Pregnancy can present a catch-22 when it comes to our skin: At the very moment when stormy hormones start stirring up complexion troubles, such as melasma and acne, some of the most potent remedies are snatched off the table. On the upside, if you know what to look for — and we’re here to help — you can find safe and gentle alternatives for almost every issue.
Pregnancy-safe products for melasma and dark spots
While the gold-standard pigment squelcher hydroquinone and its cousin alpha arbutin are strictly forbidden during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, spot stoppers like kojic acid, niacinamide, and vitamin C get the green light from our doctors. And when used in conjunction with broad-spectrum sunscreen, they can help fade the hormone-fueled brown patches of melasma, a condition that reportedly affects upwards of 70% of pregnant women.
“Pregnancy hormones, especially an increase in androgens, may also lead to the development or worsening of acne,” adds NYC dermatologist Dr. Anna Karp (though many women unexpectedly see their complexions clear during this time, notes Chicago-based OB-GYN Dr. Kiarra King, who, along with Karp, worked with Romper on these awards). Research shows that those with a history of acne are most apt to see pimples crop up in pregnancy. Breakouts commonly wax and wane with hormones, often improving during the first trimester but then worsening in the third.
While retinoids, which have near-miraculous cell-normalizing powers, are off-limits (certain forms have been linked to birth defects, so all are to be avoided), there are plenty of safe acne treatments. Products containing low doses of salicylic acid, lactic acid, azelaic acid, sulfur, and benzoyl peroxide can clear pores while battling bacteria and inflammation. The topical antibiotic clindamycin is also pregnancy-approved, explains Karp, and may be something to discuss with your doctor.
So-called anti-aging products
Products that combat the telltale signs of aging are also worth a conversation. As more women are having babies into their 40s, “more and more moms are looking for ways to safely rejuvenate their skin during pregnancy,” Karp tells us. While some may be reluctant to give up the age-delayers they’ve come to rely on — retinoids, injectables, and certain lasers are contraindicated during pregnancy — there are plenty of gentle, science-backed substitutes for keeping skin youthful. Bakuchiol, glycolic acid, peptides, and antioxidants, for instance, can all brighten and plump without worry.
The bottom line: Pregnancy skin care is hardly one-size-fits-all — our goals and routines tend to be deeply personal. “I truly see pre/postpartum beauty needs becoming more individualized,” says King, with societal rules and expectations taking a backseat. Whatever rituals you’re prioritizing now, we hope these first-place formulas enrich and elevate your skin care pursuits.
We at Romper only include products that have been independently selected by our editors. We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
A drugstore product with a short ingredients list is the rarest of combinations, which is why this gentle cleanser from Simple took the top slot in the cleanser category. Free of fragrances, dyes, and stripping ingredients, the light, water-gel formula melts into the skin and uses micellar technology to sweep away makeup and impurities, leaving your skin feeling soft and refreshed — never too-tight or dry-feeling. Romper beauty columnist Carly Cardellino calls this her perfect cleanser, raving about its ability to cleanse both morning and night without stripping her skin of its natural oils. “It’s gentle enough for my hormonal, acneic skin!” she adds.
With an ingredient list that reads like a who’s who of pregnancy-safe brighteners — lactic, glycolic, azelaic, and kojic acids plus bearberry extract and vitamin C — this exfoliating toner dissolves dull skin cells and keeps brown spots in check, all while ratcheting up radiance. And don’t be surprised if you need a little help in that department: The whole “pregnancy glow” thing is a bit of a myth, notes Karp — or, at least, not a universal truth. Regardless, a swipe of this tonic will leave you positively beaming. “I use it every day, morning and night, and have noticed a more even and brighter complexion,” adds beauty and fashion blogger Jenny Wu.
Best Retinol Replacement
When you’ve got a good thing going with a retinoid, it can be hard to call it quits. “I loved using retinol before kids, but with two pregnancies in two years — and nursing in between — I don't see it making its way back into my routine for a while,” says Tina Kolokathis, executive editor at Elite Daily and one of many moms who nominated this serum. The secret to its success is the plant extract bakuchiol, which is, according to NYC plastic surgeon Dr. Umbareen Mahmood, the ideal understudy for retinol. “It helps reduce fine lines and pigmentation and stimulates collagen production,” says Mahmood, who’s a bakuchiol-convert herself. Less irritating than retinol, it’s safe to use during pregnancy and can be applied morning or evening. “I used it all the time.”
