Skincare Ingredients To Avoid During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is undoubtedly one of the most exciting life events that you as a woman will ever go through, but it can also be a confusing and challenging time for many. While it is easy to become preoccupied with what you are putting into your body, too often less consideration is given to what you are putting onto it. There are many topically applied ingredients that are capable of reaching the bloodstream and are able to cross the placenta. Whilst many ingredients are perfectly safe to use, there are a number of ingredients that may be harmful to a growing baby.

To help you to make informed decisions, I have compiled a list of the most harmful ingredients to completely avoid. Studies have linked these ingredients with miscarriage, bleeding complications, birth defects, disruption in fetal growth and some are known carcinogens. Unfortunately, this list is not comprehensive and I have only listed the most harmful ingredients to avoid. 


Health Concern:Teratogen (chemicals that can disturb the development of the embryo or fetus)

Found In:Anti-aging Moisturizers and Eye Creams 

Function:Reduces wrinkles and/or improves skin tone

Ingredient Names: Adapalene; Isotretinoin; Retinaldehyde; Retinoic Acid; Retinol; Retinyl Palmitate; Tazarotene; Tretinoin; Vitamin A

Although retinoids are excellent ingredients for anti-aging, there is a proven link between the use of retinoids during pregnancy and an increased risk of serious birth defects for developing babies such as spina bifida, hydrocephalus and heart problems. Studies have found a link between exposure to topical retinoids during the first trimester and fetal malformations such as anomalies involving the ear and central nervous system and other birth defects.

Retinoids are kind of like the sushi of the personal care world, safe to use when you are not pregnant, but a definite no-no when you are pregnant.


Health Concerns: Endocrine Disruptor (chemicals that can interfere with the hormone systems)

Found In:Various Skincare, Hair and Bath Products, Cleaning Products; Deodorants; Make-up;  Pharmaceuticals; Shaving Gels; Toothpastes

Function: Preservative

Ingredient Names: Butylparaben; Ethylparaben; Methylparaben; Propylparaben; or anything ending in -paraben.

Parabens are used as preservatives in a wide range of personal care products, pharmaceutical and even in some processed food and beverage products. Parabens can easily cross the human placenta and accumulate in the blood of the growing baby. A study conducted in 2015 found that 94% of the newborn babies had parabens in their blood, and that many of these babies' paraben levels were even higher than that of their mothers.

Prenatal exposure (before birth) to parabens can cause long-term problems to a growing baby. Parabens are endocrine disruptors that mimic estrogen and affect the sensitive hormonal balance required for a healthy pregnancy and baby. Research suggests that prenatal exposure to parabens is linked to autistic-like behavioural symptoms in infants, impaired social behaviour, decreased sperm number later in life in men, and learning difficulties among other problems.


Health Concern: Carcinogen (agent directly involved in causing cancer) and Mutagen (agent that changes the genetic material, usually DNA, of an organism)

Found In:Various Skincare, Hair and Bath Products, Cleaning Products; Deodorants; Make-up; Pharmaceuticals; Shaving Gels; Toothpastes, Mouthwashes; Nail Polish and Hardening Products; Permanent Hair Straighteners (Brazilian Keratin Treatment)

Function:Preservative; Hair Straightening Active 

Ingredient Names: 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol (Bronopol); Diazolidinyl Urea; DMDM Hydantoin; Imidazolidinyl Urea; Quaternium-15; Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate; Formalin; Methylene Glycol  

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRPs) are used in many personal care products to prevent microbes from growing in water-based products.  The FRPs slowly release formaldehyde through degradation or decomposition under usage conditions.

Formaldehyde can cause dermatitis, hair loss, permanent skin sensitisation and irritation of the nose and eyes. It can also trigger asthma and breathing difficulties. Formaldehyde is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organisation International Agency for Research on Cancer as a chemical known to cause cancer in humans. It is also classified to Mutagen Category 2 (suspected of causing genetic defects).

When formaldehyde is present in personal care products, people can be exposed by inhaling the formaldehyde that is released from the product, by ingesting it or by absorbing it through the skin. Animal studies indicate that formaldehyde can be absorbed through the skin when formaldehyde-containing personal care products, including formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, are applied. The formaldehyde is then transferred from mother to fetus through the placental circulation.

Prenatal exposure to formaldehyde has been linked to human reproductive and developmental toxicities such as spontaneous abortions, congenital anomalies and premature birth.

Of all the products containing formaldehyde, the most concerning are undoubtedly hair straighteners such as the Brazilian Keratin Treatment.  


Health Concerns: Endocrine Disruptor (chemicals that can interfere with the hormone systems), Development and Reproductive Toxin and Carcinogen

Found In:Almost all fragrances used in products (from shampoos and body lotions to air freshers and laundry detergents); Colognes; Perfumes; Hairspray; Nail Polish; Paints; Plastics; Floor Polish; Window Cleaners; Adhesives; Plastic Toys.

