Between giving up that second cup of java to mourning the loss of sushi and #ThirstyThursdays, there's no denying that pregnancy is full of sacrifices — but fabulous skin doesn't have to be one of them. 

That said, to ensure the safety of your growing little one, some skincare ingredients should be avoided at all costs — retinol being one of them.

Interested in learning more? 8 Sheep Organics has you covered. Read on to discover all you need to know about the risks of using retinol during pregnancy.

Retinol 101: The Basics

Considered the gold standard in anti-aging, retinol is one of the highest performing ingredients in the beauty industry — but what exactly is it? 

While retinol is often used as a catch-all term for topical skincare products containing a vitamin A derivative, it's technically a type of retinoid — specifically, an over-the-counter (OTC) version of retinoids.

Other popular types of retinoids include:

  • Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A Palmitate) 
  • Retinaldehyde
  • Tretinoin (Retin-A or Renova)
  • Tazarotene (Tazorac)
  • Adapalene
  • Isotretinoin (Accutane)

How Does Retinol Work?

When applied topically, retinol converts into the active form of vitamin A — retinoic acid — through specialized enzymes found within the skin. This triggers the skin cells of the epidermis (aka, the outermost layer) to turnover faster so that new skin can generate, resulting in a healthy, glowing complexion. 

While this active form of retinol can be purchased with a prescription, it's much harsher than retinol creams and serums — so it's not ideal for those with especially sensitive skin.

What Are the Benefits of Retinol?

Retinol is often coveted as the holy grail of skincare. Why? Because it offers a ton of amazing benefits to the skin. Here are some of them:

Benefit #1: Improves the Appearance of Acne

According to a multitude of studies, researchers have discovered that retinol is highly effective in treating both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne. 

Benefit #2: Prevents Wrinkles

Of all the ingredients found in skincare, retinol is one of the most used and well-studied when it comes to slowing down the hands of time. Retinol does this by increasing collagen production, improving fine lines and preventing wrinkles. 

Benefit #3: Brightens Dull Skin

Retinol also helps brighten dull, tired-looking skin by calming down the skin cells that produce melanin — a dark pigment. More often than not, these cells are the culprits behind various skin conditions like melasma, which causes skin discoloration. 

Retinol's ability to turn over skin cells can make your complexion healthier and brighter!

Why Shouldn't Pregnant Women Use Retinol?

Seeing as retinol can help with everything from clearing acne to brightening dull skin, you might be tempted to use the superstar ingredient during pregnancy, but whatever you do — don't!

Trust us, we know acne can be frustrating — especially when you were hoping for a gorgeous pregnancy glow — but when tackling your skin troubles while pregnant, retinol is not the way to go. Why? 

Because retinoids, including retinol, are considered category C by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the risks can't be ruled out. Category C essentially means that animal studies have shown the ingredient to have adverse effects on a developing fetus, and there are insufficient human studies to confirm or deny these risks. With these potential risks in mind, it's easy to see why many doctors advise against retinol during pregnancy. 

Are There Any Other Risky Ingredients to Avoid?

Recently discovered that you're expecting? First and foremost — congrats! Pregnancy is such a magical time in a woman's life, and we couldn't be any more excited for you. 

That said, while you now know the dangers of using retinol on a fetus, to ensure the safety of your small bundle, you may want to consider nixing these ingredients, too:

  • Aluminum Chloride Hexahydrate — commonly found in deodorants and antiperspirants, this ingredient is not advised in high concentrations.
  • Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) — these popular acne-banishing ingredients may disrupt the skin barrier, which could leave the skin vulnerable to penetration of other substances
  • Benzoyl Peroxide — this powerful pimple fighter poses a risk to the fetus
  • Chemical Sunscreens — chemicals like avobenzone and oxybenzone in sunscreen are known hormone disruptors.
  • Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) — the side effects of DHA are not clear, so it's best to avoid
  • Formaldehyde — found in many nail polishes and hair products, formaldehyde has been linked to miscarriage.
  • Hydroquinone — this skin-lightening agent is highly absorbent, which makes it more likely for larger amounts to enter the bloodstream and harm the baby 
  • Parabens and Phthalates — these pesky ingredients are found in just about everything, but they are known endocrine disruptors that can negatively affect the reproductive system, so be sure to avoid them as best you can

Are There Alternatives to Retinol During Pregnancy?

Before you freak out about losing a staple of your skincare routine, there are many safe alternatives that you can try to keep your pregnancy glow going strong. So take a deep breath and check out these safe ingredients below:

#1: Tea Tree Oil

To soothe angry pimples and swelling, tea tree oil is an excellent choice. Not only is it safe to use during pregnancy, but it's a known antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant. In other words, it's a triple threat against acne!

If you'd like to use this healing ingredient to enhance your complexion, we recommend 8 Sheep Organic's Acne Spot Treatment. This pregnancy-safe formula contains tea tree oil to clear up acne and prevent dryness. 

#2: Witch Hazel

Whether you're dealing with oily skin, enlarged pores, or even hemorrhoids, witch hazel can help. Plus, it's safe to use while pregnant!

To help balance sebum production, reduce redness and swelling, and soothe hormonal acne, we suggest using our Calming Acne Toner. This oh-so-gentle toner is specially formulated for moms-to-be looking to achieve blemish-free and healthy skin. 

#3: Turmeric

Also known as the "golden spice," turmeric is another well-known pregnancy-safe alternative to retinol. This super spice has a long history in the skincare game and can work wonders to clear blemishes and unclog pores. 

To keep your skin clean and clear using Tumeric, we recommend checking out our Turmeric and Tea Tree Facial Cleanser. This unbelievably gentle facial cleanser was masterfully created for pregnant moms with sensitive, acne-prone skin.

#4: Vitamin C

Dealing with dark spots? Hyperpigmentation making you blue? Cheer up, buttercup, and get your hands on some vitamin C. This skin-lovin' antioxidant works beautifully to brighten the skin and prevent oxidative damage from UV rays. Oh, and the best part? It's safe to use while pregnant. 

#5: Raw Honey

Honey naturally contains a wide array of nutrients, including niacin, calcium, copper, riboflavin, iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and phosphorus. It's also jam-packed with antioxidants that may help battle the signs of premature aging. 

In addition, this pregnancy-safe ingredient is extremely hydrating for the skin, helping to retain moisture, strengthen the skin's barrier, and prevent dryness. With this in mind, we suggest using our Hydrating Facial Moisturizer. It contains raw honey to promote healing and tea tree oil to help reduce redness and swelling.

Bottom Line

When it comes to skincare, there's no denying that retinol is KING. Dubbed the gold standard in anti-aging, this superstar ingredient speeds up cell division, alters cell function, and repairs cell damage to reveal a healthy, glowing — and blemish-free — complexion. 

Due to a lack of research, retinol is unfortunately not considered safe for pregnant women. Not to worry, though, as there are many great pregnancy-safe alternatives — like tea tree oil, vitamin C, and honey — that you can rely on as you carry your little one for the next nine months!

Have questions about specific ingredients? Don’t hesitate to reach out to your OBGYN or dermatologist, who can calm your worries and lead you in the right direction to safe skincare. 


Retinol and Pregnancy | Mother Figure

FDA Pregnancy Categories | CHEMM

The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health | PMC

Do retinoids really reduce wrinkles? | Harvard Health

Fetal Retinoid Syndrome | NORD (National Organization for Rare Disorders)