Pregnancy Magazine’s obstetrician, Dr. Stephen Weiss, answers your pressing prenatal questions. Today, he’s talking about pregnancy-safe skincare. If you missed our first installment with Dr. Weiss, you can check out his first trimester Q&A here.
Q: I recently read that salicylic acid isn’t safe during pregnancy, but I’ve been using 0.5-percent products because my doctor said it was OK. My research uncovered conflicting information. Are products containing salicylic acid, in fact, safe? What about ones with benzoyl peroxide?
A: Salicylic acid is listed as a category-C drug during pregnancy, meaning there’s a potential for harm, but no human studies have been conducted to prove a risk. A close relative is aspirin, which hasn’t been shown to cause defects when taken orally in full strength (650 milligrams), but has been associated with dangerous bleeding in the fetal brain when taken late in pregnancy.
However, the risks of full-strength oral aspirin are probably not relevant to topical applications of salicylic acid, even late in pregnancy, because of the very low potential for absorption into the bloodstream. Because of this, I don’t ask my patients to stop using skincare products with small amounts of salicylic acid, such as toner, cleanser, or moisturizer. But I do suggest caution when it comes to face and body peels with salicylic acid. These treatments require you to soak large areas of skin in significant amounts and increase the potential of it absorbing into the bloodstream.
There are no animal or human studies on the use of benzoyl peroxide, and therefore its risk is undetermined. But pregnant women have used benzoyl peroxide for decades, and there have been no reports of birth defects. So, the level of risk from small doses applied to the skin is likely to be low.
Q: I always look forward to summer because I love to lie in the sun. Is there anything I should know about tanning during my pregnancy?
A: Tanning isn’t a healthy pastime, whether or not you’re pregnant. Your skin darkens as a defense mechanism against recurrent damage from light and ages prematurely as a result. Tanning also puts you at increased risk of developing skin cancer. Although there’s no evidence that the sun or tanning lights will directly harm your baby, some research has linked ultraviolet (UV) rays to a deficiency in folic acid. Folic acid, as you probably know, helps prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. In addition, exposure to
UV rays can darken the skin condition known as chloasma, melasma, or the mask of pregnancy—meaning it may never go away completely. You also have to be careful about raising your core body temperature. If it climbs above 103°F, there is a risk to the fetus.
My advice: Use pregnancy as a reason to ditch your tanning addiction and cover up with sunscreen and a beach umbrella.
Q: Can I use self-tanner during pregnancy?
A: The main concern with self-tanner is whether the active ingredient, dihydroxyacetone, penetrates the skin. It probably doesn’t—no problems have been reported with this ingredient during the 40 years it’s been in use—but consider waiting until after your first trimester to play it safe. Pick a brand with minimal odor since smells are more offensive in pregnancy. And remember that this kind of tan doesn’t work as sunscreen; when you’re in the sun, wear protective clothing and apply SPF 30 (or higher) sunscreen to any exposed areas.