Function: Used as a plasticizer in nail polishes to reduce cracking by making them less brittle; Used in hair sprays to help avoid stiffness by allowing them to form a flexible film on the hair; Used as a solvent and fixative in fragrances

Ingredient Names:Dibutyl Phthalate; Diethyl Phthalate; Dimethyl Phthalate; or anything containing the word Phthalate

Phthalates are one of the most difficult chemicals to avoid both because of their abundant usage and because they are often not listed on product labels. Phthalates are common components of fragrance oils found in cosmetics, personal care, and household products but consumers won’t find these listed on the label.  Manufacturers are not required to disclose fragrance chemicals in the list of ingredients as they are considered trade secrets. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) product testing found phthalates in nearly three-quarters of 72 name-brand products, though none of them listed phthalates as ingredients.

In 2000, Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted accurate measurements of human phthalate exposures, and reported finding phthalates in every one of 289 people tested, at surprisingly high levels. Levels of some phthalates in women of childbearing age have been found to exceed the government's safe levels set to protect against birth defects, 20 times higher than the rest of the population, presumably because of their use of cosmetics. Results of phthalate testing in more than 2,500 people ages 6 and above confirmed the CDC's original findings: phthalate exposures are widespread across the population, and women are exposed to higher levels than men. 

Recent studies have found that women who had the highest levels of phthalates in their body were more likely to go into labour before their due date; that is, they were more likely to have a premature baby. This finding held true even after the authors accounted for a variety of factors that might also predict length of gestation such as mother's age, weight, height, diabetes history, race and ethnicity.

Other studies have found that increases in exposure to certain phthalates during the first trimester of pregnancy was associated with higher estrogen concentrations and lower testosterone concentrations in the fetus, thus increasing the chance of a genital abnormality in male babies at birth.

Several studies in children have linked prenatal exposure with neurodevelopmental problems including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)-like behaviour, antisocial behaviour, poor learning and memory. Similar outcomes are also associated with phthalate exposure during early childhood. 

A strong link has been found between high concentrations of the metabolite of benzylbutylphthalate (BBP) in the mother’s urine and the presence of allergic asthma in their children. 


Health Concerns:Endocrine Disruptor (chemicals that can interfere with the hormone systems)

Found In:Sunscreens, Lip Balms, Nail Polish 

Function: Cheap ultraviolet light filter

Ingredient Names: Benzophenone-3 (BP-3) or Oxybenzone

Studies have shown the the absorption rate of topically applied BP-3 is high and that approximately 10% of a topically applied dose can be adsorbed directly into our blood. BP-3 is also commonly found in various other human bodily fluids such as urine and breast milk.

Studies with cultured cells have revealed that BP-3 acts as an endocrine disruptor (chemicals that can interfere with the hormone systems), that has been linked to decreased birth weight in newborn baby girls, early puberty in girls, low sperm count, male infertility, hormone related cancers, and an increase in the production of corticosterone (stress hormone).


Health Concerns: Endocrine Disruptor (chemicals that can interfere with the hormone systems)

Found In: Antibacterial Soaps; Deodorants; Sanitisers; Toothpastes

Function:Antibacterial and antifungal agent

Ingredient Names: Triclosan

After more than half a century on the market, the efficacy of Triclosan (TCS) as an antimicrobial agent is now under scrutiny in many countries. Various studies have also shown TCS to be a edocrine disruptoras well as a potential contributorto bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

TCS can be absorbed through human skin and has been detected in many human matrices, including blood, urine, human milk, and amniotic fluid. A medical survey of 181 expecting mothers preformed in New York found TCS in all 181 urine samples and in 92 (51%) umbilical cord blood samples.

A recent study linked the concentration of TCS found in the urine of expecting mothers to that of reduced fetal growth measurements late in pregnancy and with reduced head circumference at birth. Other studies have also associated TCS exposure with various other conditions such as weakened contractibility of cardiac and skeletal muscles in a way which may negatively impact muscle health and function. TCS has also been linked to chronic allergy or hay fever diagnosis in children.


Health Concern:Mutagenic (agent that changes the genetic material, usually DNA, of an organism)

Found In: Lotions, cream and masks 

Function:Skin lightening ingredient used to treat conditions such as chloasma and melasma. 

Ingredient Names:Hydroquinone

Studies have shown the the absorption rate of topically applied hydroquinone is high and that approximately 35 - 45% of a topically applied dose can be adsorbed directly into our blood. The European Union has classified hydroquinone as a Mutagen Category 2 (suspected human mutagen) and its use is now strongly regulated and was banned for use in all cosmetic products. Hydroquinone was banned for use in South Africa in 1992, however due to the poorly regulated cosmetic industry and the government's inability to enforce legislation, hydroquinone can still found in a number of products available for use by the public.


Click here to find out more about other chemicals that should be used with caution, especially during pregnancy and Click here to download our smart shoppers guide which contains a helpful list of ingredients you want to avoid while shopping.  


Are there any ingredients that I haven't mentioned which you think we should all be avoided during pregnancy? Let me know in the comments below.

Our products are specially formulated for use during pregnancy as they are free of toxins and ingredients that are considered harmful to your little one and contain only natural ingredients, made from the highest quality.

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or queries please feel free to leave a comment below. For more tips and advice on maternity skin care check out the Expert Advice section of the Natralogic website.

All the best

Lauren Lamont - Natralogic Founder
MSc Chemistry, Dip.Cos.Sci (SA)

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