What to use instead of retinol during pregnancy (2023)

If your skincare routine includes topical retinol, you already know how wonderful it can be to smooth fine lines, fight acne, and give you glowing skin. But what you put on your skin has the potential to enter your bloodstream, so it's important to keep an eye on itSkin care products you use during pregnancyand the ingredients contained therein. If you are pregnant, you may be wondering whether you can use retinol while pregnant because you are reluctant to keep the product temporarily.

The short answer is most experts will say no, it's not safe to use retinol while pregnant and it's recommended to keep it out of your skincare routine if you're also trying to conceive or breastfeed. "Synthetic oral retinoids derived from vitamin A are known to cause birth defects and preterm labor."Doctor Fischmann cibeles, a PC board-certified advanced dermatology dermatologist told Romper. But also othersDoctor A.S. Raquel, wherever you are, dermatologist certified inMedicinal Marble, who we interviewed for this article, takes a different tack, saying that a little topical retinol in moderation can be okay.

Here, two dermatologists answer all your questions about pregnancy and retinol, including what to use.

What is retinol?

Retinol is a vitamin A-derived ingredient that does a lot for your skin (more on its benefits in a moment).

“Retinol is a type of retinoid. The term "retinoid" generally describes stronger prescription products, while retinol generally refers to weaker over-the-counter (OTC) formulations. However, their mechanisms of action and numerous skincare benefits are the same,” Maiman tells Romper. If you've heard of the acne drug Accutane, it's actually a powerful oral retinoid (known to cause birth defects). But we're talking about topical retinol (a slightly milder version of something called retinyl palmitate) and it can be found in cleansers, serums, moisturizers or oils, or simply as a treatment. And from collagen formation to acne prevention, the ingredient is a skin powerhouse.

What Are the Benefits of Retinol?

Retinol is like the triple threat to skincare; you can really do anything.

(Video) 5 Alternatives to Retinol | USE THESE INSTEAD OF RETINOL | Dr Dray

As Maimar explains, retinol increases skin cell turnover, reduces hyperpigmentation, and helps prevent skin cells from clogging pores. "[Retinoids] are particularly well known for their anti-aging properties, which stem from their ability to directly stimulate the production of new collagen and elastin, which thickens the skin and leads to less noticeable fine lines and wrinkles over time." , he adds.

What some people don't know is that retinol is also a powerful acne fighter (it's found in popular acne treatments like Differin Gel). Helps unclog pores revealing clearer skin and smoother texture.

retinol and pregnancy

Most experts will tell you that retinol is not considered safe for pregnancy, and many doctors agree with this position. According to Fishman, topical retinoids, including retinol, are being consideredKategorie C der US Food and Drug Administration.(FDA), meaning animal studies have shown a risk to the fetus, but there are no well-controlled studies in women (mainly because it is ethically difficult to conduct studies in pregnant women). "For this reason, we recommend avoiding all topical retinoids during pregnancy," says Fishman.

However, some physicians, including Maimar, may take a softer stance on topical retinoids (oral forms of the ingredient, including Accutane, should do soNevertaken by pregnant or breastfeeding persons). A rarely cited part of category C is that products and drugs that fall into this category "may have potential benefits [that] may justify use of the drug in pregnant women despite potential risks".

"The general guideline is to stop using retinol during pregnancy," Maimar tells Romper. However, this is all theoretical and the harmful effects of topical retinol on an unborn child have never really been proven. Oral retinoids like isotretinoin (Accutane) definitely cause birth defects and concerns have been raised about the effects a topical form might have.”

She says there's no data to support the fact that topical forms of retinol are dangerous during pregnancy, and if that's the case, most evidence points to poor systemic absorption of retinol applied to the skin, which means a low risk to the fetus.

(Video) Skin care products during pregnancy: Q&A| Dr Dray 👶

"We really don't recommend retinol during pregnancy for the same reason we don't recommend most things during pregnancy: There's not enough proven data to show it's harmless," says Maimar. "But there's also not enough data to show it's harmful, so keep that in mind." The reason this data doesn't exist is because nobody wants to assemble a group of pregnant women and risk their unborn children for science. So most of us say we should avoid things we don't know for sure are okay."

So if you accidentally use a product that contains retinol (sometimes it's hidden in cleansers or oils where you wouldn't expect it) during pregnancy, or if your gynecologist thinks it's safe, don't panic.

What can I use instead of retinol during pregnancy?

It's understandable if you're sad about missing out on your favorite ingredient while pregnant or breastfeeding, but the good news is that there are other pregnancy-safe ingredients that work similarly to retinol.

