Skincare in Pregnancy Q + A

1) Why are Retinoids harmful during pregnancy?

Retinoids are cream forms of vitamin A. Vitamin A is required by many tissues in our body to grow and develop normally. Excessive amounts of vitamin A in pregnancy can be harmful to the growth and development of the embryo and fetus. We know that taking retinoids in pill form leads to birth defects. It is less clear with creams since very small amounts of the product, if any, are actually absorbed into the body when applied to the skin. Certain factors influence the absorption of retinoid creams. It depends on whether the surface area that the cream is being applied to is intact or broken. Since it is difficult to determine whether or not the retinoid cream will be absorbed at all into the body, we encourage women to avoid using retinoid creams during pregnancy.

2) Many women experience acne and breakouts during their first trimester, any advice on ingredients to look for that are safe but can ease symptoms?

It is always difficult to navigate which products are safe to use during pregnancy, so I advise patients to check with their physician regarding their acne regimen. If the products are over the counter they can still contain ingredients that are not considered safe. The safest ingredients for treating acne in pregnancy are products with erythromycin, clindamycin, and azelaic acid to be applied to the skin. Benzoyl peroxide has been somewhat more controversial. However, studies have shown that very low amounts of benzoyl peroxide applied to the skin are absorbed into the body, and thus it is generally not considered harmful during pregnancy.

3) When women are looking for stretch mark creams, are there any ingredients to keep an eye out for that makes products effective and safe?

Unfortunately, there are no products with consistently proven efficacy in preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. However, I understand that women are looking for something that they can do to minimize their risk. As such, I advise my patients to find an inexpensive cream or oil that they like and to massage it into the areas prone to developing stretch marks (breasts, abdomen and thighs). Since no particular ingredient has been shown to be more effective, there is no use in spending a lot of money on a stretch mark product, but a recent study found that women who massaged their product were less likely to develop stretch marks. However, those results come from only one study, so further information is needed before we know whether it truly makes a difference.


Jennifer Salsberg, MD, FRCPC, DABD
Medical, Cosmetic and Surgical Dermatology

Bay Dermatology Centre offers a full range of cosmetic procedures. Referral from another doctor is not necessary to see a dermatologist at the centre for more information on one of our services. Patients can also request to meet with our laser technician who runs the laser area of the clinic to discuss any of the various cosmetic procedures offered at the Bay Dermatolgoy Centre.



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