One of the most common questions we get at the Pregnancy and Newborn Health Education Center is about skin care during pregnancy. More specifically, about products that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. These over-the-counter cleansers and lotions are used to treat topical acne. Many of us use them every day, without even thinking about it. But during pregnancy, you may wonder if you should continue to use these products in your skin care routine.


According to MotherToBaby, a service of the non-profit Organization of Teratology Information Specialists, “Over-the-counter skin treatments have not been associated with an increased risk when used during pregnancy. Studies have shown that in most cases only 5% to 10% of the active ingredients are absorbed through the skin into your system. Since so little of the medication passes into the body, the amount that gets to the developing baby, if any, is unlikely to be high enough to cause birth defects.”


However, you should be careful and make sure you do not apply them to broken or irritated skin. That would allow more of the ingredients to be absorbed. Also, it is very important to make the distinction between these products and topical retinoids. Topical retinoids are used to treat acne and sun-damaged skin. Small amounts of these drugs may be absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream, so it is best to avoid them. You should never take oral retinoids during your pregnancy or if you are trying to conceive.


Keep in mind that there are many over-the-counter topical treatments available for acne. So you should make sure you talk to your health care provider if you have any questions and concerns. And always talk to your doctor before you take any oral medication during pregnancy, for acne or any other condition.