Sorting out fact from fiction in this space can be quite difficult. As you know though, everything we do at Science Skincare is based on evidence. The two key vitamin A ingredients we use are the gold standard used in medical-grade skincare (cosmeceuticals) and they are retinaldehyde (retinal) and retinyl palmitate (retinyl). We use them because they have the most active effects for reducing sun-damage, balancing oil production and reducing pigmentation whilst also being gentle on the skin.
We’ve done some in-depth research of the literature for you to ensure that any recommendations we make are safe for you and your babies. Before we start, let’s get to know retinal and retinyl a little bit better.
On the skin, both retinal and retinyl are metabolised to retinoic acid (which is a well-researched anti-aging ingredient) as well as to retinol esters (which generally get reduced during sun exposure). Compared to prescription creams containing tretinoin (Retrieve) and adapalene (Differin) they are less irritating on the skin and they are never detected in the bloodstream as all the activity is in the skin. This is why we use them in quality skincare products, they cannot affect a foetus and are not excreted in breast milk. You’ll notice too that our vitamin A serums are a golden-yellow colour. This is because high-grade ingredients are this colour! If you’re already using a vitamin A serum and it isn’t this gorgeous colour we have bad news for you, it is probably very low concentration and not achieving what you need for your skin.
So what do the experts have to say on this topic? In a high-quality systematic review and meta analysis of pregnancy outcomes following first-trimester exposure to topical retinoids, Kaplan (2015) and their colleagues found no evidence of any issues associated with retinaldehyde. In fact, no skin enzymes exist that can bind retinoic acid and transfer it to the blood stream. Only the liver can do this. (Ellenberger, 2022).
A similar conclusion was reached by Olson, Ameer and Goyle in a 2021 article on vitamin A toxicity where they say that “Topical retinoid application has not been proven to cause congenital disorders when used during pregnancy.”
Support for the use of topical vitamin A is further endorsed by the trusted MotherSafe initiative at the Royal Hospital for Women (2019), whose advice is that “Retinol in skin care products is poorly absorbed through the skin and is not anticipated to be a concern in pregnancy.”
So there you have it from the experts, the use of creams and serums that contain retinal and retinyl are safe for both pregnant and breastfeeding women. Of course, if ever you are in doubt, consult your healthcare team.
Ellenberger, J (2022). Pregnancy and Vitamin A: separating facts and fables. Pharmacy Magazine. Page 11 April 2022
Kaplan, YC et al (2015). Pregnancy outcomes following first-trimester exposure to topical retinoids: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Dermatology 173, pp1132–1141
MotherSafe – Royal Hospital for Women (2019). Vitamins and Minerals in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding.
Mukherjee, S et al (2006). Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 1(4), 327–348.
Olson JM et al (2021). Vitamin A Toxicity. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan.