Avoid these ingredients during pregnancy or breastfeeding

During pregnancy, your body undergoes major changes. You breathe faster, heart pumps harder and more blood is produced. Also, your body is undergoing hormonal changes.

While the lucky few experience a carefree 9 months of perfect skin glow, for some women it can mean months of nausea and fatigue. Also more flare up of dermatological conditions like acne, dry & sensitive skin, stretch marks to dark spots. Women with pre-existing skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea may also experience a change in their symptoms, better, or worse.

While some of these problems can be easily remedied with everyday over-the-counter products, there are some skincare ingredients to avoid.

Skin penetration routes

You are standing in front of a store shelf full of skin care products and all you think is; how do I get rid of my dry skin, pigment spots or pimples. Which is very understandable. It is still wise to avoid certain cosmetic substances. Often because we do not know how much of it is absorbed into the body, what the substances do in your body during pregnancy and which cosmetic ingredients are passed on during breastfeeding. There are three skin penetration routes of cosmetic ingredients: directly through the skin (intracellular), between the skin cells (intercellular) and through your hair follicles or sweat glands (follicular). The route is determined by the size of the substance (molecule size), is the substance water or fat soluble, is the skin intact or damaged, location (eyelid versus sole of the foot), skin surface and duration of contact (is it a stay on or rinse off product).

Different Routes Of Ingredients That Penetrate Your Skin Avoids These Ingredients Pregnancy Breastfeeding
3 Different Routes In Which Ingredients Pass Through Your Skin.

For ethical reasons, few studies have been conducted in pregnant women. Most findings are based on experimental animal studies, case reports and some randomized trials. In the conclusion of these trials and studies, the sentences often end with: ‘However, the statistical power is not sufficient to justify use during pregnancy’

Hormonal change and increased vascularization are other causes of increased absorption of ingredients. The increased skin blood flow, more skin absorption of ingredients can take place. In addition, the body surface also plays an important role. Applying an eye serum has a smaller skin surface than a body care. Naturally, the absorption of a smaller surface is less than with a large one.

Avoid these ingredients!


Some skin care products use a retinol to reduce acne and fine lines. Retinol exfoliates superficial skin cells faster and stimulates collagen production to rejuvenate the skin.

The amount of retinol absorbed depends on its concentration. Based on the Systemic Exposure Dose (SED), you can calculate the percentage of a cosmetic product that is expected to enter the bloodstream. Because vitamin A acid is fat-soluble, it can be stored in your own fat tissue. A surplus every day means that this substance accumulates in your body. Research into the accumulation of vitamin A acid in the body is still in its infancy, but in my opinion there is enough reason to want to prevent this accumulation effect.

The relationship between the use of retinol or retinoids, a stronger vitamin A variant and pregnancy problems has not been directly demonstrated in studies. Studies showed that retinol can be transferred from parent to baby through the placenta, and up to 60 times more during breastfeeding. The Dutch Medicines Evaluation Board also advise not to use it during pregnancy.


I regularly see an increase in pigment spots in the face during pregnancies at the consultation hour. A fairly effective ingredient to lighten the skin is hydroquinone.

Hydroquinone is a small molecule that can be absorbed through the skin and enter the bloodstream. Once absorbed, hydroquinone is processed by the liver and excreted in the urine. The main way the body processes hydroquinone is by converting it to a glucuronide conjugate, which is then excreted in the urine.

Glucuronidation is a process in which a sugar molecule called glucuronic acid is added to the hydroquinone molecule, creating a hydroquinone-glucuronide conjugate. This conjugate is more water soluble than hydroquinone itself, making it easier for the body to excrete.

However, it is important to note that hydroquinone can also be converted to other potentially harmful compounds, such as benzoquinone and reactive oxygen species, through oxidative metabolism. This oxidative metabolism can be enhanced in the presence of UV light or other reactive substances, increasing the risk of skin irritation.

As a precaution, it is generally recommended that women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant avoid taking hydroquinone. Because there is limited information available about the safety of this substance during pregnancy. Hydroquinone has not been adequately studied in pregnant women and animal studies have shown some evidence of developmental toxicity.

It is also important to note that hydroquinone can be absorbed through the skin, 25-35% and enter the bloodstream, so breastfeeding women should be careful when using hydroquinone products. It is recommended that women who are breastfeeding avoid applying hydroquinone products to the breast area to prevent exposure of the baby.

Salicylic acid

Commonly used to treat warts and do acne peels. Absorption of salicylic acid occurs 9-25% with topical application. It increases under occlusion and if the skin is damaged or open. Studies show varying conclusions about whether or not to use salicylic acid. The advice is short-term use, < 2 weeks and small surface area – maximum 2 palm size.


Protection against the sun during pregnancy is important, this also limits the annoying pregnancy mask (melasma).

Chemical filters such as oxybenzone, avobenzone octocrylene and ecamsule can be absorbed through the skin and can be found in the blood. In animal experiments, these filters can have a hormone-disrupting effect.

