Skincare While Trying to Conceive

Woman applying skincare

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There are hundreds of articles about what not to do when you become pregnant but what about when you’re trying to become pregnant? For some, it can take months or years to get pregnant, making cutting entire food groups or skincare categories seem overwhelming and exhausting. Not to mention certain fertility treatments can affect your hormones, leading to issues you may not have experienced before, like hormonal acne.

There are some best practices to follow while trying to conceive (TTC) when it comes to skincare specifically, so we asked a few dermatologists to share the skincare products you can use and which you should avoid when trying to get pregnant.

“I would recommend to all of your readers to never put anything on their face, even if it's over the counter, without consulting with their OB/GYN first,” says Mona Gohara, MD, a board-certified dermatologist. “Some things that are over the counter, like salicylic acid or Differin or other retinol products, are contraindicated in pregnancy.”

TCC Skincare Do's

TTC can be a stressful time, so you may be looking for skincare products that will help you feel and look radiant and refreshed. Here are some products that are safe and recommended to use when trying to have a baby.

Certain Acne Treatments (Niacinamide, Azelaic Acid)

“Acne is a concern for many women trying to conceive, but watch out for certain ingredients,” says board-certified dermatologist Corey L. Hartman, MD, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Ala. “Two that are generally considered safe to use while pregnant are niacinamide and azelaic acid, so you can start to use those now.”

Other popular acne treatments, such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, can be used with caution. Check with your OB/GYN before using.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a popular ingredient in many serums, and can help with hyperpigmentation, as well as brightening and tightening your skin.

“Vitamin C is safe for pregnancy, so if you use a Vitamin C serum, you can keep using it while trying to conceive,” says Dr. Hartman.

Sunscreen

Sunscreen should be used daily by everyone, regardless of skin tone or time of year. “Keep wearing or start regularly wearing sunscreen,” says Dr. Hartman. “Sunscreen is important for women trying to conceive, as certain pregnancy hormones can make you more susceptible to UV damage from the sun, especially for a condition called melasma.”

Melasma shows up in the form of dark patches, usually around the mouth, and on the cheeks and forehead. “Melasma can be very difficult to treat after it appears," Dr. Hartman says. "Prevention is much easier. Wear at least SPF 30 each day, and make sure to reapply every two hours you’re in the sun.”

AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids)

You can achieve a glowing complexation that will help with tone, texture, and breakouts with pregnancy-safe acids. “AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids), which can be found over-the-counter, are generally considered safe during pregnancy,” says David Lortscher, MD, CEO and co-founder of Curology. “They are derived from sugar cane, and examples include glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid.”

These help to exfoliate and promote the healthy turnover of skin cells.

TTC Skincare Don'ts

There are also some ingredients that are definite no-no's while TTC.

Retinol

Retinol is beloved by doctors and patients alike but is not recommended for those who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. “If you’re trying to conceive, you want to avoid retinol and retinoids,” says Dr. Hartman.

Studies show that retinol can harm a growing fetus. Retinol can pass through the skin and into the bloodstream, which can then pass to the fetus.

“Instead of a retinoid, look to using bakuchiol, which is a retinol ‘alternative’—it’s a natural, vegan ingredient derived from the psoralea corylifolia plant,” says Dr. Hartman. “It’s a plant that has been used for years in traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. Bakuchiol has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties similar to retinol, which makes it a great alternative to treat signs of aging like fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven tone.” The ingredient can also help to firm skin and reduce the size of pores.

Remember, just because something is available over the counter and not in a prescription does not mean it’s safe. “Differin is a retinoid and that should not be used in pregnancy,” adds Dr. Gohara. It’s not to be used in pregnancy, so it’s best not to use it while TTC.

Botox & Fillers

Because of a lack of studies on how these injectables may affect a baby, many dermatologists simply will not perform them. “Hold off on injectable procedures, like Botox and fillers,” says Dr. Hartman. “There isn’t enough research on injectable therapies to understand the risk they pose to the fetus, so I recommend holding off while trying to conceive.”

Accutane

This popular acne treatment must be completely out of the system before you start trying to conceive. “The most effective way to prevent acne is by oral prescription of Accutane, which must be stopped one month before ceasing the use of birth control or trying to conceive,” says Geneva-based dermatologist, Luigi L. Polla, MD, founder of Forever Institut and Alchimie Forever.

Instead, use approved acids. “Peels and AHA products may help prevent acne and breakouts and are indeed safe to use while TTC and during pregnancy,” says Dr. Polla.

You can also be mindful of what’s going in your body as well as on your skin. “The best way to treat acne is with a good diet (i.e. avoiding sugars), good daily skin hygiene (in particular good cleansing to remove excess sebum), as well as topical spot treatments on the actual pimples,” says Dr. Polla.

Proceed With Caution

These are some products that may be okay to use when trying to conceive but should be stopped when you become pregnant.

Certain Acne Treatments (Benzoyl Peroxide, Salicylic Acid)

“Use caution with certain active ingredients used to treat acne, like benzoyl peroxide,” says Dr. Hartman. “Benzoyl peroxide is considered by the FDA to be a ‘Category C agent,’ which means it is generally considered to be safe to use in pregnancy.”

Always be sure to check with your doctor about this specific ingredient and how it applies to you. “There's such small absorption into the bloodstream that sometimes OB/GYNs will allow for it in individual cases,” says Dr. Gohara.

A similar ingredient to be mindful of is salicylic acid. “Absorption of salicylic acid into the bloodstream can also pose risk to a fetus, so I’d cut out any face washes or general-use salicylic acid,” says Dr. Hartman. “If you need to put a small amount of a salicylic acid spot treatment (2% or less) on a zit while trying to conceive, that should be OK. Just use it sparingly.”

It may be helpful to make a list or have a designated shelf of products that are not pregnancy safe, so, if and when you do get pregnant, you can immediately stop using them. “Ingredients to avoid during pregnancy include retinoids of any kind, isotretinoin, tetracycline, as well as essential oils,” says Dr. Polla.

A Message from Verywell Family

Trying to conceive is an exciting process that can turn stressful when it doesn't happen right away. It’s important to know what you should and shouldn’t be using as far as skincare as the decisions you make could affect your fetus. Talk to your midwife or OB/GYN if you have any other questions about skincare treatments you can and can’t use while TTC.

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2 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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  2. Chien AL, Qi J, Rainer B, Sachs DL, Helfrich YR. Treatment of acne in pregnancyThe Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. 2016;29(2):254-262. doi:10.3122/jabfm.2016.02.150165