Retinol is a major no-no when you're pregnant. So try these ingredients instead.

By Diana Stanczak
December 02, 2018
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2018 Beauty Awards Best In Skin
Credit: Claire Benoist

Pregnancy is full of sacrifices: coffee, alcohol, energy. But there's no need to add stellar skin to the list.

While skin care ingredients like retinol, the gold standard in anti-aging, should be avoided during pregnancy (some prescription treatments are associated with spinal and/or facial deformities in a growing fetus), there are others that can do the job just as well, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center.

Here, some skin-smoothing retinol alternatives—that don't compromise your baby's safety.


Turns out, soy is comparable to retinoic acid (retinol's more aggressive relative) in its effect on skin's collagen-forming fibroblasts (without the known dryness of little Miss R), says a recent study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science. Think of fibroblasts as your skin's collagen engine, and soy extracts as the oil that keeps it running, says Dr. Zeichner.

One caveat: Soy's estrogen-like effects can sometimes make pigmentation worse if you have dark skin or melasma (patches of tan to dark skin on the face that sometimes develop during pregnancy).

Try: Aveeno Positively Radiant Intensive Night Cream (The estrogen-like component is removed from Aveeno products, making it safe for all skin types, Dr. Zeichner notes.)

Vitamin C

This nutrient has just as much of a place in your beauty cabinet as it does in your kitchen cabinet. In fact, vitamin C plays a crucial role in the production of collagen, a protein in the skin that provides structure and elasticity, says a study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.

Plus, since C is an antioxidant, it protects cells from damage (read: signs of aging) by fighting free radicals (often a result of UV damage).  "It is one of my go-to recommendations for pregnant women," says Dr. Zeichner.

Kojic Acid

Retinol not only removes fine lines, it brightens your complexion by thickening the dermis and reducing the amount of dead cells on the skin's surface. A botanical extract derived from fungus, Kojic acid works by blocking one of the enzymes needed to make pigmentation, so your skin stays spot-free and bright—no retinol required.

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid helps keep the skin clear by removing excess oil and exfoliating dead skin cells. Plus, it creates microscopic wounds in the skin that generate collagen production. (So, yes, wounds are a good thing!)

While a peel you'd get at the dermatologist usually has a glycolic acid concentration of about 40%, you'll still see a difference after using at-home products at lower concentrations. Remember: Like retinol, products with glycolic acid can increase sun sensitivity, so be sure to wear sunscreen.

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