All the beauty ingredients to avoid when pregnant: Retinol, salicylic acids, and more

All the beauty ingredients to avoid when pregnant: Retinol, salicylic acids, and more

Health is wealth

Text: Jeway Tan

Image: Unsplash

Getting pregnant is glorious and life-changing; your whole world changes as soon as you find out. And while it's fair to assume that most of us are aware of the basic lifestyle modifications brought about by pregnancy (see: no alcohol), it stands to reason that there are many other technical aspects that we remain unsure about. Dietary-related alterations aside, it seems your skincare regime is also in need of a massive overhaul. A part of it has to do with fluctuating hormones that result in a new set of complexion woes — but largely, it has to do with the prevalence of beauty products that contain ingredients proven to be harmful to growing fetuses. This includes popularised formulas containing collagen-boosting retinol, acne-busting salicylic acid (!), and more. Read on to get the full lowdown, below.


What is it: Retinol is a type of retinoid that contains vitamin A derivates. It works by increasing collagen production and skin cell turnover. It helps with minimising the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, evening out your skin tone, as well as reducing the size of pores.

Found in: Retinol can be found in basically all kinds of skincare products, particularly in serums and moisturisers.

Health concerns: There is a proven link between the use of retinol and birth defects. While vitamin A is essential to the fetus's proper development, too much of it may cause severe birth defects and liver toxicity.

What to look for in the label: Retinol, Retinyl Palmitate, Retin-A, Retinyl Acetate, Retinoic Acid, Retinaldehyde, Adapalene, Tretinoin, Taazarotene And Isotretinoin And Retinyl Linoleate.

Salicylic acid

What is it: Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid, also known as BHA. It dissolves the skin debris that causes clogged pores and acts as an anti-inflammatory, which, thus, getsz rid of acne. Salicylic acid is also used as an exfoliant. It helps with removing and loosening dead skin cells as well as dissolving blackheads

Found in: Salicylic acids are typically found in face wash, cleansers, toners, treatments, exfoliator, moisturisers shampoo, body wash, and even body lotions.

Health concerns: Unlike AHAs — which works on the surface of your skin — BHAs are able to penetrate deeper into the skin. In high doses, and especially when taken orally, salicylic acid can lead to intracranial bleeding in the fetus. With that being said, however a lower dose of salicylic acids (like cleansers) are safe to use. An alternative to salicylic acids is glycolic acids, which are safe to use during pregnancy

What to look for in the label: Hydroxybenzoic Acid, Benzoic Acid, Hydrocybenzenecarboxylic Acid, Salicylic Acid

Essential oils

What is it: Essential oils are very commonly used in a lot of beauty products, where its inclusion helps add natural "fragrance" to a product.

Found in: Just about all beauty products, really.

Health concerns: A common concern cited by professionals is that nobody knows how much of a specific oil is absorbed into your body. Certain oils like tea tree oil or rosemary oil can lead to dermatitis, drug reactions, and/or a blistering disease called linear IgA. These hormonal conditions are often blamed for premature contractions. It can also cause a rise in blood pressure and uterine contractions.

What to look for in the label: Essential Oil, Name Of Essential Oils, Parfum, Perfume, Linalool, Limonene, Eugenol, Citronellol, Geraniol, Cinnamal


What is it: Formaldehyde is a chemical compound found in all life forms like bacteria, plants, animals and even humans. It is a compound made of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon. All life forms naturally produce it as part of cell metabolism. It is used a preservative and disinfectant in beauty products.

Found in: Formaldehyde can be found in nail polish, nail glue, eyelash glue, hair gel, hair-smoothing products, baby shampoo, body soaps, as well as colour cosmetics

Health concerns: Formaldehyde can increase the risk of miscarriage and infertility. This chemical has been linked to cancer and nervous system issues such as chest pains, coughing, and respiratory irritations.

What to look for in the label: Formaldehyde, Quaternium-15, Dimethyl-Dimethyl (Dmdm) Hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Diazolidinyl Urea, Sodium Hydrocymethylglycinate, 2-Bromo-2-Nitroropane-1, 3-Diol (Bromopol), Quaternium-15, 5-Bromo-5-Nitro-1, 3-Dioxane


Chemical sunscreen

What is it: Chemical sunscreens usually contains oxybenzone and its derivatives as they are most frequently used as an Ultraviolet (UV) filter.

Found in: Sunscreen.

Health concerns: Oxybenzone is an endocrine-disrupting chemical. It could disrupt hormones and cause permanent damage to both mother and child. It could also cause permanent damage to your mammary and lactation glands as well as permanent fetal damage associated with developing neurological conditions further down the road, like Alzheimer's disease.

What to look for in the label: Oxybenzone, Benzophenone-3 (Bp-3), Milestab-9, Eusolex4360, Escalol 567, Kahscreen Bz-3