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Which Beauty Products Are Safe During Pregnancy?

Nov 20, 2018
By Ellen O'Malley Kato
Woman doing her makeup

Updated November 20, 2018.

Of course you still want to look and feel attractive during your pregnancy, but which beauty products are safe to use during pregnancy? Although there isn’t a lot of definitive data — most products are probably fine when used sparingly — there is evidence that you should exercise caution with certain ingredients.

For a safe and healthy beauty regimen during pregnancy, consider this list of potentially problematic ingredients in common beauty products, and be sure to check out safer alternatives offered by pregnancy-friendly beauty lines.

Nail Polish and Hair Spray

A group of chemicals known as phthalates is once again in the news. Found in in many household items, such as shower curtains and plastic wrap, and beauty products like nail polish, hair spray, and synthetic fragrances, phthalates are known to disrupt hormones. A recent study has linked prenatal exposure with the disruption of hCG, a pregnancy hormone, which may impact a male fetus’s reproductive development. Women with a higher hCG level during pregnancy were more likely to give birth to male babies with a short anogenital distance (the distance between the anus and scrotum), which is associated with low sperm count and infertility.

Scientists and consumer groups have long expressed concern about the ubiquity of products containing phthalates. In 2008, Congress restricted the usage of phthalates in baby toys and other infant-care products after studies reported that infants exposed to these products had significantly higher levels of phthalates in their urine. The FDA concluded that the phthalates used in cosmetics do not pose a health risk to adult humans, but the growing evidence against phthalates gives us pause.

What should I do?

We advise caution. Most likely, painting your nails or using hair spray from time to time poses little risk to you or your developing baby. But to be on the safe side, follow these recommendations:

  • Look for phthalate-free products. Avoid products that have “fragrance” on the ingredient list.
  • Paint your nails and use hairspray in a well-ventilated space. Once polish dries, it poses virtually no risk because it’s not absorbed through the nail.
  • Since hairspray is likely to be inhaled, exercise caution if you use it frequently. Consider using mousse or gel instead.


Additives are often introduced to lipstick to make the color last longer. The problem? These additives may contain small amounts of lead. The FDA has found no link between the low levels of lead found in lipstick and safety concerns, but research is limited and consumer groups have pushed for lead levels to be capped. Although ingestion is unlikely, lead does cross the placenta, so caution is warranted.

What should I do?

Although the potential risks of lead in lipstick are slim, we recommend looking for lead-free products.

Skin Care Products

Two skin care ingredients are definite “no’s” during pregnancy: retinoids and salicyclic acid. Both have been labeled category C drugs by the FDA — animal studies have shown a link between the product and birth defects.

A type of vitamin A, retinoids speed up cell division and can be found in anti-aging creams and certain acne medications. Applied topically, they don’t appear to pose a significant health risk, but consumed orally in substances like Accutane, an oral acne medication, they have been linked to birth defects. To be safe, experts recommend that pregnant women avoid all retinoid products — including topical forms.

A common topical acne medication, salicyclic acid is also found in aspirin and poses similar concerns. In oral forms, it may cause birth defects and other pregnancy complications. Like retinoids, avoid topical salicyclic acid as well.

What should I do?

Avoid retinoids and salicylic acid. A dab here or there on the skin is unlikely to cause harm but prolonged exposure — such as rubbing a large amount of a retinoid product into the skin or using a face mask containing salicylic acid — could be risky.

To avoid retinoids, steer clear of these ingredients and products:

  • Differin (adapelene)
  • Retin-A
  • Renova (tretinoin)
  • Retinoic acid
  • Retinol
  • Retinyl linoleate
  • Retinyl palmitate
  • Tazorac
  • Avage (tazarotene)

To avoid salicylic acid, do not use products with beta hydroxy acid (BHA) listed as an ingredient.

Hair Dye

A 2005 study found an association between hair dye use during pregnancy and a type of childhood cancer called neuroblastoma, and providers recommended that pregnant women forgo dyeing their hair until after they give birth. Since then, numerous studies in humans and animals have not found the same association. The prevailing wisdom today is that hair dye is safe during pregnancy.

What should I do?

According to the available research, dyeing your hair during pregnancy appears to be safe.

Products That Are Safe During Pregnancy

Pregnancy doesn’t mean you have to forgo your entire beauty regime. Although it’s still important to carefully check labels, many companies offer products specifically tailored for pregnant women, including these lines:

  • Belli makes products ranging from face wash and acne-controlling cream to sunscreen and lip balm, all designed for pregnant and nursing women.
  • Mama Mio offers a skin care line entirely for pregnant women.
  • Beauté de Maman was designed by an OB/GYN and features facial scrubs, breastfeeding nipple gel, body cream, and more.
  • Burt’s Bees has a Mama Bee line, which includes “belly butter” and body oil.
  • 100%Pure offers cosmetics made from fruit pigments, which are free of phthalates, artificial fragrances, chemical preservatives, and thickeners.
  • Acquarella‘s nail polishes are phthalate- and lead-free.
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Ellen O'Malley Kato, One Medical Provider

Attentive and approachable, Ellen is sensitive to the unique needs of each individual patient. She values preventive medicine and focuses on building and maintaining relationships with patients in order to help them achieve healthier lives. She has experience in adult and adolescent primary care, urgent care, and reproductive and women's health, and she is especially interested in treating hypertension, diabetes, asthma, hyperlipidemia, and sexually transmitted infections, as well as providing prenatal care. Ellen completed her undergraduate training at UC Berkeley and received her master's of science in nursing from UCSF.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.

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