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The Pregnancy-Safe Chemical Exfoliant This Derm Calls "Underrated"

May 30, 2022
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There are many different things you can do to prepare your body for pregnancy (think nailing down a fertility-supporting diet, gentle yoga, stress management techniques, etc.). One to-do you might not have previously considered? Getting your skin care lineup approved by a professional. 

That's right—not all skin care products are safe to use while you're pregnant. Common items to avoid include topical retinoids1, high-dose salicylic acid (found in peels and oral medications), and oxybenzone (commonly found in chemical sunscreens). Although, London-based dermatologist Aamna Adel, MBBS, MRCP, took to TikTok to share one "underrated" chemical exfoliant that is pregnancy-safe: azelaic acid.

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Why this dermatologist loves azelaic acid.

As we previously mentioned, there are a few common chemical exfoliants that aren't pregnancy-safe, including retinoids. Remember: Retinoids are commonly used to treat acne, hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and scarring. Some gentler retinoids are offered OTC (over-the-counter), while others are prescription-only (like generic Retin-A cream tretinoin or brands like Tazorac). These products exfoliate the skin by increasing cell turnover, as do other chemical exfoliants. While the primary concern for pregnancy is ingesting oral retinoids, doctors and derms recommend ceasing topical use as well1—as a precaution.

Adel considers azelaic acid an underrated pick because it can help ease many of the same skin concerns as other chemical exfoliants. Specifically, azelaic acid has the power to treat acne, post-breakout inflammation, and rosacea, and it's safe to use during pregnancy, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Not to mention, studies have shown azelaic acid to be a comparable acne treatment to certain retinoids. In one study of comedonal acne2, 20% azelaic acid cream was equally as effective as 0.05% tretinoin cream in reducing the number of comedones and with respect to the overall response. What's more, azelaic acid cream was better tolerated and caused fewer local side effects (think irritation, dryness, and redness) than the topical retinoid. Clinical studies have shown that azelaic acid is also effective at treating rosacea3.

Suffice it to say, we agree that this chemical exfoliant is underrated in the skin care space, especially for those who are pregnant. If you're looking for an OTC product, we recommend the Naturium Azelaic Acid Emulsion or The Ordinary Azelaic Acid 10% Suspension Cream. If you're looking to treat acne, you might want to see a dermatologist first, as you may need a prescription-grade product with a higher concentration to see results. 

The takeaway. 

Finding pregnancy-safe skin care products can be difficult if you're simultaneously treating acne, rosacea, or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Luckily, azelaic is a safe option with comparable efficacy to topical retinoids, so you can continue caring for your skin worry-free. Again, if you are dealing with a condition like acne, it's best to consult a dermatologist, as you may need a prescription-grade azelaic acid product. While you're putting together a pregnancy-safe skin care regimen, make sure to evaluate whether the supplements you're taking are baby-safe as well.

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Hannah Frye
Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.