Pregnancy and Skin Lightening - Everything You Need to Know

Skincare market is booming with skin lightening products that promise you whiter, smoother and flawless skin in no time. However, when it comes down to the safety of the products, it is your sole responsibility to ensure you do not use products that can harm your health. It is an even bigger responsibility when you are pregnant and need to protect your unborn baby from potential harm.

Unfortunately, there is not enough research or evidence on commonly used ingredients to guarantee the complete safety of your baby.

To give you an even clearer picture, we have highlighted some of the most common ingredients in skin lighteners and any existing data concerning their safety during pregnancy.

Are you concerned about pregnancy and skin lightening? Here’s everything you need to know


Please remember: Most of the studies we cite here were only done during pregnancy and so there is no way to tell what happened to the children after they were born or by their 5th birthday. This somehow renders these studies rather inconclusive on long term effects of prenatal exposure.

Hydroquinone - HQ

Hydroquinone is made from Benzene, a known carcinogen. It is a common ingredient in skin lightening products which works by inhibiting melanin production. Its melanin inhibiting properties have made it an effective treatment against cases of skin hyperpigmentation like melasma, chloasma, sunspots, acne scars etc. It can cause mild side effects like irritation and dryness or more severe ones like contact dermatitis, extreme dryness and bleeding. When used on topically on mice in a certain research, it increased incidence of skin tumour.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the use of hydroquinone in both beauty and skin whitening products. After reports linking its use to exogenous ochronosis and carcinogenicity, FDA reduced the permissible concentration of Hydroquinone in OTC creams to 2%. Concentrations of 4% and above are to be acquired with a prescription.

That was not all; its use was linked to other health risks which led to it being banned in several regions and countries. Canada prohibited use of hydroquinone in cosmetic products, while UK, Japan and European Union banned its use for skin lightening.

Another concern about the use of hydroquinone is its systemic absorption into the bloodstream. Apparently, 35-45% gets absorbed into your system following topical application. A research that involved 99 pregnant women in Senegal Africa was carried out to assess if hydroquinone caused any harm during pregnancy.

No changes were noticed between babies of the women who used hydroquinone and those who did not. Since only a small number of women was used, the investigations were not considered sufficient enough to rule either in support of or against it use. Hence, there was need for more investigations. Until further studies rule out any risks, you would be safer if you avoided hydroquinone during pregnancy.

Hydrogen Peroxide (HP)

Hydrogen peroxide is a weak acid that is slightly viscous than water. It’s used as a ripening agent in food industry as well as bleach for hair. It’s also used in most at-home skin bleaching regimens.

When used for skin bleaching, organic materials are added to stabilize it. This is because it’s a strong oxidant which is relatively unstable. A typical home made lightener consists of; 2 spoons of floor, 2 spoons of peroxide, 1 spoon of milk and some water, mixed together to make a mask.

Hydrogen peroxide is relatively safe compared to other skin lightening ingredients. Human testing is inadequate but tests on animals have shown that topical application of 3-8% HP over a 24hr period is non -irritating even on abraded skin. Higher concentrations can however lead to peeling of the skin when applied over a long period.