At Romper, we only include products that have been independently selected by our editors. We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

If stubborn hormonal acne is your pregnancy skin concern, Fishman recommends azelaic acid, zinc, glycolic acid, and niacinamide. For fine lines or anti-aging, she says that in addition to bakuchiol, glycolic acid and topical antioxidants (like vitamin C, green tea, rosehip, or resveratrol) are also safe for pregnancy.

You may have heard that bakuchiol is basically a plant-based pregnancy-safe clone of retinol. There is some truth in that; a 2014 study in theInternational Journal of Cosmetic Sciencesfound that while chemically dissimilar to retinol, bakuchiol produces similar effects when it comes to fine lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, firming, and reducing photodamage. Before you buy, however, be aware that (as with retinol) there are mixed opinions as to whether or not bakuchiol is safe for pregnancy.

"I don't routinely recommend bakuchiol as a safe pregnancy alternative to retinol for my patients," Maimar tells Romper. "First, it's important to note that while bakuchiol is listed as a safe herbal retinol for pregnancy, there have not been large studies to determine this. Most studies looking at the anti-aging effects [of bakuchiol] excluded pregnant women. There is also conflicting data on its potential to be a hormone disrupter and an estrogen mimic. In my opinion, depending on the indication, there are other alternatives to retinol that I can say with greater confidence are safe for my pregnant patients, making bakuchiol an unnecessary recommendation in my practice. These include ingredients such as azelaic acid, kojic acid, glycolic acid in low concentrations, niacinamide, tranexamic acid and vitamin C."

(Video) Dermatologist Shares Skincare Ingredients to Avoid During Pregnancy & Ones to Try! | Dr. Sam Ellis

If you really do play by the rules in your pregnancy, I completely understand that, and you'll probably want to skip the retinol (and bakuchiol) if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, and even if you're TTC. And if you really want to continue using it topically, talk to your doctor about what you think makes sense. Eventually you can use it again, but in the meantime there are others.Pregnancy-safe skincare ingredientsto help you achieve clear, radiant skin.

Cited Studies:

Chaudhuri R et al. (2014). Bakuchiol: A retinol-like functional compound identified by gene expression profiling and clinically proven to have anti-aging effects. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ics.12117

Questioned sources:

Doctor Fischmann cibeles, Certified Dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC

Doctor A.S. Raquel, wherever you are, dermatologist certified inMedicinal Marble


What can I use in place of retinol when pregnant? ›

Park says azelaic acid makes a fantastic substitute for retinols. “It's my favorite topical acne treatment to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding,” she says.

Is there an alternative to retinol? ›

Notable examples of retinol alternatives are plant-based bakuchiol, botanical vitamin A-like ingredients such as vigna aconitifolia (moth bean) seed extract, maclura cochinchinensis leaf prenylflavonoids, and nature-identical noreugenin, which is present in medicinal rhubarb.

Can you not use retinol when pregnant? ›

Retin-A, retinol, and retinyl palmitate: Though it also resides in FDA category C, which technically means risk to the fetus cannot be ruled out, Albert Sassoon, MD, an ob-gyn in Manhattan, says this family of products is to be avoided at all costs.

What products can you use on your face while pregnant? ›

Skin Care Products That Are Safe During Pregnancy
  • Gentle, fragrance-free cleansers and moisturizers.
  • Hyaluronic acid (a moisturizer with pregnancy-safe anti-aging properties)
  • Benzoyl Peroxide (safe in limited amounts, but it is recommended to check with your dermatologist first before using)
Aug 24, 2022

Is hyaluronic acid OK for pregnancy? ›

The use of hyaluronic acid during pregnancy is considered safe and can be used liberally.

What to use if your skin can t tolerate retinol? ›

  1. Hyaluronic acid.
  2. Retinol.
  3. Vitamin C.
  4. Niacinamide.
  5. Glycolic acid.
  6. Salicylic acid.
  7. Ceramides.
  8. Bakuchiol.
Mar 2, 2022

What is a natural retinoid? ›

Natural retinoids are present in all living organisms, either as preformed vitamin A or as carotenoids, and are required for a vast number of biological processes, e.g. vision, cellular growth and differentiation and reproduction.

Can I use hyaluronic acid instead of retinol? ›

Two of the most common products used to keep skin in excellent condition are hyaluronic acid and retinol. What should a person use between hyaluronic acid or retinol? Hyaluronic acid is best if they're looking to moisturize dry skin, while retinol works better by encouraging better skin by boosting collagen production.

What if I used retinol before I knew I was pregnant? ›

Despite the low risk suggested by these studies, experts still suggest pregnant women avoid applying vitamin A-based formulations to their skin during early pregnancy. On the other hand, if you have used a cosmetic containing a retinol or a similar vitamin A-like compound during pregnancy, there's no need to panic.

