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
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The Safety of Using Retin-A During Pregnancy

Retin-A is classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a Pregnancy Category C drug, meaning Retin-A use by pregnant women has not been extensively studied. So although Retin-A has not been proven safe to use during pregnancy, it has not been proven unsafe either.

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. This hasn't been proven so for topical treatments, though.

What to Do If You Learn You're Pregnant While Taking Retin-A

First, stop using Retin-A and give your doctor a call. Second, there's no need to panic.

Although Retin-A is not recommended for use during pregnancy, the good news is it's highly unlikely that your baby will be affected if you inadvertently used Retin-A before you realized you were pregnant.

Realistically, the absorption of Retin-A into the body is very minimal. So it's very unlikely that the small amount absorbed would do anything to a developing baby.

If you're still uneasy, here's some news that might put you at ease—recent studies on this topic indicate the risk of developing birth defects is no different in mothers that used topical tretinoin during early pregnancy compared to those who didn't use the medication.

Remember, though, topical tretinoin is very different from oral tretinoin and oral isotretinoin.

Oral tretinoin, meaning you take this medication by mouth, is classified as an FDA Pregnancy Category D drug (there is evidence it may cause harm to a developing fetus).

Isotretinoin, which is better known as Accutane, is an FDA Pregnancy Category X drug. Isotretinoin can cause severe birth defects, and should absolutely never be taken during pregnancy.

Obviously, you do want to be extra careful about which drugs you use while you're pregnant, whether they are topical or oral. So if you find out that you're pregnant while you're using Retin-A, stop using it and let your doctor know. Your dermatologist will decide on a further course of action for your treatment.

For some lucky women, skin looks better during pregnancy, but 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 your pregnancy.

Better Acne Treatment Choices for Pregnant Women

Since Retin-A lacks a proven track record as a good acne treatment for pregnant women, your doctor will most likely suggest you stop using this medication for the duration of your pregnancy.

While Retin-A treatment may be out, there are other acne medications that can be safely used during pregnancy. Your doctor will have plenty of pregnancy-safe suggestions for treating your acne. Some of the most common are:

Your best course of action is to talk with your dermatologist and/or obstetrician for guidance in effectively and safely treating acne for the duration of your pregnancy. 

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 doctor 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 doctor 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 doctor know so that you can be giving acne medications that are safe for breastfeeding moms.

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  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

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