Can you use retinol during pregnancy? Experts break down the risks

If your skincare routine includes topical retinol, you already know what a miracle worker it can be when it comes to smoothing fine lines, fighting acne, and giving you glowing skin. . But what you put on your skin has the potential to enter your bloodstream, so it’s important to carefully consider the skin care products you use during pregnancy and the ingredients they contain. If you’re pregnant, you might be wondering if you can use retinol while pregnant, because you’d hate having to put the product on hold temporarily.

The short answer is this: most experts would say no, it’s not safe to use retinol during pregnancy, and it’s advisable to leave it out of your skincare routine if you try. also to conceive or breastfeed. “Synthetic oral retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A, are known to cause birth defects and premature labor,” Dr. Cybele Fishman, a board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC, told Romper. But others, including Marmur Medical board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rachel Maiman, whom we interviewed for this article, take a different approach, saying a little topical retinol in moderation may be fine.

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

What is Retinol?

Retinol is an ingredient derived from vitamin A, and it does a lot for the skin (we’ll get to its benefits in a bit).

“Retinol is a type of retinoid. The term “retinoid” most often describes stronger prescription products, while retinol typically refers to weaker over-the-counter formulas. However, their mechanisms of action and multitude of skincare benefits are the same,” Maiman told Romper. If you’ve ever heard of the acne medication Accutane, it’s actually a powerful oral retinoid (known to cause birth defects). But here we’re talking about topical retinol (a slightly milder version of which is called retinyl palmitate) and can be found in cleansers, serums, moisturizers or oils, or on its own as a treatment. And from collagen production to helping stop acne in its tracks, the ingredient is powerful for the skin.

What are the benefits of retinol?

Retinol is kind of like the triple threat in skincare; he really can do anything.

Sergei Mironov / Getty images

As Maimar explains, retinol increases skin cell turnover, reduces hyperpigmentation, and helps prevent skin cells from clogging pores. “[Retinoids] are particularly 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 visible fine lines and wrinkles over time,” he adds. -she.

Some people don’t realize that retinol is also a powerful acne fighter (it shows up in common acne treatments, like Differin gel). It helps unclog pores, revealing clearer skin and smooth texture.

Retinol & pregnancy

Most experts will say that retinol is not considered safe for pregnancy, and many doctors agree with this position. According to Fishman, topical retinoids, including retinol, are considered Category C by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), which means animal studies have shown a risk to the fetus, but there are no well-controlled studies in women (largely because it is ethically difficult to conduct studies on pregnant women). “For this reason, we recommend avoiding all topical retinoids during pregnancy,” says Fishman.

However, some doctors, including Maimar, may take a more lenient stance on topical retinoids (oral forms of the ingredient, including Accutane, should never be taken by anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding). An under-quoted part of Category C is that products and drugs that fall into this category may have “potential benefits [which] may justify the use of the drug in pregnant women despite the potential risks.

“The general guideline is to discontinue retinol use during pregnancy,” Maimar told Romper. However, this is all theoretical and the harmful effects of topical retinol on a fetus have never really been proven. Oral retinoids, like isotretinoin (Accutane), definitely cause birth defects, and that’s where concerns have arisen about the impact a topical form might have.

She says there is no data to support that topical forms of retinol are dangerous in pregnancy, and most evidence points to low systemic absorption of retinol applied to the skin, which means a low risk. for the fetus.

“Really, we don’t recommend retinol in pregnancy for the same reason we don’t recommend most things in pregnancy — there isn’t enough substantiated data to prove it’s safe,” Maimar says. . “But there’s not enough data to show it’s harmful, so keep that in mind. The reason that data doesn’t exist is because nobody wants to line up a group of pregnant women and risk their unborn children for the sake of science. So most of us say to avoid things that you don’t know for sure are okay.

So if you accidentally use a product containing retinol during your pregnancy (sometimes it’s hidden in cleansers or oils where you wouldn’t expect it) or if your OB-GYN thinks it’s safe, you don’t have not to panic.

What can I use instead of retinol during pregnancy?

It’s understandable that you’re sad to have to put away your favorite ingredient while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, but the good news is that there are other pregnancy-safe ingredients that work much like 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.

Naturium Azelaic Acid Topical 10%

Amazon

This pregnancy-safe serum helps brighten skin, reduce redness and fade dark spots. In addition to azelaic acid, it contains niacinamide, vitamin C, coffee seed extract and it is cruelty-free, paraben-free, gluten-free, fragrance-free, vegan and non-toxic.

If stubborn hormonal acne is your skin problem during pregnancy, 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 all safe for skin. pregnancy.

You may have heard that bakuchiol is basically a pregnancy-safe, plant-based retinol dupe. There is some truth in that; a 2014 study in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science found that bakuchiol, while not chemically similar to retinol, produces similar effects with respect to fine lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, elasticity, firmness and reduced photo-damage. However, before you rush out to buy it, know that (like retinol) opinions are divided on whether bakuchiol is safe for pregnancy.

“I don’t routinely recommend bakuchiol as a pregnancy-safe alternative to retinol for my patients,” Maimar told Romper. “First, it’s important to note that while Bakuchiol has been considered a safe, plant-derived retinol for pregnancy, there are no large-scale trials to back this up. most studies on the anti-aging effect [of bakuchiol] excluded pregnant women. There is also conflicting data regarding its potential to be a hormone disruptor and estrogen mimetic. In my opinion, there are other alternatives to retinol, depending on the indication, which I can more confidently say are safe for my pregnant patients, making bakuchiol an unnecessary recommendation in my practice. These include ingredients like azelaic acid, kojic acid, low concentration glycolic acid, niacinamide, tranexamic acid and vitamin C.”

If you’re following good practice while pregnant, I completely understand, and you’ll probably want to skip retinol (and bakuchiol for that matter) if you’re expecting or breastfeeding and even if you’re TTC. And if you really want to continue using it topically, talk to your doctor about what they think makes sense. You may be able to use it again eventually, but in the meantime, there are other pregnancy-safe skin care ingredients that help achieve clear, radiant skin.

Studies cited:

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

Sources interviewed:

Dr. Cybele Fishman, Certified Dermatologist by Advanced Dermatology PC

Dr. Rachel Maiman, Marmur Medical Board Certified Dermatologist

About Sally Dominguez

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