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Topical Retinol & Pregnancy

author image Rachel Nall
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.
Topical Retinol & Pregnancy
A pregnant woman applying lotion to her stomach. Photo Credit: Dean Mitchell/iStock/Getty Images

Topical retinol is a form of vitamin A you may use to keep your skin clear of pimples and reduce the effects of aging and sun damage. While the product typically might not have any effects other than a little skin redness, if you’re pregnant, retinol may adversely affect your baby. Because what you put onto your skin can go into your baby’s bloodstream, talk to your physician about possible changes to your skincare regimen.

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While your doctor may warn you against consuming caffeine, certain fish types or even deli meats, what you put on your skin is important too. This is because topical products are absorbed into your skin, and move into the bloodstream. Some oral skincare medications such as Accutane can be extremely harmful to babies and cause birth defects. While the effects of topical medications may not be widely studied, they still could potentially affect your baby’s health.


Retinoids can be sold over-the-counter in a weaker form called retinol, retinyl linoleate or retinyl palmitate. Physicians also prescribe topical retinoids such as tretinoin, tazarotene and adapelene, which are more potent. These substances work by penetrating your skin, stimulating your cells to divide more quickly and encouraging the growth of collagen, an elastic fiber in your skin. If you currently use these medications, talk to your physician about your skin conditions and health during pregnancy. This is because high dosages of vitamin A can affect an unborn child, potentially leading to birth defects, according to BabyCenter.


Don’t panic just yet if you are currently pregnant and have been using topical retinol, according to Leslie Baumann, a dermatology professor at the University of Miami. “There is no data to show these retinoid ingredients are harmful when used on the skin -- doctors are just being extra cautious,” Baumann said in an interview with BabyCenter. In the case of topical retinoids, the motto is “better safe than sorry.”


The fluctuating hormones associated with pregnancy can leave your skin glowing -- or can make you break out. When you cannot use the acne treatments you customarily count on, your acne can be embarrassing and even painful. Talk to your doctor about potential alternatives to retinols, such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Remember that the break from using topical retinols is only temporary -- and you will have a new, healthy bundle of joy as a reward.

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