Another Swiss study investigated the use of chemical sunscreens in breastfeeding women. These two filters: enzacamene (also called 4-methylbenzylidene camphor or 4-MBC) and 3-Benzylidene Camphor can be found in 76.5% of the breast milk samples. The results are consistent with the idea that transdermal passage of UV filters has occurred. The advice of the study to temporarily withhold exposure during critical periods such as pregnancy and lactation.

It’s a controversial issue, but some studies show that those disruptors may play an important role in fetal and newborn health.

Pregnant women should opt for a physical mineral sunscreen with combined zinc oxide and titanium dioxide rather than a chemical sunscreen. More about differences sunscreens

Parabens & BPA

Parabens, a common preservative in cosmetics, are easily absorbed by the skin. According to a 2016 study in the Journal of Chemistry, prenatal exposure to bisphenol-A (BPA) and parabens has been linked to numerous pregnancy problems, including miscarriage, low birth weight, obesity, impaired fetal growth and behavioral problems.

More about parabens

What are carefree pregnancies and breastfeeding ingredients that you can use?

Of course there are many other cosmetic ingredients that you can use.

Coenzyme Q10, relatively unknown. CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant that occurs naturally in our bodies but declines with age. The antioxidant supports our mitochondrial function, aids cellular energy formation and fights against oxidative damage. More about Q10 and the skin

Niacinamide, also called vitamin B3. An ingredient with many proven effects on the skin. It is an antioxidant, provides better skin hydration, pigmentation reduction and inflammation in the skin. More about Niacinamide

Furthermore, vitamin C (against pigment and anti-aging effect), ceramide (hydration), squalane (hydration), hyaluronic acid (hydration), glycerine (hydration), avena sativa oat extracts (sensitive skin) and many more.

Iconic Elements selection with the above ingredients Coenzyme Q10, Vitamin C and Niacinamide:

Any questions, send us a mail: info@iconic-elements.com


Bayerl C. [Acne therapy in pregnancy]. Der Hautarzt; Zeitschrift fur Dermatologie, Venerologie, und Verwandte Gebiete. 2013 Apr;64(4):269-273.

Soma-Pillay P, Nelson-Piercy C, Tolppanen H, Mebazaa A. Physiological changes in pregnancy. Cardiovasc J Afr. 2016;27(2):89-94. doi:10.5830/CVJA-2016-021

Panchaud A, Csajka C, Merlob P, Schaefer C, Berlin M, De Santis M, Vial T, Ieri A, Malm H, Eleftheriou G, Stahl B, Rousso P, Winterfeld U, Rothuizen LE, Buclin T. Pregnancy outcome following exposure to topical retinoids: a multicenter prospective study. J Clin Pharmacol. 2012 Dec;52(12):1844-51.

Bastos Maia S, Rolland Souza AS, Costa Caminha MF, et al. Vitamin A and Pregnancy: A Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2019;11(3):681.

Hsieh CJ, Chang YH, Hu A, Chen ML, Sun CW, Situmorang RF, Wu MT, Wang SL; TMICS study group. Personal care products use and phthalate exposure levels among pregnant women. Sci Total Environ. 2019 Jan 15;648:135-143.

Bozzo P, Chua-Gocheco A, Einarson A. Safety of skin care products during pregnancy. Can Fam Physician. 2011;57(6):665-667.

Matta MK, Zusterzeel R, Pilli NR, et al. Effect of Sunscreen Application Under Maximal Use Conditions on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active Ingredients: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2019;321(21):2082–2091.

Jain, Ram. (2016). Impact of Pregnancy on the Levels of Parabens and Bisphenol A: Data from NHANES 2005–2010. Journal of Chemistry. 2016. 1-8.

Kolatorova L, Vitku J, Hampl R, Adamcova K, Skodova T, Simkova M, Parizek A, Starka L, Duskova M. Exposure to bisphenols and parabens during pregnancy and relations to steroid changes. Environ Res. 2018 May;163:115-122.

If pregnant women use cosmetics containing parabens, this may have consequences (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200212111438.htm)

While you are here

Some cosmetic skin care products contain plastic microparticles. These cannot be seen with the naked eye, but end up in our rivers, seas and oceans via our sewage system after washing/showering. This has an impact on our ecological system, as the marine animals consider the microplastic for food, it often ends up on our own plate as part of the food chain. Iconic Elements is microplastic free inside

Zero Plastic Inside Iconic Elements Skin Care Dermatologist
Picture of Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu, een vooraanstaande dermatoloog, is de drijvende kracht achter Iconic Elements. Hij heeft sinds 2004 zijn expertise ingezet om een veilige en effectieve huidverzorgingslijn te creëren, geschikt voor zowel gezonde huid als huidproblemen. Iconic Elements, opgericht in 2016, is de eerste brede skincare lijn in Nederland ontwikkeld door een dermatoloog. Als medisch specialist streeft Dr. Wu naar het bevorderen van het welzijn van mensen door hoogwaardige en effectieve huidverzorgingsproducten te bieden. De proefdiervrije en vegan producten vermijden schadelijke chemicaliën en bevatten natuurlijke ingrediënten.
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