Salicylic Acid & Pregnancy

Salicylic acid is a common ingredient in many over-the-counter and prescription products. It can help remedy many skin conditions and disorders. However, like any medication, caution must be taken when using it while pregnant. This is because everything you put in or on your body can directly affect an unborn baby’s development—including salicylic acid. Therefore, it is important to become educated about salicylic acid’s uses and effects.


According to the Mayo Clinic, salicylic acid can be found in a myriad of products 1. Many face washes, acne creams, dandruff shampoos, ointments, lotions and soaps contain salicylic acid. In addition, the International Programme on Chemical Safety says that it can be found in oral forms 2. While many products can be purchased right over the counter, some are only available with a doctor’s prescription.


Salicylic acid can help treat acne, a condition that can be aggravated by pregnancy hormones. It is also commonly used to treat other skin disorders like psoriasis, corns, warts and seborrheic dermatitis. The American Academy of Dermatology explains that it works by preventing the shedding of excess skin cells, unclogging pores and preventing the formation of lesions. In addition, the International Programme on Chemical Safety says that salicylic acid also lessens inflammation, elevated temperature and pain 2.


As the Babycenter website explains, when taken orally, salicylic acid can cause pregnancy complications and even birth defects 4. Avoid the use of body or face peels that contain salicylic acid because they can be more easily absorbed into the bloodstream. In addition, the Mayo Clinic warns that skin irritation may occur. Seek medical attention if you become dizzy, lightheaded, develop rapid breathing or buzzing in the ears. These can be signs of salicylic acid poisoning.

Safe Use

Oral ingestion of salicylic should always be avoided during pregnancy. However, the Babycenter website says that it is safe to use small amounts topically once or twice per day. Professor Leslie Baumann of the University of Miami says to only use face washes and products that contain two percent salicylic acid or less. A higher amount is considered unsafe, so be sure to check the percentage marked on the label.


Instead of salicylic acid, the Discovery Health website recommends using products that contain glycolic acid, topical erythromycin, alpha hydroxy acid or witch hazel 1. These are safe alternatives that can be used during pregnancy 4. Or, for pregnancy-related acne, the What to Expect website suggest increasing your intake of foods rich in vitamin A, like milk, carrots and eggs. Or speak to your doctor about the use of benzoyl peroxide or azelaic acid creams.