Breastfeeding Safe Skincare—What to Use and Avoid When Nursing Your Baby

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When it comes to breastfeeding, there's plenty to fuss about—whether it's the latch, sore nipples, or how much milk the baby is actually getting. Add to that list: your skin and body care routine. Just like with pregnancy, there are ingredients that are considered to be "safe" to use when nursing and others that are "no-go." And of course, there is also that gray area (re: it hasn't been studied enough).

As you embark on your breastfeeding journey, you might want to know if you can go back to using your go-to prescription and over-the-counter remedies for acne, sun protection, skin spots, and more. The answers to these questions aren’t totally clear cut, because (as mentioned) not all skincare ingredients have been tested in breastfeeding populations.

There are some basic facts to know about how skincare products can affect breastfeeding. Here, we explore which ingredients it’s probably best to steer clear of and which formulas are most likely safe to use when breastfeeding. (Hint: if you're wondering if you can use retinol when breastfeeding, the answer is a hard "no.")

We reached out to experts to help us distill the “must knows” about skincare during breastfeeding so that you can make informed decisions about your postpartum skincare routine.

Skin Changes While Breastfeeding

Pregnancy and postpartum can have some pretty profound effects on your body, and that includes your skin, says Amelia Damse, DO, MPH, board certified dermatologist. “Due to hormonal changes during this period, new spots and blemishes can appear such as stretch marks, dilated blood vessels, and melasma,” she describes. “While some patients experience dryness, others may notice new onset acne.”

Some of the skin conditions you may notice, such as stretch marks and melasma (dark spots and patches), are caused by pregnancy, and will fade over the next few months. But certain conditions, like postpartum acne and dry skin, may be caused by the hormonal changes that happen during breastfeeding.

“The lower estrogen levels while breastfeeding contribute to the lack of moisture in the skin,” explains Nicole Schwartz, IBCLC, lactation consultant.

Additionally, you may notice changes to your breasts specifically. Your skin may become more sensitive than usual, your breasts may feel warm to the touch, and you may be more prone to dry skin on or near your breasts. During breastfeeding, some parents experience bacterial or fungal infections on the nipple, usually due to poor latching and cracked skin. If you believe you're experiencing this, contact your healthcare provider.

What to Know About Skincare Products and Breastfeeding

When it comes to skincare products and breastfeeding, there’s some good news. The way that breastmilk is made is by drawing nutrients from the bloodstream, so unless a skincare product makes it into the bloodstream, it’s unlikely to affect your milk.

“Most skincare products are safe as they are not readily absorbed into the bloodstream, making them safe for breastfeeding,” explains Hali Shields, IBCLC, lactation consultant and founder of Sprout Family.

Shields does recommend, however, that you keep most skincare products clear of your breasts and nipples so that your baby doesn’t ingest them (unless it’s a breastfeeding-friendly nipple cream or ointment). You also should keep in mind that any product you apply to your skin—especially near your neck, chest, and stomach area—can get on your baby’s skin while you hold them. So it’s best to always use baby-safe products in these areas also.

Hali Shields, IBCLC

Most skincare products are safe as they are not readily absorbed into the bloodstream, making them safe for breastfeeding.

— Hali Shields, IBCLC

Skincare Ingredients to Avoid

Dr. Damse agrees that the majority of skincare products are compatible with breastfeeding, with a few caveats. “While most skincare products are safe during this period, there are a few that you should steer clear of,” she says.

The main products that Dr. Damse recommends against are vitamin A derivative products, such as retinol. Moreover, she says you should generally avoid products containing salicylic acid, an ingredient in acne medication, and hydroquinone, a cream used to decrease dark skin spots. Topical salicylic acid is generally considered safe to use during pregnancy, however.

According to the Infant Risk Center at Texas Tech University, retinol, salicylic acid, and hydroquinone are some of the main skincare products contraindicated during pregnancy, because they can cause birth defects. Unfortunately, there isn’t research out there on the effects of these medications on breastfeeding, but most experts do not recommend them out of an abundance of caution.

