A pregnancy-safe anti-aging skincare products + routine that works

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If you’re expecting or already a mom, you’re familiar with all the restrictions that come with being pregnant. Like the fact that I couldn’t have my favorite sashimi. Or if we’re talking about skincare, I had to give up retinol and many of my favorite skincare devices.

So if anti-aging is your main skincare goal and now you’re pregnant, you may be wondering “what the heck can I use now??“. Trust me, I was there, and it turns out the alternatives aren’t so bad, and certainly enough to hold you over for 9 months.

With that said, let’s dive in to all the products I’ve used and recommend, as well as my tips to help you maintain your anti-aging goal while keeping your little one safe!

Common Skin Changes During Pregnancy

When you think pregnancy you probably think stretch marks, but for the sake of this post we’ll focus specifically on facial skin changes, and there are two major ones: melasma and acne.

Melasma are dark patches that can appear on your cheeks, nose, and forehead, and is usually triggered by an increase in melanin (the substance that gives color to our skin). What triggers the change is mostly unknown, though according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), our hormones are probably to blame (not surprised).

Acne, on the other hand, is often triggered by hormones, hence why they can be common during pregnancy.

I was fortunate enough to avoid both, but even if you’re not, there are definitely ingredients and products you can use to minimize their appearances. But first, let’s talk about what to avoid.

Skin Care Ingredients to Avoid While Pregnant (and Pregnancy-Safe Alternatives)

Here’s the thing with “pregnancy-safe” ingredients, they’re hard to confirm because no one is going to risk moms and babies’ health for the sake of science. But, we can take into account things like absorption rate and potential risks to make an informed decision on which ingredients should be avoided, and which are probably safe during pregnancy.

Here are the ones I’d definitely avoid:

❌ Retinoids

This includes anything from retinol to prescription tretinoin, and the risk is that they can still get into the bloodstream when applied topically, and lead to fetal retinoid syndrome (FRS).2 While OTC retinoids have not been found to cause FRS, the potential risks (growth delays, learning disabilities, malformations, etc) outweigh the benefits and it’s just not worth it.

Safe ingredient alternatives: Peptides, EGF, niacinamide, and vitamin c for anti-aging and collagen production. 

❌ Hydroquinone

Often found in skin brightening and dark spot removing products, it’s estimated that 35% to 45% of topically applied hydroquinone can be systemically absorbed.3 While one study showed no adverse effect during pregnancy, the sample size was small, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid due to its high absorption rate.

Safe ingredient alternatives: Niacinamide, azelaic acid, glycolic acid, and vitamin c can all help fade dark spots, improve uneven skin tone, and are safe to use during pregnancy.

Best Pregnancy-Safe Anti-aging SerumsBest Pregnancy-Safe Anti-aging Serums
Cooper checked and all these products are retinol and hydroquinone free!

✅ Probably safe to use

The following ingredients are considered safe to use due to their low absorption rate and lack of studies proving their harmful effects. I personally still avoided them myself, but use what you’re comfortable with, and if you’re unsure, it’s always best to check with your healthcare provider!

  • Salicylic Acid. According to the ACOG, topical salicylic acid in OTC products are safe to use as very little is absorbed through the skin, but a review of current studies suggests that salicylic acid peels should be avoided.4 So your favorite BHA toner is probably safe, but avoid professional treatments with BHA in the meantime.
  • Benzoyl peroxide. Only 5% gets absorbed and is metabolized to benzoic acid in the skin, so no adverse effects should be expected.5 For a gentler but still effective acne treatment option, I swear by pimple patches!
  • Chemical sunscreen filters. Specifically octinoxate, oxybenzone, octisalate, and homosalate, which are found in US sunscreens. Despite the fear mongering for these filters, very little actually gets absorbed, and no adverse events have been reported as a result of using sunscreens containing them.6,7 Better yet, avoid these ingredients altogether by using Asian/European sunscreens or mineral sunscreens!
  • Dihydroxyacetone. Found in self-tanners at 1-5%, the amount absorbed into the skin is very low so it’s generally considered safe. Though with your pregnancy glow, you might not need to use self tanners anyways!

