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

Taking Retin-A and Found Out You're Pregnant? Here's What To Do

Photo © Microsoft
Photo © Microsoft. Photo © Microsoft

So, you've been using Retin-A (also known as tretinoin) for your acne, and things are just peachy.  You like the result you've gotten and you're happy with your treatment.

Then, a little pink line appears on a stick. 

Is Retin-A Safe to Use 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 drug 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.

But I've Been Using Retin-A and Just Found Out I'm Pregnant!

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 -- the most 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 derm 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 Moms

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 some plenty of pregnancy-safe suggestions for treating your acne. In the meantime, check out these articles:

Safely Treating Acne During Pregnancy
Why Do I Have Acne Now That I'm Pregnant?
Explanation of FDA Pregnancy Drug Categories


Loureiro KD, Kao KK, Jones KL, Alvarado S, Chavez C, Dick L, Felix R, Johnson D, Chambers CD. "Minor malformations characteristic of the retinoic acid embryopathy and other birth outcomes in children of women exposed to topical tretinoin during early pregnancy." Am J Med Genet A. 2005 Jul 15;136(2):117-21.

Bozzo P, Chua-Gocheco A, Einarson A. "Safety of skin care products during pregnancy." Can Fam Physician. 2011 June; 57(6): 665-667.