Ingredient Spotlight

Retinol

A form of Vitamin A, retinol is an ingredient found in many skincare products. It can treat hyperpigmentation, decrease wrinkles, manage acne, increase the production of collagen in the skin, and reduce scarring.


Salicylic Acid

Many over-the-counter acne remedies have salicylic acid as the main ingredient. It’s found in nature (in white willow bark and wintergreen) but is often produced synthetically. Salicylic acid works by clearing pores, as well as decreasing oil and inflammation.


Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is an over-the-counter medication often used to treat skin conditions characterized by hyperpigmentation. It lightens the skin by blocking the enzyme that is responsible for producing melanin.

Some skincare treatments are in more of a "gray area." There is little data on them, and they are "probably" okay to use, but it's important to use them with caution, and speak to your healthcare provider before trying them.

For example, chemical peels—treatments in which chemical solutions are applied to the skin to remove and rejuvenate skin—are usually fine, says Dr. Damse. “Most superficial and medium depth chemical peels are considered to be safe during breastfeeding,” she says. 

Many chemical peels containing AHAs (alpha hydroxy acid) are safe to use, so long as you avoid the breast area. Dr. Damse recommends avoiding chemical peels containing BHAs (beta hydroxy acid). Since recommendations related to chemical peels vary widely among practitioners, she recommends consulting with your dermatologist regarding the specific peel you are interested in trying.

As for injectable medical aesthetics such as dermal fillers and botulinum toxin injections (Botox)— used to increase lost volume in the skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles, respectively—there isn’t any data yet about how these might affect breastfeeding. It's best to err on the side of caution and avoid these treatments, but talk to you specific healthcare provider if you have questions.

“The amounts used for cosmetic augmentation are so small that systemic absorption is not a concern,” she explains “Similarly, fillers used in dermatology are also injected locally.” Because of this, these medications are not absorbed into breast milk and shouldn’t be a problem, she notes.

That said, the box warning for both dermal fillers and Botox warn against using them when breastfeeding. Since there are no studies yet on the effects of these treatments on breastfeeding, it’s best to err on the side of caution. Speak with your dermatologist or plastic surgeon to learn more.

What To Know About Laser Resurfacing Skin Treatments

Laser resurfacing skin treatment is a procedure where laser technology is used to carefully remove layers of skin. It can be used to decrease wrinkles, reduce scarring, and treat skin conditions such as acne and skin damaged by the sun.


These treatments are most likely safe during breastfeeding, says Dr. Damse. “Most concerns that are addressed by these therapies are superficial blemishes such as redness, pigmentary changes, or wrinkles, and therefore the wavelengths used during these treatments do not penetrate deep enough to affect milk ducts or to affect the lactation process,” she explains.

Safe Skincare Ingredients to Use Instead

Luckily, there are more skincare products that you can safely use than ones that need to be avoided. Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise some caution, says Shields. Choosing products with gentle, natural ingredients is best.

“If a product has easy-to-read ingredients, it’s likely safe for breastfeeding,” Shields says. For example, natural ingredients that you've heard of before, like coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil, and Vitamin E, are usually safe, and can be quite nourishing for the skin, says Shields. “Always be sure to check with your dermatologist and pediatrician before beginning anything new.”

Other moisturizing ingredients that are safe for breastfeeding parents to use include glycerin, shea butter, and jojoba oil, according to Shields. As for less "natural" moisturizers, Dr. Damse says that most commercially produced moisturizers and cleansers are safe to use while breastfeeding. However, because postpartum hormones can make your skin more sensitive and irritated, it's best to stick to gentle moisturizers and cleaners.

"It is prudent to avoid unnecessary chemicals or fragrances in cosmetic products, including cleansers, moisturizers, toners, and serums," Dr. Damse suggests. "Non-comedogenic (non acne-causing), gentle, fragrance-free products are safe because they are bland and do not further irritate the skin."

If you are looking for a product that has protective and anti-aging benefits, you might consider products with Vitamin C. “Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that is safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding,” Dr. Damse explains. “It has many anti-aging benefits including minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, brightening and protecting the skin.” Vitamin C is found in many moisturizers, as well as topical serums (oil or water-based products that are more easily absorbed into the skin).