My favorite pregnancy-safe skincare products

Best Pregnancy-Safe CleansersBest Pregnancy-Safe Cleansers

🧼 Cleansers

Since most cleansers don’t contain retinol or hydroquinone, you can probably continue using your current cleanser with no issues. Here are some of my favorites the past 9 months that are gentle on the skin barrier and great for sensitive pregnancy skin:

The Jumiso All Day Vitamin Clean & Mild Facial Cleanser ($10.99, SHOPJENNY for 10% off) has a light citrus scent that is super refreshing, especially during the first trimester when everything made me nauseous. It’s also wonderfully gentle on the skin, so it’s perfect for a morning or second cleanse. The gel texture makes it friendly for all skin types.

I reached for either the Pacifica Vegan Collagen Creamy Gel Facial Cleanser ($15) or Alpha-H Balancing Cleanser with Aloe Vera ($38, 15% off with code JENNY) at night when I’m not wearing makeup or mineral sunscreens. Both have a lovely creamy texture, with the Pacifica lightly foaming while the Alpha-H feels richer. I especially can’t recommend the Alpha-H enough if you have dry skin!

On the few days I do wear makeup or a mineral sunscreen, I use the Krave Makeup Re-Wined ($25) or Heimish All Clean Balm ($12.99, SHOPJENNY for 10% off). Both do a great job of removing everything easily and rinsing clean with no residue, though I do find Krave more enjoyable to use thanks to its fun jelly texture!

🧪 Exfoliants

With the potential exception of salicylic acids, all other acids and physical exfoliation are pregnancy safe, so I just kept using my favorite acids and enzymes to keep my skin texture soft and smooth:

The Alpha-H Liquid Gold ($56, 25% off with code JENNY) features 5% glycolic acid but packs a punch, and is my go to when I need some serious exfoliating action. I also really like Sunday Riley Good Genes ($85, 15% off with code JENNY), which features lactic acid as a gentler alternative to remove dead skin cells. Both options make my skin look so good the next day!

Best Pregnancy-Safe ExfoliatorsBest Pregnancy-Safe Exfoliators

Amorepacific Treatment Enzyme Peel Powder Cleanser ($68) is a physical exfoliant that relies on enzymes to give you instant baby soft skin. I like to use this in lieu of a second cleanser on days when my skin needs a little extra help.

Since I stopped using salicylic acid, I’ve been using the Dr. Wu Intensive Renewal Serum With Mandelic Acid 18% ($60, 5% off with code GEEKYPOSH) for my pores and t-zones instead. Despite the high %, it’s not irritating at all, and it works both in your pores and on the surface level of your skin as well!

If your skin is more sensitive during pregnancy, I would cut back on exfoliating or stop all together. Despite what influencers will have you believe, your skin will probably be fine if you skip your acids for 9 months!

Read more: 12 Korean exfoliators to try for all skin types

🧴Serums

Unable to use retinol, I turned to skincare ingredients like peptides, EGF, and vitamin c to keep wrinkles and fine lines at bay. Peptides especially were my go-to pregnancy-safe retinol alternative, and while I don’t think they’re as effective as say, tretinoin, they’re still a great temporary alternative:

In terms of efficacy, I enjoyed the Maelove serum the most, but really you can’t go wrong with any of these options. To boost the anti-aging effects, I also used Calecim Professional Serum ($100, reviewed here, 15% with code JENNY), which contains EGF and gives me glowing skin after a few use!

Want more pregnancy-safe options? Here are 9 retinol-free anti-aging serums to try!

For my morning vitamin c, I reached for the Naturium Vitamin C Complex Serum ($21) the most as it’s lightweight, easy to layer, and uses a stabilized ascorbic acid for improved efficacy. But you can use any vitamin c serum you like, as the ingredient is perfect safe for use during pregnancy.

If I need extra hydration, I’ll layer the La-Roche Posay Hyalu B5 Serum ($39.99, reviewed here) which is incredible at adding moisture into the skin and just giving that plumpness + dewiness that my dry mature skin craves. If I use it during the day, I’ll skip my moisturizer step.

