Do You Need a "Clean" Pregnancy Beauty Routine?

 Eva-Katalin / Getty Images
Eva-Katalin / Getty Images.

The day you find out you're pregnant, you might start frantically searching things: Can I eat cheese while I'm pregnant? Can I dye my hair in the first trimester? And, do I need to switch my beauty routine to all-natural and organic products?

“It’s important to note that ‘clean’ beauty is not a regulated term," says Krupa Koestline, Clean Cosmetic Chemist and Founder of KKT Consultants. "As of now, it’s largely up to brands and retailers to define what clean means to them."

Some people may want to switch to a completely natural, non-toxic, organic, "clean" beauty routine while pregnant. It may stem from a fear of a certain ingredient causing harm to their baby, and of course, wanting the very best for their unborn child. And certainly, there is no harm in choosing "cleaner" products.

“Because there is no regulated or industry-wide definition for ‘clean,’ right now, consumers have to check the ingredient list,” Koestline adds. That’s where things get confusing and complicated. Some ingredients can appear under multiple names. For instance, certain oral medications have been deemed unsafe while the same ingredient in a topical form is safe.

The answer to “do I need a clean pregnancy beauty routine” is not a simple yes or no. Here, we will explain exactly what you need to know about whether or not to adopt a clean beauty routine during pregnancy.

What Is Considered Clean Beauty?

So how does a pregnant person switch their routine to "clean" when they don't know exactly what that means? “Well, that's the problem with it. You can't define it. It's undefinable because it’s not a real thing,” says Dr. Amy Wechsler, an NYC-based Dermatologist and Psychiatrist. “I think it's made up, and it has no proper definition."

Dr. Wechsler uses a food analogy to explain. Organic food is a regulated industry in the United States. It means that food is farmed in a certain way and certain chemicals are not used. There are standards and rules that need to be followed for a food to be labeled organic.

Her opinion is that clean beauty is simply a marketing term. There is no product that is officially regulated as "clean" in the United States. “It’s marketing craziness, and I think it’s an attempt to scare women so they buy certain products and don't buy others," Dr. Wechsler says.

She continues, explaining that in general, whether a person is pregnant or not, that person should be aware of the ingredients in the products being put in or on their body. For instance, if you are allergic to a certain product, you should check to see if it's in your skincare.

“But the thing about the skin, which a lot of people forget, is that the skin is an amazing barrier," Dr. Wechsler explains. "Its job is to keep the good things in and the bad things out—if it didn't, we'd be dead."

While there is no government standard for what is "clean" beauty, some retailers have taken it upon themselves to "ban" certain ingredients from products that they sell. Sephora, Ulta, and Credo, just to name a few, have a list of "clean" brands, whose products do not contain things like parabens, phthalates, or triclosan. This is similar to how Whole Foods has a list of "banned" ingredients from items they sell, such as hydrogenated fats, high-fructose corn syrup, aspartame, sucralose, and more.

Should You Change Your Routine While Pregnant?

While it’s important to be aware of what you’re using, pregnancy doesn’t necessarily translate into throwing away everything in your bathroom. You have the right to choose what is best for you.

“Pregnancy is an extremely dynamic phase of a woman’s life, and it is crucial to be mindful of products you are exposing yourself and your little one to,” Koestline says. Her top concern is to look for “potentially hormone-disrupting ingredients.”

Hormone and endocrine disruptors are still being studied but some research has shown that certain ingredients can have a negative effect on male and female reproduction, possibly cause cancer, or lead to thyroid issues. Disruptors include synthetic chemicals and ingredients like phthalates, BPA, triclosan, and DDT, among others.

Be aware that just because a product says all-natural on the label, it doesn't necessarily mean it's pregnancy safe.

“There is a misconception that clean products are safer than traditional products. This is just not true,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, Associate Professor and Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research at the Department of Dermatology at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “The term clean does not imply chemical-free. All products contain chemicals, and you may not realize it, but even water is a chemical.”

According to Dr. Zeichner, like the term "clean," a chemical-free product is marketing jargon to pursued the buyer to think of a product as healthy or safe. The reality is, everything on earth, including humans, is made from chemicals and energy.

Joshua Zeichner, MD

Natural is not always better. After all, poison ivy is all-natural.

— Joshua Zeichner, MD

Dr. Zeichner explains that you don't need to spend the time or energy looking up hundreds of ingredients on every single product you own. “Clean products are a great option for people who are looking to use them, but you do not need to switch your routine if you become pregnant,” Dr. Zeichner says. “Natural is not always better. After all, poison ivy is all-natural.”

If you do happen to see a “paraben” in your used body wash, for example, there is no cause for concern. “Most things don't have parabens in them anymore, but if you rub some on your skin, you're not going to get a blood level [reading] from most of these things,” says Dr. Wechsler. “Shampoos and body washes—they are on your skin for such a short period of time.”