What happens when you stop using retinol? ›

If you stop retinol and do not begin a prescription retinoid, the benefit of preventing acne will go away. The skin cycle of cells being “born” at the base of the skin and moving to the top, dying and desquamating into the surrounding environment takes about 4-6 weeks.

Can I use vitamin C serum while pregnant? ›

Is It Safe to Use Vitamin C in Skincare During Pregnancy? "Vitamin C is a great and safe ingredient to use while pregnant,” confirms Dr. Nazarian. “Thankfully, it's a super safe ingredient, and works well with other products in most basic skincare regimens, such as sunscreen.”

How can I get flawless skin during pregnancy? ›

Instead use natural products such as aloe vera gel, almond oil, and coconut oil to keep your skin soft, supple, healthy and nourished. *Your body needs to stay hydrated all the time, especially now, to prevent your skin from drying out. This will also help flush out all the toxins from your body.

What is the best face cream to use while pregnant? ›

The ACOG endorses glycolic and azelaic acid as safe to treat acne during pregnancy, in addition to topical benzoyl peroxide and topical salicylic acid.

What skincare brand is best for pregnancy? ›

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser

This cleanser, which many dermatologists (including those we spoke to for this piece) recommend to their patients, is perfect for pregnant people looking for a gentle option for washing their face and removing makeup.

What serums can you not use while pregnant? ›

Beauty Products and Skincare Ingredients to Avoid While Pregnant
  • Retin-A, Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate. These vitamin A derivatives and others can lead to dangerous birth defects. ...
  • Tazorac and Accutane. ...
  • Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic acids. ...
  • Essential Oils. ...
  • Hydroquinone. ...
  • Aluminum chloride. ...
  • Formaldehyde. ...
  • Chemical Sunscreens.
Jul 31, 2018

What serums are safe during pregnancy? ›

Anti-ageing products with vitamin C, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and peptides are generally considered safe for use during pregnancy – there's no research proving they're a problem for topical use.

Is CeraVe safe for pregnancy? ›

For Dr. Nava Greenfield of Schweiger Dermatology Group in Brooklyn, moisturizers that are not anti-aging, which she says would likely contain an acid, are fine to use during pregnancy. She recommends Cerave moisturizer and SkinCeuticals' Triple Lipid cream, which she cautions is pricey.

Can I use vitamin C instead of retinol? ›

While vitamin C is most notable for helping to brighten and improve hyperpigmentation, retinol is typically considered best-in-class for wrinkles and fine lines. And if you really want to give your skin a one-two punch to get noticeably healthier, you can certainly try incorporating both into your routine.

What is the least irritating retinol? ›

"Although it has impressive skin benefits, tretinoin is known to cause redness, irritation and burning, especially on those with more sensitive skin," Wnek says. What is the mildest, most gentle form of retinol? Retinyl palmitate is the lightest and most gentle form.

Is vitamin C as good as retinol? ›

So, should I use vitamin C or retinol for wrinkles? Well, when it comes right down to it, the choice is really in what you're looking to do for your skin. While vitamin C is incredible for the skin because of its ability to help brighten and improve hyperpigmentation, the best active ingredient for wrinkles is retinol.

What food has the most retinol? ›

Vitamin A1, also known as retinol, is only found in animal-sourced foods, such as oily fish, liver, cheese, and butter.
Here are some of the best sources of vitamin A1.
  1. Beef liver, cooked. ...
  2. Lamb liver, cooked. ...
  3. Liver sausage (liverwurst) ...
  4. Cod liver oil. ...
  5. King mackerel, cooked. ...
  6. Salmon, cooked. ...
  7. Bluefin tuna, cooked.
Dec 23, 2022

What oil has natural retinol? ›

Rosehip Oil is a natural retinol because it contains natural retinoic acid. The kind of vitamin A found in rosehip oil is more beneficial than retinol on its own. This is because your skin will recognize it straight away, so it won't need the time to convert.

What essential oils work like retinol? ›

Frankincense, revered in ancient times in places like Egypt and India, is the natural replacement for retinol. Frankincense rapidly increases cellular turnover, which means it quickly causes the skin to produce healthier cells to replace aging cells. This effect speedily minimizes the signs of wrinkles and scars.

Which is better collagen or retinol? ›

There is no doubt about it that retinol is significantly stronger than collagen. This is because retinol penetrates down deep into your skin, tricking your body into thinking it's younger than it is.

Which is better retinol or niacinamide? ›

Retinol has similar benefits, but it's stronger than niacinamide. It's also known to cause irritation, redness, and dry skin. Pairing the two ingredients is safe and can make retinol easier to use. Niacinamide helps hydrate the skin, which reduces the risk of irritation caused by retinol.

