Is It Safe To Use Retinol When Breastfeeding?

Plenty of people use retinol on a regular basis to improve both the look and the feel of their skin and we completely understand why. On retinol, Christopher Panzica, a licensed aesthetician from Brentwood, Tennessee, told Healthline, "When applied topically, retinols help bring your skin cells and function back to a more youthful state. This power boost helps speed up cellular turnover to keep pores unclogged, reducing acne breakouts, improves texture, fine lines, and brightness of the skin."

While that certainly sounds like the kind of benefits you may want to see from a skincare ingredient, it turns out that retinol can also lead to nasty problems. That includes redness and itchiness as well as dry spots and peeling skin. In a few cases, people may experience swelling, stinging pain, and various other forms of annoying irritation. Panzica explained, "Retinols can be a beneficial addition for most skin types, but it isn't a one-size-fits-all approach."

Board-certified dermatologist Zenovia Gabriel, M.D., confirmed that fact, telling Healthline, "[P]eople with sensitive skin conditions like rosacea cannot tolerate really strong topicals like retinols." If you happen to spend quite a bit of time outdoors and don't always remember to apply sunscreen, then you might also want to skip retinol, which can make your skin more susceptible to sun-related damage. The same goes for anyone who might be pregnant or breastfeeding due to a few very important reasons.

It's safer to give up retinol while breastfeeding

The following section includes a mention of pregnancy loss.

If you use retinol, then you likely know that one of the reasons it can perform such transformative magic on your skin is due to the fact that it's relatively powerful. That brightening, tightening strength and what's behind it can cause serious issues if you're pregnant or breastfeeding. That can involve harming the health and growth of a fetus. Beyond that, it can potentially lead to a miscarriage. Even after a baby is born, retinol can affect the well-being of the little one if you choose to breastfeed.

"Systemic retinoids, like isotretinoin, can cause birth defects, and therefore we do not recommend using retinoids of any kind during pregnancy or breastfeeding, despite minimal systemic absorption," Hadley King, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City told Verywell Family. Although it's not clear how much retinol is absorbed into the body and possibly passed onto a baby, Deanne Mraz-Robinson, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Westport, CT, pointed out, "There isn't evidence to support this; but since there isn't evidence to absolutely approve its safety, we advise against it in this patient population. The risk/reward ratio just isn't worth it" (via Verywell Family).

While that might make anyone who is — or perhaps will be — breastfeeding understandably wary of retinol, there are other skincare products that you can safely use while keeping both you and your baby safe.

You can use other skincare products while breastfeeding

Opting to breastfeed doesn't mean that you have to totally give up your skincare efforts. You might just need to make a few temporary adjustments. While you clearly need to put away your retinol for the time being, you can swap in a few alternatives that are safer options. For instance, you can start using a product that relies on good ol' vitamin C. Dr. Michelle Park of Washington Square Dermatology told The Strategist, "Used in conjunction with sunscreen, vitamin C not only has properties that boost collagen production and has a retinoid-like effect but also works as an antioxidant that helps fight sun damage."

On top of that, you might want to consider using azelaic acid while you've paused your retinol-based routine. Something that's applied to the skin works by targeting bacteria while also reducing the amount of keratin in your system. "It's my favorite topical acne treatment to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It helps clear redness and acne, as well as decrease pigment production, so it helps with the dark marks that acne can leave behind," Park added.

Of course, trying out any new skincare product comes with certain risks for anyone who's breastfeeding. That's why Dr. Jennifer MacGregor of Union Square Dermatology told The Strategist, "[G]et a recommendation from your dermatologist and check with your OB before trying to conceive or as soon as you find out you are pregnant." Ultimately, one of the best ways to support a partner who's breastfeeding (or yourself if you're breastfeeding) may boil down to helping them find safe skincare options, as retinol use may not be wise.