The Lancome Genifique Youth Activating Concentrate ($60, reviewed here) and SK-II Facial Treatment Essence ($144.99, reviewed here, SHOPJENNY for 10% off) both continued to be regulars in my routine. I especially liked pairing the Lancome with one of the exfoliants above thanks to its ability to improve the skin barrier function and overall skin health.

💧 Moisturizers

Another category where you can probably continue using your current product, as long as the ingredients are safe for pregnancy. Or if you wish to boost your anti-aging results, look for the same key ingredients as your serums.

Best Pregnancy-Safe Anti-aging MoisturizersBest Pregnancy-Safe Anti-aging Moisturizers

For an extra boost of peptides, I really enjoyed the lush Alpyn Super Peptide & Ghostberry Moisturizer ($62), which focuses on protecting your skin barrier with ceramides and fighting wrinkles with 14 different peptides!

I also used (and finished) the Proven Personalized Night Cream ($99.99, reviewed here) which was *fantastic* in every way. Since its formula was made specifically for my skin concerns (fine lines and dark spots), it was potent enough to use on its own without serums. Definitely look into it if you prefer a super minimal routine!

Or if you prefer facial oils in lieu of a traditional moisturizer, the Maya Chia The Super Couple ($86) is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and features the powerful antioxidant astaxanthin that gives it its rich orange hue. Make sure to mist beforehand to really help the oil absorb!

Of course my trusted La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Balm B5 ($18.99, reviewed here) is always part of my rotation, and pairs wonderfully on acid nights. Love how it protects the skin without being suffocating, and I can’t recommend it enough for all skin types, especially sensitive skin folks!

🌞 Sunscreens

I know a lot of people will recommend sticking to mineral sunscreens only during pregnancy, and luckily there are some elegant options with no white cast. My favorite is definitely the Summer Fridays ShadeDrops Mineral Milk Sunscreen ($36), it’s so good that I’m still using it postpartum!

Read more: 5 best mineral sunscreens without a white cast

The truth is that chemical sunscreens, especially ones with the newer filters, are still safe to use on your skin. I personally continued using my Beauty of Joseon Relief Sun: Rice + Probiotics SPF50 PA++++ ($14.40, reviewed here, SHOPJENNY for 10% off) as my everyday sunscreen and the La Roche-Posay Anthelios UVMUNE 400 Invisible Fluid SPF50+ (22.60€, reviewed here) when outdoors.

🚨Acne Treatment

I was lucky enough to not get any pregnancy acne, but I did have my trusted COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patch ($2.79, SHOPJENNY for 10% off) ready just in case. They’re my go to when I do get the occasional spot, and I love that it flattens my pimple overnight!

BHA-free treatments are hard to find, but another good one I’ve used in the past is the Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Spot Treatment Mask ($20). It features 10% sulfur + 4% niacinamide to help clear the skin, but a warning: the sulfur will make your face smell pretty bad!

💋 Eyes, Lips, and More

I switched my retinol eye creams for 2 peptide-based ones: The Naturium Multi-Peptide Advanced Serum ($16) from the same line as the serum, and the Medicube Deep Reviving Peptide Eye Cream ($55, 10% with code GEEKYPOSH). The Naturium one feels like a gel cream while the Medicube has a gel balm like texture, and both absorbed well without causing milia.

These good enough for the time being, but they’re noticeably less effective than my retinol-based eye creams, which I’m now happy to start using again.

Best Pregnancy-Safe Anti-aging Eye CreamsBest Pregnancy-Safe Anti-aging Eye Creams

For lip lines and plumping I’ve been reaching for the silky UBeauty Lip Plasma Compound ($68, JENNYWLOVE for 20% off first order), which is full of peptides, ceramides, and exfoliating acids. It’s helped keep my lips not only hydrated but younger looking too!

