Pregnancy-Safe Makeup Ingredients

pregnant woman putting on makeup
Aja Koska/GettyImages.
Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

There’s no question about it: Finding out you’re pregnant changes everything, ranging from your diet—no more sushi!—to your clothing size.

The same goes for your skin, and you may want to reevaluate your regular makeup routine as soon as you get that positive pregnancy test. “Anything you apply topically could potentially be transferred to the fetus during a critical window of human development,” says Nathaniel DeNicola, MD, FACOG, an OB/GYN based in Washington DC.

While there's not a ton of evidence to suggest that exposure to ingredients in makeup can cause harm to a baby, cosmetics can contain certain toxins that may impact fetal health and are associated with a range of potential complications like preterm birth, low birth weight, neuro-developmental delays, and cancer that can crop up during childhood or later in life.

“Any toxic exposure can [also] be hazardous to adults, but their organ development is complete,” notes Dr. DeNicola. “That’s not true for fetuses, which is why they may be more sensitive.”

The confusing part? Potentially harmful ingredients aren’t always clearly marked on labels. And because it's unethical to test on pregnant individuals, data is sparse on exactly which makeup ingredients—and how much—pose a threat.

Natalia Grob, MD, FACOG

The burden falls on the consumer to do the work to determine what are the safest options.

— Natalia Grob, MD, FACOG

“The burden falls on the consumer to do the work to determine what are the safest options,” says Natalia Grob, MD, FACOG, an OB/GYN and fertility specialist based in Denver, Colorado.

But, of course, getting pregnant doesn’t automatically turn you into an expert in cosmetology, so be sure to speak with your healthcare provider if you have any doubts about what’s in your products. We looked to the experts to learn more about which makeup ingredients to avoid and which are safe during pregnancy.

Makeup Ingredients to Avoid While Pregnant

The majority of makeup ingredients you’ll find in drug and department stores are considered safe to use during pregnancy, says Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Centers and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York Presbyterian-Cornell.

However, avoiding certain ingredients can lower your exposure to potential toxins, irritants, and known endocrine disruptors—aka chemicals that can affect the body’s hormones and contribute to developmental issues involving the brain, impulse, and reproductive systems.

Below are some common ingredients that are generally best to avoid during pregnancy.


Phthalates are used to either produce scents or eliminate them, like in "unscented" products, says Dr. DeNicola. While the use of phthalates in cosmetics has decreased over the past decade, these liquid chemical compounds are sometimes used as solvents and stabilizers in personal care products like nail polishes, hairsprays, cleaners, and shampoos.

Phthalates are typically listed on product labels as dibutyl phthalate (DBP), dimethyl phthalate (DMP), and diethyl phthalate (DEP).

“Phthalates are associated with decreased [fertility], early menopause, and are linked with impaired neurodevelopment in pregnancy,” Dr. Grob says. As such, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that healthcare providers advise pregnant patients to avoid phthalates.


Prenatal exposure to parabens, which are used as a preservative agent in certain cosmetic creams and body lotions, may impact the child’s future weight development.

Parabens, which are also endocrine disruptors, can potentially increase the risk of certain cancers throughout a baby’s lifetime. They are linked to neuro-developmental impairment, Dr. DeNicola says.

“They can also be irritating to those who experience increased skin sensitivity during pregnancy,” Dr. Garshick notes. 

Heavy Metals 

Heavy metals, which are present in some skin-lightening creams and cosmetics, can be toxic when consumed, and even sometimes when applied topically. Lead, mercury, and antimony are among the common heavy metals found in these products.

Dr. DeNicola warns that heavy metals have the potential to cause kidney damage, disrupt the nervous system, or impact brain development, heightening the risk of ADHD or autism. However, experts don’t yet know how much heavy metal exposure could impact a fetus.

“During pregnancy, we rely on precautionary principles: If we know some level is toxic, we don’t [test] doses to find a safe dose, we recommend avoiding it altogether,” Dr. DeNicola says.


Animal studies suggest that prenatal exposure to low doses of oxybenzone, another endocrine-disrupting chemical, can disrupt the size and growth of mammary glands before and during puberty in males, and reduce mammary cell production in females in adulthood. While animal studies don't always translate to humans, when it comes to pregnancy, it's best to err on the side of caution.

As such, ACOG recommends pregnant people avoid oxybenzone, which can be found in some SPF products.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid, found in some makeup foundations, is a component of aspirin that is not recommended during pregnancy. This is because of the potential for different fetal malformations linked to first-trimester high-dose exposure, says Dr. Garshick, who prescribes avoidance—especially in high concentrations. 


Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that can contribute to fetal malformations when taken orally. Because experts still don’t know exactly how much topical retinol could penetrate the skin and/or placenta, it is generally recommended that people who are pregnant avoid retinol and retinoids including retinyl palmitate, which can be found in concealer, eye shadows, lipsticks, and mascaras, Dr. Garshick says. 

How to Know If Your Makeup Is Safe

Unfortunately, there’s no list you can reference to ensure every product that touches your skin during pregnancy is fully benign. “It’s hard to say that something is ‘pregnancy-safe’ because that means it has been tested in a clinical trial and shown not to have adverse effects,” Dr. DeNicola points out. “Unlike drugs that go through the Food and Drug Administration, makeup and personal care products don’t go through testing like that.”    