What is better glycolic acid or retinol? ›

Is glycolic acid or retinol better for acne scarring? Simply put: retinols. They work at a deeper level than glycolic acid to stimulate collagen and elastin production to smooth the skin's surface and improve texture and tone.

Does retinol cross the placenta? ›

Vitamin A (retinol) and its active derivatives (retinoic acids) are essential for growth and development of the mammalian fetus. Maternally derived retinol must pass the placenta to reach the developing fetus.

How long before getting pregnant should you stop retinoids? ›

To help reduce the risk of birth defects, don't try to get pregnant 1 month before taking tretinoin, while taking tretinoin and for 1 month after you stop taking it.

When should I stop taking retinoids during pregnancy? ›

In months 4 through 9, the baby's body and brain are growing. Tretinoin use in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters is less likely to cause a birth defect. However, until more information is available, avoiding this product throughout pregnancy may be the best course of action.

Is retinol really necessary? ›

Retinol is a powerful tool against aging skin and acne, but it's not for everyone. If you're prone to allergies or have sensitive skin, you might want to try skincare products with alternative anti-aging or skin-clearing ingredients.

Do retinoids cause birth defects? ›

Maternal use of synthetic vitamin A (retinoids) such as isotretinoin (Accutane) during pregnancy can result in multiple effects on the developing embryo and fetus including miscarriage, premature delivery and a variety of birth defects.

How long can you take a break from retinol? ›

It's best to start with a retinyl palmitate or retinol, and to try it for three months and then have a three month break. This is due to research that suggests cell turnover is no longer increased after three months of usage.

Is glycolic acid OK to use during pregnancy? ›

Glycolic acid is an AHA that is considered safe to use in pregnancy. Choose a glycolic acid that is 7% concentration or lower for safe use in pregnancy. Lactic acid is another AHA that is safe in pregnancy.

Can I use salicylic acid while pregnant? ›

Yes, people can safely apply products containing salicylic acid once or twice a day during pregnancy. Cleansers and toners commonly include this ingredient. However, doctors recommended using products containing salicylic acid no stronger than 2 percent. Salicylic acid is a type of beta hydroxy acid (BHA).

How do you exfoliate your face when pregnant? ›

For the Face

Dry brushing is great for the body, but for your face, think about using a gentle cloth as a physical smoothing tool. Massage your skin with it when removing a cold cream or face mask. Or you can also shop for cleansers or scrubs that have all-natural granules or powders in them.

What can I use instead of salicylic acid during pregnancy? ›

Glycolic Acid

For another alternative to salicylic acid, Dr. Engelman suggests glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that's derived from sugarcane. “It's an effective anti-acne ingredient that's safe to use during pregnancy,” she says.

Can I use retinol and vitamin C while pregnant? ›

Retinoids, like retinol, can severely impact your baby's development when you're pregnant or breastfeeding. So, if you're a fan of using retinoids, and disheartened by having to set them aside for the safety of your baby, rest assured, you can safely swap vitamin C into your routine instead.

How can I moisturize my skin during pregnancy? ›

Natural Remedies for Dry Skin During Pregnancy
  1. Use cooking oils.
  2. Make your own soap.
  3. Try yogurt.
  4. Take a milk bath.
  5. Limit shower time.
  6. When to see a doctor.

What skincare not to use when pregnant? ›

Beauty Products and Skincare Ingredients to Avoid While Pregnant
  • Retin-A, Retinol and Retinyl Palmitate. These vitamin A derivatives and others can lead to dangerous birth defects. ...
  • Tazorac and Accutane. ...
  • Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic acids. ...
  • Essential Oils. ...
  • Hydroquinone. ...
  • Aluminum chloride. ...
  • Formaldehyde. ...
  • Chemical Sunscreens.
Jul 31, 2018

Is there a natural version of salicylic acid? ›

Natural salicylic acid-USP AMI is obtained by an eco-responsible manufacturing process from the essential oil of wintergreen obtained after distillation of the leaves. This essential oil, concentrated in methyl salicylate, is then hydrolyzed to isolate salicylic acid, which is completely natural.


1. Pregnancy Skincare: Dos and Don'ts | Dr. Shereene Idriss
(Dr. Shereene Idriss)
2. Vitamin A and Pregnancy: Should You Worry? | Chris Masterjohn Lite #127
(Chris Masterjohn, PhD)
3. My Pregnancy Skincare Routine (Morning & Night) | Susan Yara
(Susan Yara)
4. DOCTOR V - Pregnancy Anti-Aging for Skin of Colour | Brown/ Black skincare pregnancy skin care
(Dr. Vanita Rattan )
5. Retinoid Alternatives for Pregnancy
(Dr. Mamina)
6. Pregnancy safe skincare 🤰 #shorts


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