Is glycolic acid safe to use during pregnancy? Benefits and risks explained


Pregnancy asks you to give up some of your favorite things like wine, endless coffee, sandwiches and sushi. And as you probably know if you’re pregnant, you’ll also need to take a closer look at the skincare ingredients you use. Skincare ingredients are absorbed by your skin (that’s sort of their purpose) and some research suggests that traces of skincare ingredients (like retinol) can end up in your bloodstream, thus heading towards your baby. If you’re wondering if glycolic acid is safe during pregnancy (it sounds pretty menacing), then you’ve come to the right place.

What is glycolic acid?

Glycolic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) which are chemical compounds often found in skin care. AHAs work as exfoliators and glycolic acid is the smallest (molecularly speaking) of the AHAs, so it is very easily absorbed by the skin.

“AHAs are natural organic acids often referred to as fruit acids because they are found in many common fruits. However, the most commonly used AHAs in skin care, glycolic acid and lactic acid, are not [fruit acids]Dr. Rachel Maiman, a board-certified dermatologist at Marmur Medical, told Romper. On the contrary, glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane.

Glycolic acid is a chemical exfoliant that helps slough off dead skin cells, revealing brighter, more even-toned skin (unlike physical exfoliants, glycolic acid and other AHAs aren’t abrasive). Maiman adds that AHAs reduce the adhesion of dead skin cells, leaving skin smoother and more radiant. Compared to other AHAs, glycolic acid is able to penetrate the deepest due to its small size, and it can help stimulate the production of hyaluronic acid, collagen and elastin, leaving the skin firm and making the less visible wrinkles (because the skin is plumped up. )

Benefits of Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid has many benefits for your skin whether you are pregnant or not. Basically, it removes the thin top layer of skin, revealing a radiant underlayer. It can make fine lines, acne scars, blackheads, or breakouts less noticeable, as well as even out skin texture and add radiance.

“AHA [like glycolic acid] reduce hyperpigmentation by dispersing the pigment and accelerate cell turnover,” explains Maiman. “In addition to reducing wrinkles, glycolic acid is also effective in reducing photodamage, making it ideal for more mature skin. Because it draws moisture to the skin, helps prevent loss of transepidermal water and increases levels of hyaluronic acid, glycolic acid is also an excellent choice for dry skin.

Is it safe to use glycolic acid during pregnancy?

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The good news is that yes, glycolic acid is safe to use during pregnancy and you can continue to use your serum, toner or cleanser if it contains the ingredient (just pay attention to the strength of the formula, whether we’ll see in a moment).

“Glycolic acid has an excellent safety profile for use during pregnancy and lactation and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists endorses the use of over-the-counter topical products containing glycolic acid,” said Maiman told Romper. She adds that while this is common in most topical ingredients during pregnancy, there are no well-controlled studies in pregnant women that quantify the safety of glycolic acid. “No studies have tested the effects of using specific concentrations of glycolic acid during pregnancy, but studies have shown adverse effects on the fetuses of rats when exposed to high doses of it. . orally.” It’s not something to worry about because you won’t eat your face wash.

“Topical glycolic acid during male pregnancy, however, is not generally considered to be of concern, as only a minimal amount should be absorbed systemically. However, to be safe, I tend to advise to my pregnant patients to stick to products with a concentration of 10% or less,” says Maiman. This means that your average over-the-counter glycolic acid product should be perfectly usable (but check with your OB if you’re not sure), but you’ll want to skip treatments like glycolic acid peels which contain a much higher percentage of the ingredient.

What happens if you use a higher percentage? “Probably nothing, if I’m realistic,” Maiman says. “But, we really can’t answer that question definitively because there aren’t any studies done at higher concentrations in humans, and we can’t even extrapolate from lower doses, because those studies also do not exist.Developmental toxicities observed in rats exposed to high doses of glycolic acid orally included neurological and skeletal abnormalities, as well as low birth weight.

How to use glycolic acid

As glycolic acid can make the skin sensitive to the sun, it is best used in the evening. Most formulas are watery like a toner or a little more viscous like a serum, and they can be applied to the skin after cleansing.

If you are new to acids or have sensitive skin, use glycolic acid. You will only need to use a small amount two to three times a week (this goes for everyone, even those without sensitive skin); the skin doesn’t need to be exfoliated more often than that and you risk over-exfoliating and damaging the skin barrier if you use it daily.

“Dryness and irritation (redness, burning, itching) are the most common side effects of glycolic acid products,” Maiman says, so be sure to follow with your favorite skin-safe moisturizer or oil. the pregnancy ; she specifically recommends one made with ceramide or hyaluronic acid. She also advises to do a patch test first (test a little product on the inside of your arm and wait to see how your skin reacts) and start slowly using glycolic acid once or twice. per week. And, of course, don’t forget the sunscreen.

“Use a daily sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher,” says Maiman. “It’s a trick for everyone, no matter what you use. However, this is especially true when using hydroxy acids. Like retinoids, studies show that AHAs, in particular, make skin more sensitive to the sun.

Glycolic Acid Products Recommended by Experts Safe for Pregnancy

Below are a few glycolic acid products that Maiman specifically recommends.

At Romper, we 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.

First Aid Beauty Radial Face Pads

“These daily treatment pads contain a low concentration of pregnancy-safe glycolic acid and lactic acid to safely and effectively exfoliate, tone and brighten all skin types, including sensitive skin. Cucumber and Indian gooseberry helps tone the skin while lemon peel and licorice root help brighten and further soothe,” says Maiman.

Sunday Riley Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment

“This product containing 7% glycolic acid can be used once or twice a day like a serum. This treatment uses tiny molecules of glycolic acid that sink deep into the skin to break up pore-clogging debris, revitalizing the appearance of dull, congested, sun-damaged skin and improving the appearance of hyperpigmentation. , enlarged pores, fine lines and wrinkles,” says Maïman.

Tatcha Violet-C Radiance Mask

“This vitamin C mask contains a rich source of ingredients, including two types of pure vitamin C, a fast-acting vitamin C derivative that absorbs quickly to fight premature aging and promote surface cell renewal, and a long-lasting vitamin C derivative that helps minimize free radical damage.It also contains a 10% blend of fruit acids, including glycolic acid, to resurface uneven, dull and dry skin, as well than additional antioxidants from green tea and polyphenols,” says Maiman.

In summary, you don’t have to worry about banishing glycolic acid from your skincare routine as long as you use it topically and stick to products with a glycolic acid concentration of 10. % or less. As always, consult your dermatologist or doctor if you have any concerns.

Referenced studies:

American Academy of Dermatology. Keri J. Treatment of acne in the pregnant patient.


Dr. Rachel Maiman, Marmur Medical Certified Dermatologist

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