Pregnancy skin is a rollercoaster ride between acne, redness and oil buildup, so it’s handy to know which products you can turn to for help. By substituting a few key ingredients for other products, you can still fight the lines, dryness and breakouts caused by this tumultuous, tiring and exciting time. As a formulations creator for Melbourne-made brand Samson & Charlie Skincare, I’m acutely aware of skincare ingredients and their safety. So here’s everything you need to know about skin during pregnancy, and which products can help.

Pregnancy-safe skincare products

With so many changes occurring to your skin, you may be dealing with acne one day and pigmentation the next. Plus, with your hormones racing like a teenager, your moods are fluctuating hour by hour; leaving you feeling sad and teary one moment, but happy and excited the next. When you’re feeling low, dealing with breakouts and problem skin can make you feel worse, so it’s important to feel like you have some effective, easy-to-use products to turn to.

  • Vitamin C products: Work as a barrier to protect your skin, plus help with pigmentation and fight free radicals. Look for Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate (THD), an oil-soluble version of Vitamin C to penetrate sebum layers for ultimate results. Pregnancy is all about oil balance, so an oil-soluble product helps regulate your oil and keeps skin softer when paired with squalane and vitamin E.
  • Vitamin B, including B3 (Niacinamide): This hydrating and anti-ageing power ingredient is deemed safe by the experts as long as you avoid high concentrations (usually not found in commercial skincare anyway) It’s a great way to get extra hydration to care for your skin during restless nights and ever-present pregnancy fatigue.
  • AHA’s (Alpha hydroxy acids), such as glycolic acids and lactic acids are a safe substitute for Vitamin A products during pregnancy. Their in-built exfoliating power leaves skin looking bright and helps prevent acne caused by dry skin buildup.

Why does your skin change so much during pregnancy?

Since your teenage years, your hormones have probably never been so changeable as they are during pregnancy. More specifically, the increased levels of oestrogen, which continue to build throughout pregnancy, affect everything from your skin to hair and nails.

Pregnancy also causes increased oil secretion which adds shine and the ‘pregnancy glow,’ but can lead to hormonal breakouts especially along your jawline, chest and back. Pigmentation also affects many women, especially in the last trimester, often called melasma. 

The good news? The increased blood volume of 50% means rosy cheeks and more supple skin. Plus, experts say most of the changes you’ll experience will ease after you give birth, and especially after you finish breastfeeding. 

Skincare ingredients to avoid during pregnancy

Some skincare ingredients you may love for their anti-ageing benefits, such as retinol, aren’t safe for pregnancy. Why? There’s no evidence some of these ingredients are actually safe for a developing baby. So the experts advise every pregnant woman to stay clear of:

  • Any retinol and retinoid products
    • Retinoids are prescriptive strength vitamin A’s such as tazarotene, adapalene and tretinoin. 
    • Retinol is a Vitamin A ingredient more common in cosmetic skincare products, and will usually show up in the form of retinol palmitate, retinol acetate and retinol linoleate. 
  • Hydroquinone
    • Hydroquinone is often found in anti-pigmentation products and is an absolute no-no during pregnancy. It’s absorbed through the skin at a very high rate, so is considered absolutely unsafe during pregnancy. 
  • Essential oils at concentrations higher than 1%
    • Essential oils at high concentrations may be able to penetrate into the blood stream, which is deemed unsafe during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

“We just don’t know enough about those oils and certainly if they’re put onto the body at high concentrations, they might be like hydroquinone, we don’t know. And no one’s studied them, so I tend to tell my patients to avoid the essential oils until we know a bit more,” Sydney Dermatologist Dr Nina Wines said

  • Highly concentrated actives
    • Many actives are deemed safe during pregnancy, but high concentrations are usually best left alone during pregnancy. This includes high concentrations of salicylic acid (over 2%) and potent niacinamide products.

Top tip: Read the ingredients in every product you choose. The experts want to convey the importance of not simply choosing products termed ‘natural’ during pregnancy without doing your research. Essential oils are a great example of an ‘all natural’ product that shouldn’t be used at high concentrations.

So now you know which products to avoid and which are safe, you can revamp your skincare routine during pregnancy. Luckily, this investment is required if you’re breastfeeding too, so you’ll get a chance to find your favourites. Overall? Keep it simple and choose a routine that ticks all the boxes needed during pregnancy: Hydration, oil balance and some extra nourishment to manage those restless nights.


Carole Staeck is the co-founder and formulations creator of Samson & Charlie Skincare, a Melbourne-made brand dedicated to results-led, luxurious skincare. She is dedicated to her mission to create effective skincare that feels and smells great and makes real differences to users. All Samson & Charlie Skincare is safe for anyone pregnant and breastfeeding.