Best Vitamin C Serum
“Holy grail” is, admittedly, an overused term in beauty, but when multiple influencers on our nominating committee use it to describe the same product, we suspend our skepticism. “After dealing with cystic acne for most of my adult life, this changed my skin completely,” Kolokathis says. She credits the antioxidant blend with curtailing her breakouts and boosting luminosity. Google shopping director Aya Kanai gives her bottle top-shelf placement in her medicine cabinet “to be sure little hands don’t get to it,” she says. As Mahmood explains, the cult favorite, with 15% pure vitamin C, is especially beloved by those who are pregnant and nursing, because it safely addresses the complexion concerns that tend to punctuate this period — hyperpigmentation being a biggie — while simultaneously extinguishing free radicals, repairing cellular damage, and encouraging new collagen growth for firmer, fresher skin.
Best Multitasking Serum
Frankincense, myrrh, and rose shine in this bouquet of skin-coddling essences and oils. A drop or two pressed into the skin — under or over moisturizer, or even atop your makeup for a highlighter-like finish — resuscitates tired complexions, leaving skin moisturized and supple. No wonder Jessica Richards, founder of Shen Beauty, calls this decadent oil “a one-stop shop.”
Best Hyaluronic Acid Serum
Like an IV drip for desiccated skin — yet another hallmark of pregnancy — this fast-acting formula pushes a megadose of moisture and vitamins. Two types of seaweed-encapsulated hyaluronic acid draw water to the skin’s surface and deeper layers, while co-humectants glycerin and trehalose provide solid reinforcement. A generous drenching inflates the finest lines and confers a light-catching sheen. “Unlike other hyaluronic acid serums I’ve tried, this one doesn’t pill or feel filmy, so it’s ideal for combining with another serum and layering under moisturizer,” says Romper Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Angell. “It’s light and cooling, but soaks right in. I like to pat it into my skin when it’s still wet, so some of that moisture is pulled in too.”
Best Acne Spot Treatment
The next best thing to a cortisone shot, this acne-fighting veteran — it’s been on the scene for 30 years — is famous for shortening the lifespan of painful underground pimples. “It flattens them quicker than anything I’ve ever used,” says beauty editor Parizaad Khan Sethi, who nominated the spot treatment. Workhorse lactic acid exfoliates to unclog pores while methyl gluceth-20 offsets the annoying flakes and redness that tend to accompany hormonal cysts. While Khan Sethi was surprised by how few zits she saw during pregnancy, she wasn’t about to tempt fate. “I kept an immense supply of Anti Bump Solution on hand and used it on the occasional pesky breakout,” she says.
Best Pimple Patch
Hydrocolloid patches aren’t just TikTok fodder, they’re a mainstay in medicine. They’ve long been used to speed healing by creating the ideal environment for wounds — and pregnancy pimples certainly qualify as such. These clear, pectin-based discs absorb fluid and gunk from blemishes — without delivering potentially irksome ingredients — to “noticeably minimize zits in six to 12 hours,” says Kinjo. Bonus: They thwart the mindless picking that can lead to scarring.
With skin-smoothing glycolic and malic acids, plus brightening lemon juice and vitamin C, this gentle 10-minute treatment tackles hormonal breakouts while countering dryness and irritation with a hefty dose of aloe and glycerin. Our nominators especially love the pregnancy nod in the product name: Knowing that this peel is made with expecting moms in mind saves them from having to scour yet another ingredient label for blacklisted ingredients.
Best Face Mask
While sheet masks will always have their place, there’s something undeniably comforting about blanketing skin in an impossibly thick cream. With a clean herbal scent, this winning combination of quince seed, chamomile extract, jojoba, apricot kernel, and wheat germ oils offers intensive care, abating redness and achieves a sort of next-level softness typically reserved for just-born backsides. “I have literally had people comment on how good my skin looks after using this for a little while,” says Romper managing editor April Daniels Hussar. “It’s my staple product for that glow, long past pregnancy!”
