Can You Use Retinol While Breastfeeding?

Retinol is clinically proven to address signs of aging and acne — 2 huge skincare concerns. But can you use an over-the-counter retinol or a prescription-strength retinoid while breastfeeding? The answer is no. Thankfully, there are effective alternatives. 

“Retinoids have not been studied during pregnancy or breastfeeding,” Dr. Jerome Potozkin, a dermatologist and author of Botox and Beyond: Your Guide to Safe, Nonsurgical, Cosmetic Procedures, told me. “We don’t know if they’re safe, so it is best to err on the side of caution and avoid them,” he continued.

“Retinoids have not been studied during pregnancy or breastfeeding.”

Retinol is a vitamin A derivative and part of the powerful retinoid family. Some studies show greater health risks for pregnant women, children, and older women who use retinoids. Carla Burns, a research analyst for EWG, explained that research suggests that excessive vitamin A may increase risk of birth defects in a developing fetus. She added: “Children can also suffer a variety of harmful effects from too much vitamin A.” While the research isn’t conclusive, if you’re pregnant or nursing, you likely want to be conservative and avoid any potential harm. 

Why You Might Use Retinol When You’re Not Breastfeeding

After speaking with various experts about retinol — including my own dermatologist — I decided to add a retinoid to my skincare regime after I finished breastfeeding my youngest daughter. The goal was to reduce the appearance of dark spots and even out my complexion. I felt I could mitigate the potential risks of retinol, like increased risk of sun damage, by applying it at night and always using a sunscreen during the day.

I began by using an over-the-counter retinol from clean beauty retailer Credo: Marie Veronique Gentle Retinol Night Serum. It left my skin noticeably brighter and acne-free. And I had no irritation. But the serum didn’t dramatically reduce the dark spots on my skin. So after 6 months, I got a prescription for tretinoin, a stronger member of the retinoid family. I did see more noticeable results with the prescription-strength retinoid after a few months.

Even though I felt retinol was a good choice for me, I’m happy I waited until I had stopped nursing. Luckily, there were effective alternatives I could use in the meantime to start improving my skin. 

Safe Alternatives to Retinol While Breastfeeding

I couldn’t start retinol until I finished breastfeeding, but I still wanted to start addressing my dark spots and signs of aging. So I tuned to bakuchiol, which I still use today alongside retinol. Bakuchiol is a plant-based retinol alternative. One clinical study found that bakuchiol improved wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, firmness, and photo-damage after 12 weeks of use. Retailer Credo has increased its stock of skincare products that feature bakuchiol. Here are some of my favorite bakuchiol products available on either Credo or Amazon.

Alpyn Beauty PlantGenius Melt Moisturizer: This is a lightweight and fresh-smelling cream that makes my skin feel tighter and smoother.

Bakuchiol Skin Restore Night Cream: I use this after letting my prescription-strength retinoid sit for at least 10 minutes.

1% Bakuchiol + Olive Squalane Oil Booster: In the morning, I apply this after cleansing and before using another moisturizer and sunscreen.

Herbivore Botanicals Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Smoothing Serum: You just need 2 or 3 drops of this serum, which should be applied to clean skin before your moisturizer and SPF.

Acure Radically Rejuvenating Dual Phase Bakuchiol Serum: This very affordable serum is great for dry and dull skin.


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