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When you’re pregnant, you may find yourself thinking about things you never gave a second thought to previously, such as the ingredients in your beauty products.

And you might be using a skin care product containing glycolic acid. Made from sugar cane, glycolic acid is a very common type of alpha hydroxy acid.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are chemical compounds that act as exfoliants. If you want to promote faster skin cell turnover on your face, you’ll reach for a product that contains an AHA. Many people turn to glycolic acid to do the job.

But before you use a skin care product with glycolic acid — or start using any new product while you’re pregnant — it’s important to understand what glycolic is, as well as the concerns about its safety during pregnancy. Read on for more information.

If you’re not familiar with glycolic acid, you may not realize why it has such a devoted following.

Products containing glycolic acid are popular for good reason — they’re effective at exfoliating your skin. They can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles that make you look a little older than you’d like.

Glycolic acid also treats hyperpigmentation and acne scars. And yes, as you may wonder as you gaze into the mirror and fret over some pregnancy-induced pimples, products with glycolic acid can also fight acne.

You can buy skin creams, lotions, face washes, and serums that contain glycolic acid to use at home, or you can go to a spa or salon and get a chemical peel containing glycolic acid.

Some older animal studies that examined the use of high doses of glycolic acid observed some “adverse reproductive effects.” However, those doses were much higher than any concentration you’d find in a typical skin care product containing glycolic acid.

As such, scientists generally maintain that systemic absorption shouldn’t be a factor for you. Plus, glycolic acid products seem like a much safer choice during pregnancy than some other products, such as retinoids and high doses of salicylic acid.

Still, be sure to look at the label before you hand over your money to buy a new jar of skin cream containing glycolic acid. Stick to products with a concentration that’s lower than 10 percent.

Furthermore, be sure to talk to your OB-GYN about the safety of using glycolic acid. Pregnancy causes skin changes, including sensitivities, and even if you’ve used it in the past, you may experience side effects you haven’t had before.

In fact, consider the risk/benefit profile of any skin care product you use, and pause before you schedule a chemical peel or slather your face with a night cream containing glycolic acid. There may be other, more tried-and-true remedies that are safer choices during pregnancy.

You may be thinking, “OK, show me the research.” After all, it’s useful to know what studies have found.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Due to safety concerns, many researchers are hesitant to include people who are pregnant in their clinical trials and drug development studies. Therefore, pregnant people tend to be underrepresented in this type of research.

Many studies and reports tend to be observational, which can provide useful information and help shape recommendations. That said, there are some limits.

Accordingly, most studies involving pregnancy and glycolic acid tend to be observational, including research on the use of acne treatments during pregnancy. You probably won’t experience any adverse reactions to glycolic acid when you’re pregnant, but it is possible — even if you’ve used it in the past without issues.

Everyone’s familiar with the so-called pregnancy glow.

If you’re pregnant, you know you’re just as likely to be fighting pimples. Plus, anyone who has ever been hugely pregnant can tell you that it’s hard to get comfortable enough to get a good night’s sleep. And a lack of rest tends to take a toll on your skin.

Glycolic acid — in a pregnancy-safe concentration of less than 10 percent — can speed the turnover of skin cells that might otherwise pile up on your face and make your skin look dry and dull.

As such, it may help treat any acne that you may be struggling with — and even give you a hint of that alleged pregnancy glow.

If you’re weighing your options, you might want to consider some other skin care products to try when you’re pregnant. For example, if you’re trying to get a handle on acne, research suggests that you should be just fine using the following:

  • topical products containing azelaic acid
  • topical products containing benzoyl peroxide
  • topical erythromycin or clindamycin, along with benzoyl peroxide
  • a short course of oral erythromycin or cephalexin

Of course, if you have any concerns or questions about a product, be sure to check with your doctor.

It’s helpful to know the best way to use products containing glycolic acid, as well as what to avoid, too. Watch out for these potential problems:

  • Exposure to sunlight. In general, AHA-containing products make you more sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) light. If you’re using glycolic acid to improve the appearance of your skin, be sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to exposed skin when heading outdoors. Try these pregnancy-friendly options.
  • Mixing acids. Experts generally recommend that you steer clear of mixing acids. That is, don’t use products that contain different acids at the same time. It might irritate your skin or cause other adverse effects. If you use a product with glycolic acid, don’t double up with another acid, even if it’s a different type of product.
  • Sensitive skin. If you have really sensitive skin, or if your skin is sensitive from another procedure or product, you might want to skip using glycolic acid. This is especially true if your skin is peeling.
  • Other exfoliants. Glycolic acid is considered to be a chemical exfoliant. You definitely don’t need to add a scrub that would exfoliate your skin even more.

Also, keep in mind that products that contain glycolic acid — like creams, moisturizers, exfoliants, and toners — are different than glycolic acid peels. Chemical peels tend to be stronger and carry a higher risk of unwanted results or reactions.

And some products contain both glycolic acid and retinol. This may be a great combo outside of pregnancy, but retinol is a huge no-no when you’re expecting.

Generally speaking, you’re probably fine to use a skin care product containing glycolic acid while you’re pregnant.

Just be vigilant about not using skin care products that contain ingredients that might interact with glycolic acid. Also, be sure to don a hat and apply your sunscreen before you head outside.

Finally, before trying any new skin care product, you might want to run it by your OB-GYN, too.