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Is Salicylic Acid Safe for Skin Care During Pregnancy?

Salicylic Acid in Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a time of great change for the body. Some women experience unpleasant symptoms along with the belly growth and fetal kicks. You may feel fatigued, nauseous, or swollen. In addition, you may have new skin issues.

Your skin may behave in ways it never has before. If you want to look and feel your best, you might be wondering if salicylic acid is a safe skin treatment during pregnancy.

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Read on for more information about this widely used ingredient and its potential risks and benefits.

Is salicylic acid safe during pregnancy?

Over-the-counter (OTC) salicylic acid products may not be safe for use during pregnancy. Prescription salicylic acid products, especially oral medications, aren’t safe.

To maintain clear, breakout-free skin without medications during pregnancy:

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  • wash your skin gently with mild soap
  • eat a healthy diet
  • increase your vitamin A intake from foods

Pimples still keeping you down? Your doctor or dermatologist can help point you to other treatments that are safe for use during pregnancy. In many cases, your skin will clear on its own once you’ve had your baby and your hormones regulate.

Skin issues during pregnancy

During pregnancy, women often experience increases in androgen levels that can cause skin issues, ranging from acne to unwanted hair growth to dryness. Many of these flare-ups are temporary. Your skin should return to normal once you have your baby.

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Other common skin issues during pregnancy include:

What is salicylic acid?

There are a variety of ways to treat skin issues outside of pregnancy. But not all treatments are pregnancy-safe. One of the most popular skin care treatments is salicylic acid. You can find this ingredient at varying strengths and in different OTC and prescription products.

Salicylic acid is often used to treat the following skin conditions:

Salicylic acid is part of the aspirin family. Its purpose is to reduce redness and inflammation of the skin. In higher doses, it can be used as a chemical peel.

You may find salicylic acid in various forms. In drugstores, there are salicylic acid:

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  • soaps
  • cleansers
  • lotions
  • creams
  • pads

Beyond that, your doctor can prescribe stronger ointments and other topical or oral versions, depending on your specific condition.

Side effects of salicylic acid

Before you use salicylic acid, it’s important to test an area of your skin to make sure you aren’t allergic to it.

Allergic reaction symptoms include:

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  • hives
  • itching
  • difficulty breathing
  • swelling (eyes, lips, tongue, face)
  • tightness in throat
  • faintness

Also take care to avoid harsh cleansers, alcohol-containing skin care products, and other solutions and makeup. These can dry the skin. If applied to the same area, you may develop severe irritation.

Many people have sensitive skin and have a mild reaction.

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Though rare, there is a condition called salicylate toxicity that affects younger individuals and those with liver or kidney diseases. Symptoms include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • hearing loss
  • tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears)
  • lethargy
  • hyperpnea (increase in breathing depth)
  • diarrhea
  • psychic disturbances

If you develop any of these signs or symptoms, stop using salicylic acid and speak with your doctor.

Salicylic acid and pregnancy

During pregnancy, you’re understandably concerned about what goes into and on your body. You’ll find salicylic acid in many products, but it’s worth investigating the risks and weighing them against the benefits.

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Topical salicylic acid is pregnancy-safe, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists. But more research is needed to determine if there are any adverse risks to the developing baby-to-be.

Prescription salicylic acid is related to aspirin, so taking the oral form of this medication isn’t advised during pregnancy. Studies have shown that taking oral salicylic acid during late pregnancy can increase the risk for intracranial bleeding.

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Talk to your doctor about the risks of taking this oral skin medication during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. They may be able to recommend a safer alternative.

What to ask your doctor

If you’re experiencing skin issues during your pregnancy, speak with your doctor or a dermatologist about your options. Salicylic acid may be what you normally use, but there may be other treatments that are more pregnancy-safe.

Ask your doctor:

  • Will my skin condition likely improve after pregnancy?
  • What skin medications are safe during pregnancy (and while breastfeeding)?
  • Are there other alternatives that may help my condition?
  • What should I do if my skin worsens?

It’s always a smart idea to ask your doctor before using a new product during pregnancy.

Alternatives to salicylic acid

Acne is one of the more common complaints among pregnant women. But there are alternative ways to treat acne without salicylic acid or other medications:

  • Maintain good skin habits. Wash your face with a mild soap in the morning and before bed. Regularly washing your hair may also help keep oil at bay.
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods. While you’re at it, drink plenty of water to keep yourself (and your skin) hydrated.
  • Eat foods high in vitamin A. For safety, stick to food sources rather than supplements. It’s possible to get too high of a dose with supplements. You can get this important vitamin that supports healthy skin in foods like milk, eggs, carrots, and fish.
  • Mind your sun exposure. A little bit of sun can actually help dry out pimples. Still, you’ll want to wear sunscreen to protect against skin cancer. If you’re using salicylic acid or other medications, you might also be more prone to burning.
  • Treat breakouts gently. Too much scrubbing, popping, and picking will only make matters worse. Using harsh cleansers or too much friction can stimulate your skin to produce more oil. Popping and picking zits can lead to scarring.

It’s also a good idea to read the labels on any skin care products you buy before you use them. Discuss any unfamiliar ingredients with your doctor before use.

Mothers-to-be usually know that it’s important to monitor what they put into their bodies, but you may not realize that a topical cream can be absorbed into your body through your skin. It’s important to carefully read labels and know the ingredients of any topical creams you are applying to your body. Unfortunately, there have not been enough studies done to know whether topical salicylic cream is harmful during pregnancy. It’s always best to check with your doctor before using any topical creams.
– Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., R.N., CNE, COI

The takeaway

Skin issues are often just another unpleasant symptom of pregnancy. Thankfully, these issues are usually temporary. Your skin should clear up after your baby is born. If you’ve tried simple lifestyle modifications and haven’t seen results (or your skin is getting worse), speak with your doctor to find out what pregnancy-safe treatments may work for you.

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