Can I Use Bio-Oil While Pregnant?

Pregnant woman putting Bio-Oil on belly

Stefan Tomic / Getty Images

Being pregnant is a truly transformative experience—for your body, mind, and life in general. And although it can be a magical experience, it’s easy to get bombarded with the barrage of dos and don’ts that come with the baby-brewing territory. But not all of them fit neatly into either a yes or no category. This is especially true when it comes to your beauty and skincare routines. The waters of self-care while pregnant can become murky, even when it comes to popular products and treatments. 

One such fan-fave product is Bio-Oil, an over-the-counter skin care formula designed to improve the appearance and suppleness of your skin. But among everyday users and pros alike, the jury is still split on whether or not it’s safe to use while pregnant. 

“As a mother of two boys, I certainly remember almost being pulled into the Bio-Oil bandwagon as I saw my ever-increasing belly bump continue to grow during pregnancy,” recalls Neda Mehr, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and medical director at Pure Dermatology Cosmetic & Hair Center in Newport Beach, Calif.

Intrigued by her use of the word “almost” and the ongoing debate, we asked Dr. Mehr and two more board-certified dermatologists to weigh in on the safety, benefits, and possible risks of using Bio-Oil while pregnant.

What Is Bio-Oil?

Bio-Oil (also known as Bi-Oil and Biol, depending on its international distribution) is a skincare formula used to improve uneven skin tone, dehydration, signs of aging, scars, and stretch marks, all of which can appear or become exacerbated during pregnancy. Although it's not marketed solely as pregnancy-specific, particularly when it comes to stretch marks (a.k.a. striae gravidarum), Bio-Oil is the most commonly used skincare product among pregnant individuals.

“[It] contains a cocktail of vitamins and plant-based oils that are naturally hydrating, calming, and thought to be good for repairing skin,” says Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist at the Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC. Among them include vitamins A and E, as well as calendula, lavender, rosemary, and chamomile oils.

These ingredients serve as antioxidants in a hydrating oil base, along with a weaker retinoid or vitamin A derivative, explains Amelia K. Hausauer, MD, FAAD, a board-certified, cosmetic fellowship-trained dermatologist and director of dermatology & minimally invasive aesthetics at AESTHETX in Campbell, Calif. Together, they aim to help bolster skin health and reduce the appearance of several common concerns. 

“[Bio-Oil] gets a lot of buzz as a ‘holy grail’ option for the prevention of stretch marks, especially in pregnancy,” she says. “[However], despite its popularity, the critical scientific data for this [proactive benefit] is weak, and there are a limited number of studies specifically investigating Bio-Oil.” For instance, Dr. Hausauer cites one study from a South African manufacturer that included a total of 20 participants, none of whom were pregnant.

That’s not to say that Bio-Oil is an unfounded hype (it does have a 4.5-star rating out of nearly 112K customer reviews on Amazon). But when it comes to the safety of using Bio-Oil while pregnant, there’s just not enough scientific evidence to make the call either way.

Is It Safe to Use Bio-Oil During Pregnancy?

Here’s where the debate on using Bio-Oil while pregnant heats up. According to Bio-Oil—which originated in Europe—its skincare oil has been assessed for safety by the Regulation of the European Parliament and Council on Cosmetic Products. They determined that its chemical structure, toxicological profile, level of inclusion, and total level of daily exposure to each ingredient were safe for use, including by pregnant people.

In other words, the type and amount of potentially harmful ingredients in the formula that your skin would be exposed to with day-to-day use aren’t considered to be enough to incur any detrimental effects to you or your baby.

However, across the pond here in the U.S., the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has flagged multiple ingredients as potential risks for pregnant and breastfeeding people—no matter what amount of them are used.

“The FDA currently categorizes the safety of ingredients for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers by the letters A, B, C, D, and X,” explains Dr. Mehr. Category A and B ingredients are the only ones it considers safe to use while pregnant and breastfeeding, while on the other end of the spectrum, ingredients labeled X are deemed especially harmful to a developing baby and should be completely avoided during pregnancy. Bio-Oil falls smack in the middle of this range of caution.