Parabens have been used for nearly 100 years as a preservative. They are very commonly found in products like makeup, shampoo, and moisturizer. The FDA does not regulate the use of parabens or preservatives in cosmetics. The website currently states: "At this time, we do not have information showing that parabens, as they are used in cosmetics, have an effect on human health."

Pros To Changing Your Routine
  • Less is more, Dr. Wechsler says

  • Peace of mind

  • Easy to buy vetted products from major retailers

  • No harm in using products with fewer ingredients

Cons To Changing Your Routine
  • "Clean" is not a regulated term

  • Costly and time consuming

  • Lack of data for certain ingredients

  • May be shamed by other parents if not using all-natural, organic products

How To Shop For Clean Beauty

There is also nothing wrong with adapting your pregnancy beauty routine to include some more streamlined picks.

Although clean products vary by brand, some retailers have done the initial work of examining the ingredients of a product. The “Clean at Sephora” seal is only awarded to products that are free from a number of ingredients including parabens, phthalates, formaldehydes and formaldehyde-releasers, oxybenzone, coal tar, hydroquinone, triclosan, and others.

Similarly, Ulta has a “conscious beauty” section for its clean brands. These brands are made without formaldehyde, mineral oil, parabens, phthalates, talc, or triclosan, just to name a few.  

Credo Beauty is another fantastic place to shop, as the retailer features “safe, non-toxic” products from both indie and luxury beauty brands. On Credo's site, it claims that on a federal level, the U.S. has banned just 30 ingredients from skincare and makeup while Credo has banned over 2,700. Some of these banned ingredients have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, allergies, and have proven to be toxic to the human body or toxic to the earth.

Keep in mind that even though a product has been deemed "clean" by a specific retailer, that doesn't mean you are totally in the clear. You could still suffer from an allergic reaction or rash from a certain ingredient—even if it's all-natural. As always, discuss any concerns with a dermatologist.

Avoid Retinol While Pregnant

While there are thousands of pregnancy-safe beauty products, there are some definite no-nos while pregnant. Pregnant people should avoid using retinol and the ingredient isotretinoin (found in Accutane).

“Retinol/retinoids are found in both prescription and over-the-counter forms and is predominantly used for anti-aging and acne,” explains Rachel E. Maiman, M.D., a Board Certified Cosmetic & General Dermatologist.

Retinol can come in many forms, and it will be listed on an ingredient label under the following names: retinoic acid, retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, adapalene, tretinoin, tazarotene, trifarotene, and isotretinoin. "There's a proven link between the use of retinoids and an increased risk of birth defects for developing babies," says Mr. Maiman.

Dr. Wechsler says that Accutane has been linked to birth defects, so she will not prescribe it to those who are pregnant or trying to conceive. “The only two things I will prescribe for acne during pregnancy are Finacea (Azelaic Acid) and Erythromycin,” Dr. Wechsler shares.

Some Salicylic Acid is Safe During Pregnancy, While High Concentrations Are Not

You may have seen an ingredient called salicylic acid in acne or skin-resurfacing products. Salicylic acid is commonly considered to be unsafe during pregnancy. That said, both Dr. Maiman and Dr. Wechsler agree that in low concentrations (such as 1%), the product applied topically poses a very small risk.

“Salicylic acid is unlikely to cause harm when used topically in low concentrations,” Dr. Maiman says. “However, studies have concluded that high doses of salicylic acid, such as the concentrations found in peels and in oral medications, should be avoided during pregnancy."

Lower-dose topicals, like salicylic acid face washes sold at the drugstore, have been reported safe by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). A 2016 research article concluded that there is a low risk to use salicylic acid during pregnancy, especially if using it on "local areas for a limited duration."

Sunscreen Can and Should Be Used When Pregnant

Dr. Wechsler says that less is more during pregnancy, but there is one thing everyone should be using. “It is important to wear sunscreen because with the increased levels of estrogen, we're more prone to things like melasma, which is dark pigmentation," Dr. Wechsler says. "With sun protection, you have a lower chance of that."

Dr. Maiman advises choosing a mineral sunscreen over a chemical formulation, steering clear of ingredients like avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone, which are common ingredients in SPF.

“Because oxybenzone is a known endocrine-disrupting chemical, the concern for use in pregnancy is that it could disrupt hormones and cause permanent damage to mother and baby,” Dr. Maiman says. Choose sunscreens with ingredients like zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide instead.

The Bottom Line

Dr. Wechsler concludes, “When you’re pregnant, your body is not your own. Fair, right? And so, there are a lot of things you can't do, but the good news is, it's temporary and you get a baby at the end.”

Whether or not a person chooses to switch to clean beauty is a personal matter. Everyone has the right to decide what is best for them and their baby. Be sure to draw your own conclusions from the research and consult your healthcare provider with additional questions and concerns.


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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 Dory Zayas
Dory Zayas is a freelance beauty, fashion, and parenting writer. She spent over a decade writing for celebrity publications and since having her daughter in 2019, has been published on sites including INSIDER and Well+Good.