Can You Use Retinol While Breastfeeding? Explained by a Dermatologist

Using retinol while breastfeeding or pregnant

As a new mom breastfeeding your baby, you may be wondering – can you use retinol while breastfeeding? I wanted a reliable answer to this age-old question so I decided to ask a dermatologist to get the facts.

I spoke to Dr Lee Hwee Chyen, Medical Director and Consultant Dermatologist at Epi Dermatology & Laser Specialist Clinic for her advice on using retinol safely during this special time with your baby.

Keep reading to learn if and when retinol is okay, any risks and some breastfeeding-safe alternatives to retinol. Get the inside scoop and keep your skin healthy without worrying about the effects on your breast milk.

About our Dermatologist expert

Dr Lee Hwee Chyen is an MOH-accredited dermatologist specializing in Paediatric Dermatology, Women’s Dermatology, Procedural Dermatology and Lasers. She is the director of Epi Dermatology & Laser Specialist Clinic where she manages a wide range of skin, hair and nail conditions for adults and children.

She is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, the Dermatology Society of Singapore, the Chapter of Dermatologists at the Academy of Medicine of Singapore and the Asian Society of Paediatric Dermatology.


What is Retinol?

About Retinol

Retinol is a form of vitamin A and part of a larger group of chemicals called retinoids. This powerhouse ingredient is widely used in skincare products due to its remarkable anti-aging properties and effectiveness in targeting acne, fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots and uneven skin tone.

By reducing the likelihood of cells and keratin debris sticking together and blocking pores, retinol often helps to prevent clogged pores. They also reduce the healing time of acne and pimples by increasing skill cell turnover, thereby promoting a youthful and glowing complexion.

Retinol can be administered topically or orally, with varying strengths and effectiveness among different forms of retinol.


Can You Use Retinol While Breastfeeding or During Pregnancy?

Using Retinol While Breastfeeding or During Pregnancy

While retinol offers impressive skincare benefits, Dr Lee and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) advise against using it (and all other vitamin A derivatives) during breastfeeding and pregnancy.

According to Dr Lee, oral retinoids can lead to miscarriage, foetal anomalies and birth defects. Additionally, topical retinoids applied on the skin may be absorbed into the bloodstream and breast milk. While this is likely to be low amounts compared to oral retinoids, it is best to avoid them during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

As there is a lack of research on the exact amount of retinol absorbed into the bloodstream, its safety during pregnancy and its potential effects on a nursing infant, it’s better to err on the side of caution until more conclusive studies are conducted.


Alternatives Safe for Use During Breastfeeding and Pregnancy

Breastfeeding-Safe Alternatives
Vitamin C serum

There are plenty of safe, effective alternatives you can use during this precious time with your little one. Just be sure to consult with your dermatologist before incorporating any new products into your routine!


Avoid applying skincare products near your breasts and nipples to prevent your baby from accidentally ingesting them!

Vitamin C: For brightness

Recommended by Dr Lee, Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that brightens, evens out the skin tone and boosts collagen production. It can also minimize fine lines and wrinkles.

Hyaluronic acid: For hydration

This powerhouse hydrator plumps and smooths the skin, giving you a fresh, dewy glow. It also has anti-aging properties, such as the ability to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and healing properties that reduce scarring.

Niacinamide: For hydration

Niacinamide, when used on the skin, can enhance skin hydration and maintain moisture levels. It plays a role in strengthening the skin barrier, ensuring that moisture is locked in while keeping irritants at bay.

Additionally, niacinamide is known to soothe the skin and exhibit antioxidant qualities while gradually reducing pore size. Thus, this is a great alternative to retinol when pregnant or breastfeeding, according to Dr Lee.

Glycolic and azelaic acid: For gentle exfoliation

While most Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) are considered unsafe for pregnancy, glycolic acid has been approved by Dr Lee and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) for use during pregnancy. It’s also said to be safe for use during nursing.

Both glycolic and azelaic acid exfoliate and calm inflammation, making them ideal for those battling acne or uneven skin texture. They also help to lighten acne scars and other discolorations, creating a more even skin tone.

Just make sure to use a glycolic acid with a concentration of 7% or lower when pregnant or nursing!


When Can I Resume Using Retinol?

When to Resume Retinol

You can typically resume incorporating retinol-based skincare products into your routine once you’ve completed breastfeeding, as there’s no longer a concern about the baby being exposed to retinol through breast milk, says Dr Lee.

However, it’s important to reintroduce these products gradually since our skin can get a bit sensitive after that hormonal rollercoaster of pregnancy and nursing. Watch for adverse skin reactions such as irritation, redness, or discomfort.

Additionally, retinol can heighten skin sensitivity to sunlight. Hence, Dr Lee recommends applying it at night. If retinol-based products are used during the day, you’d want to apply sunscreen and minimize sun exposure.


Other Skincare Ingredients to Avoid During Breastfeeding and Pregnancy

Other Chemicals to Avoid

When using skincare products while breastfeeding or pregnant, it’s important to be extra careful. You don’t want harsh chemicals absorbed into your bloodstream and potentially passing through to your little one.

So in addition to avoiding retinol and all vitamin A derivatives, here are some other risky ingredients Dr Lee recommends steering clear of:

Salicylic acid

This is the ingredient behind many over-the-counter acne treatments. However, according to Dr Lee, it’s best avoided during breastfeeding (especially high concentrations above 2%) just to be safe since there’s limited data on its effects. It should also be avoided during pregnancy as it can cause birth defects.


Often used in brightening creams to fade dark spots and melasma, hydroquinone can be absorbed into the bloodstream. There is little research on its impacts during breastfeeding, but it’s said to cause birth defects when used during pregnancy so it’s best to avoid it altogether.


Often used as a preservative to extend the shelf life of cosmetic products and safeguard against bacterial contamination, formaldehyde is connected to the development of cancer and allergic reactions on the skin. Moreover, it has been correlated with an increased likelihood of congenital anomalies, low birth weight and premature birth when used by pregnant moms.


These preservatives mimic estrogen and can negatively affect pregnant moms and babies. They can increase the likelihood of preterm birth, result in lower birth weight and shorter body length in babies, and even affect the reproductive system of baby boys.


These endocrine disruptors could impact fetal development and infant cognition. According to Harvard Health, various studies suggest that children whose mothers were exposed to phthalates during pregnancy are at a higher risk of experiencing challenges in their motor skills and language development.

When in doubt, consult a doctor or a dermatologist for advice or request a tailored treatment plan that will address your specific skin needs.


Overall Thoughts on Using Retinol While Breastfeeding

Concluding Thoughts

While some online sources say a pea-sized amount of over-the-counter retinol cream is likely okay, others recommend avoiding it altogether just to be safe. My advice? Try using safe alternatives to retinol. Our little ones are just not worth the risk!


FAQs About Using Retinol While Breastfeeding


Disclaimer: This article expresses our honest opinion based on our experience and research. Read more about our mission.

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