“[It] has several ingredients of concern for the pregnant female, including retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A commonly known as retinol, Retin-A, or tretinoin, categorized as class C,” Dr. Mehr cautions. Category C effectively means that the risk to a developing baby is unknown, and therefore cannot be ruled out. As with many things in pregnancy, if the potential risks of a product outweigh the benefits, it’s usually advisable to be on the safe side and avoid its use. 

Dr. Hausauer also points out how this same reasoning applies to the way the ingredients are evaluated for safety in the U.S: “Few clinical trials enroll pregnant women given the increased ‘risk’ when treating not only a mother but also her unborn child,” she says. Ergo, researchers aren’t typically comfortable taking the chances with pregnant people and their babies either.

“Unfortunately,” she continues, “without sound data, this means counseling and navigating safe medications and over-the-counter products can be more difficult or confusing.” So much so that Bio-Oil, being quite popular worldwide—and the U.S. is no exception—seems to have taken notice. 

Although, according to the company, the amount of vitamin A in Bio-Oil is well below the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) threshold for safe use in pregnant people, in an abundance of caution, they have developed a product without retinoids which, Dr. Hausauer confirms, was shown in internal studies to perform just as well as the original formulation.

Every pregnancy is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about using Bio-Oil while pregnant.

Benefits of Bio-Oil During Pregnancy 

Fans of Bio-Oil—pregnant and not—hail it as a game-changer for an uneven complexion, parched skin, anti-aging, scars, and stretch marks. But there are other reasons it’s a favorite in the pregnancy world too—likely the reason why so many pregnant people are comfortable taking the company (and their peers) at their word. 

Skin Elasticity

Bio-Oil helps support your skin during periods of rapid growth and weight gain—like when you’re pregnant—by increasing skin elasticity, thereby helping to reduce the formation of stretch marks. And, despite the FDA’s stance, there are other reputable organizations, such as the American Pregnancy Association, that recommend using it starting in your first trimester to help maintain your skin’s hydration and improve its ability to bounce back after being stretched.

Skin Protection and Repair

Dr. Nazarian notes that the vitamins and plant-based oils Bio-Oil contains are calming and thought to help repair the skin, which can surely come under considerable strain while you’re pregnant. She also mentions that there are other skin-loving ingredients in Bio-Oil. “Vitamins A and E can protect healthy skin and support collagen formation,” she says. “They are natural antioxidants that neutralize free-radical damage.” 

Anti-Inflammatory and Soothing 

“Camomile and sunflower oils are anti-inflammatory, which means they calm irritation and inflammation in the skin,” Dr. Nazarian adds, “[making them] a potential pathway by which [Bio-Oil] minimizes scars and stretch marks (which are often red and noticeable).” She also notes that these ingredients have the added bonus of providing hydration, which promotes healthier skin, perhaps also helping to keep stretch marks at bay. 

Hydration

Speaking of hydration, when it comes to caring for your skin during pregnancy, we cannot emphasize it enough. It’s of utmost importance to keep your skin hydrated while pregnant, no matter what skincare routine you choose.

In the case of skincare oils, however, Dr. Hausauer notes, “All of the oil hydration may keep skin more supple to limit damage to the deeper part of the skin known as the dermis, which, when stretched rapidly or torn excessively, forms depressed red (striae rubra) or white (striae alba) lines, much likes scars.” Needless to say, both pregnancy and childbirth can cause these types of trauma to your skin.

Dr. Mehr augments that with a similar sentiment: “The skincare benefits of applying oils to the growing skin of your belly bump are that the skin cells are stretching and creating more skin cells to keep up with [your pregnant] body's demand.” This may result in itching and discomfort, which hydrating oils can help soothe or may even help minimize from the get-go.

All that said, it may be best to temper your expectations with any topical product, especially when it comes to stretch marks. “While no product can fully prevent striae, because of the interplay between genetic susceptibility and how much the skin must stretch [while pregnant], keeping a rapidly expanding belly lubricated can be helpful.” Much like wetting dry clay makes it more flexible, the same is true for properly hydrating your skin.

