To Shelve Or Not To Shelve

An Anti-Aging Medicine Specialist Explains Why You Can’t Use Retinol While Breastfeeding

Yes, you’ll need to skip it for a while — but there are safe alternatives.

Originally Published: 
Women who are breastfeeding are advised not to use retinol.
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If you've recently given birth, you might've noticed that your skin doesn't have the same "glow" it did while you were pregnant. And, well, you can blame your fluctuating hormones for your postpartum acne. Stepping back into your normal skincare routine probably seems like the obvious choice to get that glow back, including using retinol. "Retinol is one of the weakest members of the retinoid family, which is why it is widely used in the skincare industry and does not require a doctor's prescription," regenerative and anti-aging medicine specialist Dr. Rosmy Barrios tells Scary Mommy. "Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives, often found in medicinal cosmetics due to their anti-acne and cell-regenerating properties." However, since it's still a powerful ingredient, there's a bit of controversy around whether it's safe to use retinol while breastfeeding.

When it comes to skincare, retinol is the Beyoncé of ingredients. It fights wrinkles and acne and helps maintain a healthy, radiant glow. Basically, it's the queen and makes us feel like one. "Retinol is probably one of the most used ingredients in cosmetics because it fights wrinkles, pigment spots, and acne," explains Barrios. You know, all the reasons you can't wait to work it back into your postpartum skincare routine. But if you're breastfeeding... can you?

Barrios breaks it all down for Scary Mommy.

Can you use retinol while breastfeeding?

As with most things regarding breastfeeding and what you could potentially pass on to your baby, it's best to err on the side of caution. And that's really what it all boils down to when it comes to the retinol conversation.

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

Why shouldn't you use retinol while breastfeeding?

Prescription retinoids and OTC retinols come in different strengths, available in 0.005% to 1% strengths. The stronger the retinol, the more transformative the results. Even though retinol does wonders for your skin, it's generally considered unsafe to use while pregnant and breastfeeding. "The recommended dose of vitamin A for pregnant women is even lower than for kids, so it is advised to avoid this ingredient," Barrios says.

While the topic of retinol while breastfeeding requires more research, Barrios explains that "it is not recommended to use this form of vitamin A or even stronger ones during pregnancy due to the risk of congenital disabilities and miscarriage." That's why dermatologists strongly advise against using retinol and retinoids during pregnancy.

Because retinol is applied topically on the skin, it's unknown how much of the ingredient will be passed along to your child through your breast milk. Again, while there is no solid research to support this, it's best to avoid it while breastfeeding as a precaution because retinol has been shown to be harmful in babies when used during pregnancy.

What can you use instead of retinol while breastfeeding?

Instead of retinol, Barrios recommends choosing other components in the products that also nourish the facial skin. "For example, AHA acids will reduce minor wrinkles, protect against acne, and be perfect for dry skin. It is also pregnancy-safe and a good choice while breastfeeding."

According to Barrios, AHAs are a pregnancy- and breastfeeding- safe alternative that supports collagen production, repairs skin damaged by photoaging, removes dead skin cells, and moisturizes. However, she cautions, "It is important to remember that this ingredient, like retinol, makes the skin more sensitive to ultraviolet rays of the sun, so it should be used in the evening. If you use AHAs during the day, it is necessary to apply sunscreen."

Another alternative she suggests is vitamin C: "It also stimulates collagen production, promotes microcirculation, and helps protect the skin from the effects of antioxidants and UV radiation. In other words, daily use of vitamin C reduces the appearance of pigment spots, prevents premature skin aging, smooths wrinkles, reduces dark circles under the eyes, and smooths acne scars."

And if these suggestions just don't cut it for you, when can you resume your retinol skin ritual?

"As soon as there is no risk to the baby's health when breastfeeding is stopped, you can gradually return to using beauty products with retinol," Barrios says.

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