Hyaluronic acid is a substance produced naturally by our skin, eyes, and joints, and often used in skincare products to keep skin moist and prevent the effects of aging. Products with hyaluronic acid are safe to use while breastfeeding, says Dr. Damse.

As for sun protection, Dr. Damse recommends mineral sunscreen (containing zinc or titanium) over chemical sunscreens. This is because there is a chance that chemical sunscreens may be absorbed into the skin in small amounts, she explains. "While we do not yet know if this is medically significant, we do want to err on the side of caution when making recommendations for breastfeeding women," she says.

What to Use for Specific Conditions

Pregnancy and postpartum can leave you with several pesky skin conditions. If you are looking to treat them, there are breastfeeding safe ways. Our experts offered some guidance on the most breastfeeding-friendly ingredients to use to tackle these skin conditions.

Melasma

Melasma, sometimes called “the mask of pregnancy” is a condition that causes dark spots to appear on the skin. It usually fades on its own in a few months after you've had your baby.

Still, you may be wondering if there is anything you can do to hasten that process. Dr. Damse says that azelaic acid is an ingredient that can help with melasma and is also generally safe for breastfeeding. Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring ingredient found in various plants and yeast. It  can reduce melanin production, which is why it’s helpful for conditions like melasma.

Stretch Marks

Like melasma, stretch marks are an inevitable part of pregnancy for many of us. While they may look like angry red streaks soon after birth, they do fade in time, and become white in color. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that there are no data-driven methods for preventing stretch marks or removing them, but that it’s important to keep the area moist as the skin where you stretch marks can get dry and itchy.

Schwartz recommends coconut oil as a breastfeeding-safe, natural moisturizer for dry skin and stretch marks. Other safe and effective breastfeeding-safe options include shea butter, cocoa butter, and vitamin E oil, Schwartz adds.

Postpartum Acne

Due to the fluctuating hormones of postpartum and breastfeeding, many postpartum parents are stricken with a case of acne. Dr. Damse recommends trying products with niacinamide as an ingredient. Niacinamide is often found in commercially sold creams and serums. "Niacinamide is not a treatment for acne, but it is a vitamin B derivative that has anti-inflammatory properties that, in acne-prone skin, can reduce inflammation," Dr. Damse explains.

If you wish to use a prescription medication for acne, you should talk to your healthcare provider, as not all medications are safe during breastfeeding.

A Word From Verywell

It’s common to have questions about what skincare products you can use while breastfeeding. Thankfully, you don’t have to neglect your skincare needs while you are nursing your baby: with a few exceptions, most skincare products are safe to use.

That said, you should check with your healthcare provider before using a particular product. You may also consider consulting LactMed, a database sponsored by the National Library of Medicine, to find out if there is any data on specific skincare ingredients and their safety profile during breastfeeding.

16 Sources
Verywell Family 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.
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  2. World Health Organization. Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals.

  3. National Library of Medicine. Breastfeeding - skin and nipple changes.

  4. Children’s Hospital of St. Louis. Medical Animation: Breastfeeding.

  5. National Library of Medicine. Salicylic Acid. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed).

  6. National Library of Medicine. Hydroquinone. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed).

  7. The American College of Gynecologists. Skin Conditions During Pregnancy.

  8. Infant Risk Center. An Overview of the Safety of Skin Care Products During Pregnancy.

  9. Cleveland Clinic. Chemical Peels.

  10. Cleveland Clinic. Injectables.

  11. Cleveland Clinic. Laser Skin Resurfacing.

  12. National Library of Medicine. Vitamin C. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed).

  13. Cleveland Clinic. Melasma.

  14. National Library of Medicine. Azelaic Acid. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed).

  15. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. What causes stretch marks during pregnancy?

  16. Walocko FM, Eber AE, Keri JE, Al-Harbi MA, Nouri K. The role of nicotinamide in acne treatmentDermatol Ther. 2017;30(5):10.1111/dth.12481. doi:10.1111/dth.12481

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