Can I Use Retinol While Breastfeeding?

Retinol is added to many over-the-counter anti-aging products, from sunscreens to moisturizers to makeup. It is one of the most common ingredients in skin care products in the world.

Key takeaways:

With its many anti-aging benefits, it is regarded as a wonder drug for the skin. Because it is a retinoid, many are concerned about its safety during breastfeeding and do not recommend its use.

What is retinol?

Retinol is a type of retinoid. Retinoids are a form of vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the fat in your body, so you must be cautious about the amount you ingest because it can build up to toxic levels. They take time to be eliminated from your body, unlike water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C.

Even though retinol is a weaker type of retinoid compared to prescription retinoids, it can still help your skin. It can increase collagen production to help improve fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol increases cell turnover and helps exfoliate dead skin cells to unclog pores, treat blackheads, and give you smooth skin texture. This exfoliation also helps fade brown spots and discoloration.

Can you use retinol while breastfeeding?

There is limited data on the negative effects of retinol during breastfeeding. No studies have been conducted on babies for ethical reasons. It is unlikely there will ever be any studies performed on babies. There is no data on how much retinol is passed to the baby in breast milk and what harm it causes. The knowledge we have comes from data obtained during the accidental use of retinoids during pregnancy.

Why you shouldn't use retinol while breastfeeding

We know that ingesting oral retinoids, like Accutane, during pregnancy will cause severe birth defects. This condition is known as a fetal retinoid syndrome (FRS). Physical and mental birth defects include facial malformations, learning disabilities, growth delays, and heart abnormalities.

Unfortunately, it isn't recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding like other forms of vitamin A. Since the amount of retinol passing through the skin into breast milk is not established, it is difficult to say what effect it will have on the baby.

Since there is no definitive data or studies on topical retinol or oral retinoid use during breastfeeding, it is better to err on the side of caution and avoid it. It is not worth risking the health of your child for anti-aging benefits. You should avoid using any form of retinol skincare products, such as retinol creams and retinol serums while breastfeeding your baby or toddler. There are safer alternatives to use during breastfeeding, which you should discuss with your doctor.

Risks of taking retinol while breastfeeding

Since no studies have been conducted on babies testing retinol during breastfeeding, the exact risks are unknown. We do know that consuming retinoids during pregnancy will lead to mental and physical birth defects. It is unknown how much retinol is transmitted in breast milk and if it is enough to cause harm; therefore, for the safety of the baby, it is best to avoid its use during breastfeeding.

Other skincare ingredients you should avoid while breastfeeding

Many dermatologists also recommend avoiding other skin care ingredients while breastfeeding, such as hydroquinone, chemical sunscreens, and parabens.

Hydroquinone contains a potentially cancer-causing ingredient, which led to it being banned in Europe.

Some chemical sunscreens have been tied to the disruption of hormones and interference with estrogen regulation, but it is unclear whether it is found in breast milk.

Parabens may be absorbed into the bloodstream and have been linked to endocrine problems; however, it is not known for sure if it enters the breast milk.

Safe retinol alternatives while breastfeeding

There are several safer alternatives to using retinol during breastfeeding. It is recommended to discuss these with your doctor before starting them to ensure they are safe for you. These alternatives include glycolic acid, azelaic acid, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and bakuchiol.

Glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid that exfoliates dead skin cells. It can help improve fine lines and wrinkles, fade brown spots, and unclog pores. It is generally considered safe during breastfeeding if used in lower strengths (<10%) and not on or around the nipples.

Azelaic acid

Azelaic acid is a natural compound found in certain types of grain. It can exfoliate to help fade brown spots, improve fine lines, and unclog pores. It is also an effective postpartum acne treatment.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that helps protect your skin from the sun's damaging rays. It supports collagen production to improve fine lines, wrinkles, and skin elasticity. Also, Vitamin C helps fade brown spots from sun damage.

Hyaluronic acid (HA)

Hyaluronic acid (HA) does not behave like a traditional acid. It is a natural substance present in our bodies that acts as a humectant moisturizer. HA has the incredible ability to bind 1,000 times its weight in water. Using it will immediately plump your skin and give you a more youthful appearance. HA is one of the main ingredients in many dermal fillers.


Bakuchiol is a newer anti-aging ingredient derived from plant extract. Studies have shown equal anti-aging efficacy to retinol but without the side effects of irritation and the harmful effects on the baby. It can help lighten brown spots and improve fine lines and wrinkles.

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