Risks of Using Bio-Oil While Pregnant

As with most things in pregnancy, there are potential risks that you may encounter based on the ingredients in Bio-Oil. And, due to the lack of research into using the formula while pregnant, your level of risk is unknown. However, they may include some of the following.

Birth Defects

As mentioned, although Bio-Oil states that the level of vitamin A in its formula is too negligible to cause any harm to an unborn fetus based on European standards, the FDA takes more of a no-nonsense approach. Retinoids found in Bio-Oil—which are derived from vitamin A—have been linked to birth defects in unborn children.

“[They] are all forms of vitamin A that act as heavy-hitters in skincare, improving skin turnover and cell communication,” Dr. Hausauer explains. However, she warns, they are generally not considered appropriate for use in pregnancy, due to the risk of fetal malformations. 

Miscarriage or Premature Labor

Another ingredient of concern in Bio-Oil is the seemingly innocuous-sounding rosemary oil. “Studies found rosemary oil to cause uterine contractions, which could technically lead to miscarriage or premature labor if used in large quantities,” Dr. Mehr cautions. “Since our skin is considered a drug delivery system (think estrogen patches or nicotine patches), putting products considered ‘unsafe’ in oral medicinal amounts on our skin can cause dangerous internal effects.” Makes sense: if you are advised against drinking it, your skin likely ought to be too. 

Contact Allergy

OK, this one is admittedly far less of serious a risk, but despite Bio-Oil being labeled as hypoallergenic, we’d be remiss not to mention that in a small number of cases—for some people—that may not ring true.

“Keep in mind that essential oils carry a moderate risk of contact allergy,” Dr. Nazarian advises. “If you feel the product is making you itchy or making your skin uncomfortable or red, immediately discontinue [its use].” And if you have a skin condition, such as atopic dermatitis, or a history of reacting to other topical skin care products, you may be more susceptible to an allergic reaction.

Pregnancy-Safe Alternatives 

As we mentioned from the start, we know how confusing all the yays and nays—as well as the benefits versus risks—can be during pregnancy. And using Bio-Oil while pregnant is certainly no exception. So, now, let’s discuss some solid pregnancy-safe options that you can use to reap some skin perks similar to Bio-Oil.

Extra Virgin Coconut Oil

Here’s one that can provide you with several benefits that Bio-Oil offers, without all the worry. “I would recommend using extra virgin coconut oil to hydrate the skin during pregnancy,” Dr. Mehr offers. “It has potent antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties that make it a natural option for the discerning mommy-to-be.” In fact, being antimicrobial is a benefit not even Bio-Oil boasts.

Vitamin E 

Like many of the ingredients in Bio-Oil, vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect your skin from UV radiation and other skin-damaging free radicals. Vitamin E oil can also provide hydrating and anti-inflammatory benefits and is known to be safe to use while pregnant.

Vitamin C

Also a pregnancy-safe antioxidant, vitamin C is the only free-radical-fighting one that offers the additional benefit of helping to stimulate collagen production—the protein responsible for maintaining your skin’s firmness and plumpness—similar to retinoids. This means it can help reduce the formation and look of fine lines, wrinkles, and sagginess.

A Word From Verywell

Knowing what you can and cannot use safely while pregnant can seem like a never-ending conundrum. The ingredients in Bio-Oil can infuse your skin with numerous benefits like a more even tone and texture, firmness, and health-supporting hydration, as well as protection from free radicals, inflammation, and irritation. However, some of the same ingredients that can pamper your skin when you’re not pregnant can potentially harm you or your infant when you are.

Our aim is to educate and inform, not tell you what to do. If you’re considering using Bio-Oil while pregnant, but are understandably somewhat concerned about potential risks, always talk to your healthcare provider to determine what the right path forward is for you and your baby.

11 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Cat Matta
Cat is a linguistic alchemist and expert wordsmith who has written and edited for some of the world's biggest brands. However, she particularly enjoys the medical, aesthetic, pharma, mental health, and beauty realms. She works full-time as a senior content manager at a multinational digital agency.