Is Retin-A (Tretinoin) Safe to Use During Pregnancy?

So, you've been using Retin-A (also known as tretinoin) for your acne, and treatment is going well. You like the results you've gotten and you're happy with your treatment.

Then, a little pink line appears on a stick. And you start to wonder. Is it OK to use Retin-A while you're pregnant? Can it cause any problems for a developing fetus?

A pregnant woman sitting on a windowsill
Kelvin Murray / Stone / Getty Images

The Safety of Using Retin-A During Pregnancy

Retin-A use by pregnant women has not been extensively or adequately studied. Given its lack of a proven track record for safety in pregnant women, your healthcare provider will most likely suggest you stop using this medication during this time.

That said, the absorption of Retin-A into the body is very minimal. So, if you used tretinoin, realized you were pregnant, and then stopped, don't worry. It's very unlikely that the small amount absorbed would do anything to a developing baby.

In fact, studies on this topic indicate the risk of developing birth defects is no different in mothers that use topical tretinoin during early pregnancy compared to those who don't.

Topical tretinoin is very different from oral tretinoin and oral isotretinoin, however. There is evidence that tretinoin taken by mouth can cause harm to a developing fetus.

Isotretinoin, which is better known as Accutane, can cause severe birth defects, and should absolutely never be taken during pregnancy.

Retin-A and other topical tretinoin medications like Retin-A Micro, Renova, and Avita are drugs derived from vitamin A. High amounts of oral vitamin A have been shown to cause birth defects.

If You Learn You're Pregnant While Taking Retin-A

If you're on tretinoin and find out you're pregnant, stop using it and let your healthcare provider know.

For some lucky women, skin looks better during pregnancy. For others, being pregnant makes acne all that much worse. If you fall into the latter category, you'll probably want to continue using some type of acne treatment during these nine months.

Obviously, you need to be extra careful about which drugs you use while you're pregnant, whether they are topical or oral. Your dermatologist can revise your treatment plan and may recommend some non-drug options for you to try.

Better Acne Treatment Choices for Pregnant Women

While Retin-A treatment may be out as a treatment option, there are other acne medications that can be safely used during pregnancy.

Your healthcare provider will have plenty of pregnancy-safe suggestions for treating your acne. Some of the most common are:

A Word From Verywell

Acne treatment doesn't have to stop while you're pregnant, you just have to use a bit more care while choosing your treatments. If you find yourself pregnant while using Retin-A, stop the treatment and let your healthcare provider know. Rest easy, though, because the chance that the acne medication harmed your unborn baby is very, very low.

Although most OTC acne medications are safe to use during pregnancy, under the utmost of caution you should get your obstetrician's OK before using them. And, of course, always let your healthcare provider know you're pregnant before using any prescription acne mediation.

And know that your skin will change postpartum too. If you are going to breastfeed, also let your healthcare provider know so that you can be giving acne medications that are safe for breastfeeding moms.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Loureiro KD, Kao KK, Jones KL, et al. Minor malformations characteristic of the retinoic acid embryopathy and other birth outcomes in children of women exposed to topical tretinoin during early pregnancyAmerican Journal of Medical Genetics Part A. 2005;136A(2):117-121. doi:10.1002/ajmg.a.30744

  2. Browne H, Mason G, Tang T. Retinoids and pregnancy: an updateThe Obstetrician & Gynaecologist. 2014;16(1):7-11. doi:10.1111/tog.12075

Additional Reading

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.