Safe Skincare for Mommies-to-Be

Our society is definitely experiencing another baby boom. I don’t have any statistics telling me that but I do have my own eyes telling me that. Everywhere I turn I see pregnant women and families with young children. There seems to be a myriad of pregnancy-related online communities and message boards where new moms-to-be, and those who have been there, done that (or BTDTs, if we’re using message board lingo) can support and learn from each other’s experiences. Even many of my own friends and family members are expecting, or have just had babies. Pregnant women and babies are everywhere.

Without starting any heated debates about what is safe to consume during pregnancy and what is not, I will just say that anyone who knows me and most of you who read this blog are probably aware that I am very conservative when it comes to risks associated with foods and ingredients. I know there are studies out there that say certain things are potentially dangerous, and then other studies from seemingly equally legitimate sources say that no, they are perfectly fine.

Frankly, I don’t care about these studies.

I do not have all day to weigh the findings from one study versus findings from another to see who I believe. Most studies are biased, meaning that the results will be published in a way that will make whoever funded them happy. My opinion is this: if there is any possibility that using an ingredient or consuming a food/drink could cause harm to me or my family, I will do my best to avoid that ingredient. To me, any risk is too much risk when it comes to my health and my family’s health. Period. You are free to decide what you believe to be safe and healthy choices for yourself and your family.

So, with that being said, I think it is important that anyone who is pregnant or who is considering becoming pregnant should know that there are some ingredients in skincare products, as well as skincare treatments, that should be avoided during pregnancy. Many of these ingredients are ones that I feel should be avoided regardless of pregnancy, but especially during pregnancy and most likely during breastfeeding (another debate I won’t touch).


Many skincare products contain herbs that offer some type of benefit to the skin. However, some herbs, especially if taken in large quantities or applied topically over time, can be toxic to a developing fetus. Here are suggestions from The American Pregnancy Association and The Herbal Encyclopedia for some herbs to avoid on your skincare labels, supplements, and in your herbal teas (even if they are pregnancy teas you would be surprised).


  • Aloe
  • Ginseng (American & Korean)
  • Evening Primrose
  • Feverfew
  • Kava Kava
  • Senna
  • Saw Palmetto
  • Ma Huang or Ephedra
  • Yohimbe
  • Pay D’Arco
  • Passion Flower
  • Chamomile
  • Pennyroyal
  • Angelica
  • Black or Blue Cohosh
  • Borage oil
  • Comfrey
  • Dong Quai
  • Elder or Elderberry
  • Fenugreek (although this is fine for nursing, may help increase milk supply)
  • Goldenseal
  • Henbane
  • Horsetail
  • Licorice Root
  • Motherwort (ironic, I know)
  • Mugwort
  • Nutmeg
  • Pennyroyal Leaf
  • Rue
  • Shepherd’s Purse
  • Uva Ursi
  • Yarrow
  • White Horehound

Synthetic ingredients to avoid during pregnancy

(as suggested by Natural Living for Women:)

  • Parabens
  • Phthalates (Dibutyl and Diethyl):
  • Synthetic colors
  • Synthetic fragrance
  • Diethanolamine, Triethanolamine (TEA, DEA)
  • Imidazolidinyl Urea and Diazolidinyl Urea
  • Petroleum based ingredients
  • Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate
  • Propylene glycol PEG and PPG
  • PVP PVA copolymers
  • Stearelkonium chloride
  • 1,4-dioxane
  • Salicylic Acid (BHA or beta hydroxy acid)
  • Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) such as glycolic, mandelic, and tartaric; citric acid and lactic acid are naturally found in foods, but I still would not suggest them in skin care products during pregnancy.
  • Retinol, Retin A, Retinoic Acid, Retinaldehyde
  • Benzoyl Peroxide
  • Accutane
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Lead
  • Any cream hair remover/depilatory

Essential oils

It is important to use caution with essential oils regardless of pregnancy, both in skincare and as aromatherapy, because they are highly concentrated and can be dangerous or toxic to anyone if used incorrectly. Here are some suggestions from Natural Bloom on what essential oils to avoid during pregnancy:

  • Basil
  • Cedarwood
  • Cinnamon
  • Clary sage
  • Clove
  • Cypress
  • Fennel
  • Hyssop
  • Jasmine
  • Juniper
  • Lemongrass
  • Myrrh
  • Parsley
  • Pennyroyal
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Sweet marjoram
  • Thyme

Pregnancy and spa treatments

There are many spa treatments available that are tailored for pregnant women, and they can be very relaxing during this time in one’s life.

Prenatal massage is fantastic just make sure you are going to someone who is very experienced in this area and knows not to use any aromatherapy or massage oils containing any of the above ingredients.
Basic facials are usually fine as well, if you are past your first trimester, make sure you ask your aesthetician to recline the bed for you so you are not lying flat on your back. You need to be at an angle.
Avoid any aggressive treatments that will cause inflammation or create free radicals in the body. This can compromise the skin’s immune system and the body’s ability to heal properly. Do not get any chemical peels/exfoliants, laser, microdermabrasion, or dermaplaning treatments.
Avoid machines that utilize electric currents like the galvanic/high frequency and microcurrent machines.
I know this seems like a lot of don’ts, and I agree with you. But like I said before, I always air on the side of caution when it comes to my own health and safety and that of my family. Many of the herbs and essential oils are ones that you might not even be using, but I think it is still a good idea to check your labels. It is a good idea to look for products that are teratology tested. For more information, check out the sites I referenced above, as well as The EWG and Safe Fetus.
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2 thoughts on “Safe Skincare for Mommies-to-Be”

  1. These herbs you have listed as recommended not to use topically during pregnancy in reality have only been prohibited orally. This is false information. Please correct this!

    1. Hi Ashley, thanks for your comment. It’s my philosophy that something that shouldn’t be taken orally during pregnancy should also not be used topically since the skin does absorb a large percentage of what’s applied topically, and in some cases, absorption might be higher through the skin if the person’s liver or digestive functions aren’t optimal. What I have presented here is not false information; rather cautionary information. Further, I listed more than herbs here–also essential oils, common toxicants, and treatments with pregnancy contraindications. I’m very much a better safe than sorry kind of person, and if there’s any risk–especially with pregnancy–and there are viable alternatives, the risk is not worth taking. Not all herbalists or aromatherapists will agree, and that’s fine.

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