Skin bleaching products are commonly used to lighten hair and skin, but be careful when using them during pregnancy. While testing for fetal side effects on humans has not been conclusive, there are plenty of reasons to take a break from skin bleaching during gestation – birth defects in animals, increased skin sensitivity and melasma being three of the most important.
Skin bleaching agents contain hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is a pregnancy category C ingredient. Category C means the ingredient has been proven to cause birth defects in animals, but not conclusively in humans. The effect on animals includes stillbirth, deformities, and lower than average birth weight. Despite the potential threat to animals and humans, many skin bleaching products are marketed toward pregnant women to treat melasma.
Melasma, or pregnancy mask, is a common symptom of pregnancy. Skin darkens due to hormonal changes and melanin deposits show up on the face and central line from the belly button to public bone (linea nigra). Melasma is a pregnancy induced skin change and should not be lightened using skin bleaching creams. After pregnancy, some or all of the darkening will fade, in most cases. The lightened areas may then appear lighter than surrounding skin.
Increasing hormone levels can leave a pregnant woman allergic to laundry detergent, skin oils, and cleansers. Fragrance and body sprays may also cause skin irritation. If these mild compounds cause skin to break out, bleaching certainly will. Common side effects of hydroquinone include skin irritation, edema, black and blue skin discoloration, and crusting of the skin.
Women who are breastfeeding should also refrain from skin bleaching. Skin may not absorb skin bleaching creams 100%, which could mean baby ingests hydroquinone. No research studies have linked infant intake of hydroquinone to birth defects but experts and dermatologists suggest breastfeeding mothers speak to their obstetrician or pediatrician about potential side effects.
Lighter, more even skin may be a beauty choice, but not during pregnancy. There are too many risks outweighing the rewards associated with hydroquinone in pregnant women. After birth, if skin discoloration continues, moms can start using skin bleaching creams as long as they are not breastfeeding.