing a mix of your skin barrier’s three primary components — ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. It’s expensive, but then again, it’s also purported to make you look like you did before someone was sucking the life force out of your boobs every few hours.

For a More Even Complexion

“I’m obsessed with vitamin C, a potent antioxidant used to guppy-up free radicals that wreak cosmetic and carcinogenic havoc,” says Gohara. “Everyone should use a vitamin C serum to ward off discoloration and other skin irregularities.” Speaking of obsession,
Drunk Elephant’s TLC Sukari Babyfacial has holy-grail status, but it contains salicylic acid; the company’s C-Firma Day Serum, however, does not. Like most vitamin C serums, it smells a little like hot dog water, but it’s good enough at fading dark spots that I’m willing to breathe through my mouth for a bit.

For Moisture

Gohara is also a huge fan of hyaluronic acid, which occurs naturally in the skin and can hold more than 1,000 times its weight in water. Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Serum attracts moisture from the atmosphere (like a cloud, get it?) and pumps it into your skin’s cells. I had to stop using my facial oil when I was pregnant because the vegetal smell made me retch, so I appreciated that this is fragrance-free. And unlike oils, it dries matte.

For Your Eyes

Botanicals seem safe, but Gohara warns against certain essential oils, including sage, rosemary, and jasmine. The plant-based, mostly organic Restorative Eye Crème, from Gwyneth-orbiter Tata Harper contains none of those and delivered on its promise to reduce the “visible signs of fatigue” without causing me to tear up. Which is crucial, because when it comes to exhaustion, Cat Marnell in her heyday had nothing on a new mom getting by on a few hours of heavily interrupted sleep.

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Pregnancy-Safe Skin-Care Products That Actually Work