Lastly is the Protocol Water Lock ($36, JennyxProtocol for 15% off), an occlusive slugging balm that’s nothing like your typical slugging products – it’s light, has a matte finish, and feels surprisingly refreshing on the skin. I like to use this on the areas around my eyes that’s the most prone to dryness.

🪄 Beauty Devices

I swear by my facial devices like the Medicube Age-R Ussera Deep Shot and Ziip to help boost collagen production, but due to the lack of literature on their safety, I didn’t feel comfortable using radiofrequency or microcurrent as part of my pregnancy skincare routine. I ended up missing them both more than even retinol!

So the only device I used was my Currentbody LED Mask ($380, reviewed here, 15% off with code GEEKY), which mainly helped with maintaining my skin health and reducing any redness. I think it may have helped soften a few fine lines too, but the results are nowhere near comparable to my other devices.

CurrentBody Skin LED Light Therapy during PregnancyCurrentBody Skin LED Light Therapy during Pregnancy

My Anti-Aging Skin Care Routine

Between morning sickness and just general fatigue of trying to grow another human being, it can be hard to maintain your usual routine, especially if you’re a skincare maximalist like me. So I’ll share both my shortened and regular version of what I did during pregnancy.

Short & Sweet Routine

AM: Cleanser → SK-II FTE or Calecim Professional Serum → Vitamin C Serum or Proven Moisturizer → Sunscreen

PM: Cleanser → SK-II FTE or Calecim Professional Serum → Proven Moisturizer or Maya Chia Oil

PM with exfoliant: Cleanser → Exfoliant → Protocol Water Lock or LRP Cicaplast

Regular Routine

AM: Cleanser → SK-II FTE or Calecim Professional Serum → Vitamin C Serum → LRP Hyalu B5 or Peptide Serum → Eye Cream → Sunscreen

PM: Cleanser → SK-II FTE or Calecim Professional Serum → LED Mask → Peptide Serum → LRP Hyalu B5 or Maya Chia Oil → Eye Cream – Moisturizer

PM with exfoliant: Cleanser → Exfoliant → Lancome Genifique → Peptide Serum → LRP Hyalu B5 or Maya Chia Oil (optional) → Eye Cream → Protocol Water Lock or LRP Cicaplast

And that’s a wrap! Which is funny because I literally wrote most of this post while wearing my newborn in a baby wrap.

Article Sources

To keep my content accurate and trustworthy, I rely on peer-reviewed studies, articles from reputable academic institutions, and quotes from certified healthcare professionals to back my claims.

  1. “Skin Conditions during Pregnancy.” Acog.org, 2022, www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/skin-conditions-during-pregnancy. 

  2. Wester, Ronald C. “HUMAN in VIVO and in VITRO HYDROQUINONE TOPICAL BIOAVAILABILITY, METABOLISM, and DISPOSITION.” Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A: Current Issues, vol. 54, no. 4, Taylor & Francis, June 1998, pp. 301–17, https://doi.org/10.1080/009841098158863. 

  3. Trivedi, Megha, et al. “Safety of Cosmetic Procedures during Pregnancy and Lactation: A Review [24E].” Obstetrics & Gynecology, vol. 129, no. 1, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, May 2017, pp. 58S58S, https://doi.org/10.1097/01.aog.0000514815.26206.d6. 

  4. Bozzo, Pina, et al. “Safety of Skin Care Products during Pregnancy.” Canadian Family Physician Medecin de Famille Canadien, vol. 57, no. 6, 2011, pp. 665–67, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3114665/. 

  5. Vikram Sarveiya, et al. “Liquid Chromatographic Assay for Common Sunscreen Agents: Application to in Vivo Assessment of Skin Penetration and Systemic Absorption in Human Volunteers.” Journal of Chromatography B, vol. 803, no. 2, Elsevier BV, Apr. 2004, pp. 225–31, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jchromb.2003.12.022. 

  6. Goh CL;Dlova CN. “A Retrospective Study on the Clinical Presentation and Treatment Outcome of Melasma in a Tertiary Dermatological Referral Centre in Singapore.” Singapore Medical Journal, vol. 40, no. 7, Singapore Med J, 2023, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10560271/. ‌

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