And while you might be inclined to read all the labels in your makeup stash, it isn’t always as easy as it sounds. “Even if you got an A in AP Chemistry, labeling is tricky to navigate because harmful ingredients aren’t always listed,” says Dr. DeNicola, referencing vague terms like “fragrance.” 

Use these guidelines to do the best you can, and remember that you should always ask your healthcare provider if you’re unsure what to make of a cryptic ingredient or dizzying Google search.

Focus on Ingredients, Not Marketing Labels

When reviewing a product's list of ingredients, keywords like "organic" or "natural" won’t necessarily guarantee it’s 100% safe for pregnant people to use. “It may depend on the concentration of the specific ingredient,” Dr. Garshick says. There's no formal or universal definition to those buzzwords, so the product may still include ingredients that can be irritating to the skin.

Look for SPF Protection From Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide

Ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide serve as physical blockers from UV exposure and are thought to be less irritating on the skin when compared to chemical sunscreens. This is why they are often preferred in pregnancy, says Dr. Garshick.

Opt for Iron Oxide

Iron oxide is found in some makeups and tinted sunscreens. It can be helpful to protect against blue light, which may worsen the hyperpigmentation that can occur with pregnancy, says Dr. Garshick.

High Price Points Aren’t Necessarily Protective

While some people might gladly fork over a whole paycheck to protect their unborn baby, pricey items aren’t necessarily the answer. “Expensive products don't always mean safer products, especially when it comes to environmental toxins,” says Dr. Grob.  

Wherever Possible, Choose Fragrance-Free

Beware whenever "fragrance" is listed as a cosmetic ingredient. “‘Fragrance’ is a proprietary term that's used so companies don't have to disclose what chemicals are included in their product,” says Dr. Grob. Unlike "unscented," which can contain a variety of scents bound by phthalates, “fragrance-free” shouldn’t contain any endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the first place.

Use Reliable Sources When Doing Your Research

While many cosmetic retailers take it upon themselves to categorize products as clean or natural, these terms aren’t regulated by any governing bodies. Even though the United States Department of Agriculture-certified organic label is typically reserved for the food we eat, cosmetic ingredients can earn this label. Those that get it are most likely the least toxic, Dr. DeNicola says.

Third-party watchdogs such as the Environmental Working Group offer information on the safety of each ingredient found in specific cosmetics and can provide a digestible rating system to help you assess your risk. 

A Word From Verywell

Few ingredients have gone through the rigamarole of testing on pregnant individuals, and experts don’t exactly know how much makeup penetrates the skin. “There is not enough evidence to suggest that the exposure of certain ingredients in makeup is enough to cause harm to a baby,” Dr. Garshick says. That said, it’s never a bad idea to check makeup labels for the ingredients listed above, and ask your healthcare provider if you have any questions about the safety of your favorite products.


13 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.
  1. Exposure to toxic environmental agentsFertility and Sterility. 2013;100(4):931-934. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2013.08.043

  2. ACOG. Reducing prenatal exposure to toxic environmental agents.

  3. Food and Drug Administration. Phthalates in Cosmetics.

  4. Leppert B, Strunz S, Seiwert B, et al. Maternal paraben exposure triggers childhood overweight development. Nat Commun. 2020;11(1):561. doi:10.1038/s41467-019-14202-1

  5. Nowak K, Ratajczak-Wrona W, Górska M, Jabłońska E. Parabens and their effects on the endocrine system. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2018;474:238-251.  doi:10.1016/j.mce.2018.03.014

  6. Lee MJ, Chou MC, Chou WJ, et al. Heavy metals’ effect on susceptibility to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: implication of lead, cadmium, and antimonyIJERPH. 2018;15(6):1221. doi:10.3390/ijerph15061221

  7. Matouskova K, Jerry DJ, Vandenberg LN. Exposure to low doses of oxybenzone during perinatal development alters mammary gland morphology in male and female mice. Reprod Toxicol. 2020;92:66-77. doi:10.1016/j.reprotox.2019.08.002

  8. ACOG. Reducing prenatal exposure to toxic environmental agents.

  9. Nakhai-Pour HR, Bérard A. Major malformations after first trimester exposure to aspirin and NSAIDsExpert Review of Clinical Pharmacology. 2008;1(5):605-616. doi:10.1586/17512433.1.5.605

  10. Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. Fetal Retinoid Syndrome.

    • Ludriksone L, Elsner P. Adverse reactions to sunscreens. In: Surber C, Osterwalder U, eds. Current Problems in Dermatology. Vol 55. S. Karger AG; 2021:223-235. doi:10.1159/000517634
  11. Campiche R, Curpen SJ, Lutchmanen Kolanthan V, et al. Pigmentation effects of blue light irradiation on skin and how to protect against themInt J Cosmet Sci. 2020;42(4):399-406. doi:10.1111/ics.12637

By Elizabeth Narins
Elizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer, editor, and social media strategist whose favorite workout is chasing her toddler. Her work has been published by Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Parents, Health, Bustle, and more.