Contains phthalate-free parfum*
Imbued with moisture-binding sugars, good fats, soothing seaweed, and glycyrrhetinic acid (a trending type of licorice extract revered for its calming influence), this weightless lotion babies delicate skin. “As a sensitive-skinned person who reacts to a lot of skin care, I didn’t have the luxury of switching out tried-and-tested products that had worked for me for years,” Khan Sethi says. “This moisturizer has seen me through the worst of times, when my skin was a red, inflamed, itchy mess — and I didn’t want to be without it during my pregnancy.”
Best Night Cream
Dermatologists often liken the skin barrier to a brick wall, with our protein-laden cells representing bricks, and our natural lipids serving as the mortar that holds everything together — effectively sealing in water and blocking out irritants. During pregnancy, our lipid content takes a hit, weakening our protective barrier and rendering us dry and sensitive. Ceramide-enriched moisturizers, like this one, can repair cracks in the barrier, shoring it up with daily application. And unlike so many PM products, this water-light lotion doesn’t sneak in restricted actives, like retinol, making it a clear winner for our nominators.
Best Face Oil
Anything but garden variety, this dreamy, amber-hued oil caters to all skin types, serving up the fruit of the rose bush, which is rife with vitamins, antioxidants, and omega fatty acids. Smoothed over clean skin or cocktailed with your moisturizer, it boosts hydration and quells the inflammation associated with common pregnancy woes, like acne and rosacea. Khan Sethi says she slathered herself in Pai every day while she was expecting: “This oil went on my face, lips, cuticles and nails, and sometimes on my belly, as well.” And despite the serum’s slick nature, BDG features director Kat Stoeffel tells us “it absorbs well, so you can wear it under sunscreen.”
Best Eye Cream
Growth factors in this eye cream help stimulate collagen and elastin over time, confirms Karp — and yes, they’re totally safe to use when pregnant and nursing. Delivering more instant effects are depuffing caffeine, soothing bisabolol, and anti-inflammatory glycyrrhetinic acid. For Kathy Lee, editor-in-chief of TZR, this was the first eye cream to actually deliver on its promises. “Before Lumière, I didn't believe in the efficacy of eye cream — I never noticed results with others I’d tried, even after continuous use. But with this, I saw immediate improvement. The skin around my eyes looked smoother and a bit brighter.” Lee also likes the “super hydrating” feel of the formula — how it sinks in rather than sitting on top of the skin. Best of all, she adds, “it helped me look awake during the newborn years,” which is perhaps the highest praise a woman can bestow upon any beauty product.
Contains parabens and PEG*
Our medical advisory board prefers mineral sunscreens to chemical formulas during pregnancy, because less product is absorbed into the skin. Sheerscreen boasts a healthy dose of zinc oxide (17.5%) for broad-spectrum protection — yet somehow wears like an invisibility cloak. Romper columnist Cardellino found it to be a godsend post-pregnancy, when her skin was utterly sapped. “It not only goes on sheer, but it’s super moisturizing and not chalky, so you don’t have to worry about it exacerbating the look of tired skin,” she says. “In fact, it does just the opposite, creating a more youthful glow, thanks to the slight gleam of the formula.” Added squalane and aloe leaf juice deserve partial credit for keeping skin soft and sated.
Best Lip Balm
You won’t think twice about covering your newborn in kisses when wearing this silky, plant-based balm. From the traces of fig and vanilla that impart its semi-sweet scent to the coconut oil and beeswax composing its base, it’s beautifully uncomplicated in a way only a mom can appreciate. “This is just exactly what a lip balm should be: Super hydrating but not sticky or thick. It smells lovely and sophisticated, and it has no ingredients I worry about ingesting, so I have no qualms when my kid slathers it all over her lips too,” says Angell.
Best Lip Mask
This in-demand mask — a pot is sold every three seconds worldwide — smothers chapped lips in natural butters and waxes, glycerin, and antioxidants, diligently working the night shift, like so many of the moms who swear by it. “I’ve always had dry skin, and being pregnant, particularly in the winter, wreaked havoc on my lips,” says Mahmood. After sampling what seemed like “every lip product in existence,” she found Laneige to be a gamechanger: “It’s hydrating but doesn’t leave a sticky residue — and I can definitely see and feel a difference in the morning.” Likewise, beauty editor Janell M. Hickman-Kirby calls it her go-to — “the perfect fix for dry, flaky lips.”
*For a full explanation of any ingredients we've noted, click here.
Photographer: Graydon Herriott
Art Director: Shanelle Infante
Set Stylist: Amy Elise Wilson