Can I Use Bio-Oil While Breastfeeding?

Woman breastfeeding baby

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You go through dramatic physical changes when you’re pregnant, which affect every organ in your body. And the largest one of them all—your skin—is no exception. Throughout each trimester, it may have become more hydrated and healthy-looking (thereby giving you what’s known as a “pregnancy glow”). But after childbirth when your baby weight and pregnancy hormones start to fade, you may begin to notice that your skin becomes drier, less firm, and possibly striped in certain areas with stretch marks

A widely popular skincare product for just such concerns—particularly stretch marks (a.k.a. striae gravidarum)—is Bio-Oil, one of the most commonly used formulations among pregnant and postpartum people. Yet, consensus on whether or not it’s safe to use while breastfeeding may vary, depending on which side of the global pond you may live.

Like many of the things you had to avoid while you were pregnant, according to differing opinions—and regulatory agencies—if you’re breastfeeding your infant, a return to an off-limit fave like Bio-Oil may still have to wait.

Whether or not you’ve used it before, or are merely intrigued by all the skin benefits it boasts, the safety of using Bio-Oil while breastfeeding is a maternal conundrum that’s still up for debate. To help get more clarity on the subject, we tapped two board-certified dermatologists for their expert opinions. Ahead, learn what they have to say about the safety of using Bio-Oil while breastfeeding.

What Is Bio-Oil?

Bio-Oil is a facial and body skincare oil that originated in Europe that then went on to take customers all over the world by storm. Although it’s not specifically made for pregnant and breastfeeding people, Bio-Oil has garnered a reputation for being a “holy grail” remedy for stretch marks, especially in perinatal individuals, as Amelia K. Hausauer, MD, FAAD, a board-certified, cosmetic fellowship-trained dermatologist and director of dermatology & minimally invasive aesthetics at AESTHETX in Campbell, Calif., puts it. 

“Bio-Oil is a multipurpose product combining a number of plant oils and vitamins that typically serve as antioxidants,” she says. “Together, these ingredients work to optimize skin health and generally diminish the appearance of several common concerns such as skin tone, scars, stretch marks, dryness, and aging.”

Also known as Bi-Oil and Biol, depending on where it’s distributed internationally, Bio-Oil describes itself as a “specialist skin treatment,” specifically formulated to maximize skin elasticity and reduce the formation of stretch marks, as well as improve the look of new and old scars. And it’s especially lauded for its ability to support and hydrate skin during rapid periods of growth, such as while pregnant. 

Neda Mehr, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and medical director at Pure Dermatology Cosmetic & Hair Center, in Newport Beach, Calif., concurs. “Bio-Oil is a popular over-the-counter beauty oil that markets itself to pregnant females as a stretch mark prevention oil,” she adds. “During pregnancy, it lists on its ‘How to Use’ guide to ‘apply it twice daily from the start of the second trimester.’”

It’s so raved about in the maternal world that, as a mother of two boys, even Dr. Mehr distinctly remembers almost hopping on the Bio-Oil bandwagon as she witnessed her baby belly growing. And who could blame her? A 4.5-star rating out of nearly 112K customer reviews on Amazon doesn’t materialize out of just nowhere. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean there shouldn’t be cause for concern.

Is It Safe to Use Bio-Oil While Breastfeeding?

The safety debate regarding many beauty products that are suspect during pregnancy often translates to breastfeeding as well. But the case of using Bio-Oil while breastfeeding isn’t so clear-cut.

The company touts that its skin-smoothing, toning, hydrating formulation is “100%” safe to use if you breastfeed. They base this claim on an official safety assessment conducted by the Regulation of the European Parliament and Council on Cosmetic Products—totally legit organizations. However, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. happens to disagree. Who’s call is correct or might not be is the core of the Bio-Oil breastfeeding safety debate. 

The issue lies in the differing ways in which European and American regulators go about defining their safety standards. In Europe, the type and amount of potentially harmful ingredients in Bio-Oil that your skin would be exposed to on a day-to-day basis aren’t considered to be enough to be dangerous for you or your baby. Here in the U.S., the FDA classifies the safety of ingredients using a different scale.

Per the FDA’s safety classifications, which include A, B, C, D, and X, with A and B being considered completely safe and X being extremely harmful, Bio-Oil falls smack dab in the middle with a C rating. This means that the harmful effects of its usage during pregnancy or breastfeeding are unknown, and therefore its perinatal use is advised against.

Dr. Mehr elaborates that multiple ingredients in Bio-Oil are concerning according to the FDA’s scale, including retinyl palmitate, a vitamin A derivative, which is commonly known as retinol, tretinoin, or Retin-A. “This effectively means that risk to the fetus cannot be ruled out,” she cautions. “[Therefore], most dermatologists would agree that this class of beauty products should be avoided during pregnancy and [breastfeeding].”   

Given that Bio-Oil is a savvy global manufacturer and retailer, they seem to have heeded the FDA guidelines in a sense—at least with regards to a key non-breastfeeding-safe ingredient. Dr. Hausauer gives us the lowdown. 

“2020 saw the release of a Bio-Oil (Natural) scar and stretch mark product made from 100% natural oils,” she tells us. Despite the new formulation omitting any retinoids, she affirms, “In company testing, [Bio-Oil (Natural)] performed as well as the original.”

As for the parenthetical use of “natural” in the product name, Dr. Hausauer explains that in the beauty and skincare world, the word “natural” is a catchall with no standard regulation, allowing brands to define the term as they wish. Bio-Oil designates its product as being “natural” due to it being free of fragrance, preservatives, parabens, phthalates, phytoestrogens, and steroids. (Note: If this safe-or-not-safe discussion has got your head spinning, you’re far from alone.)

Every pregnancy is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about using Bio-Oil while breastfeeding.

Benefits of Using Bio-Oil While Breastfeeding 

Safety conundrums aside for a moment, Bio-Oil likely wouldn’t have as many die-hard devotees if they weren’t impressed by its skincare benefits. When it comes to improving the look of skin on your breasts, it makes sense why so many people swear by it—breastfeeding or not. 

Improving Stretch Marks & Hydration

Bio-oil has many touted benefits when it comes to stretch marks. “[Bio-Oil] is used to help treat stretch marks that may have developed during pregnancy and to keep the skin hydrated,” Dr. Hausauer expounds. “Engorged breasts can be one area that striae may occur in some people, so careful treatment is an option.”

Though, echoing a warning on the actual product page, she warns against applying it near the area on or around your nipples, as well as anywhere else your baby may suckle.

Calming & Restorative

Similarly, Dr. Mehr points out that the expansion of your belly while pregnant causes tension on your skin cells and increases their production to keep up with your body’s demands. “Using a hydrating oil could be very useful to prevent itching and discomfort from this process.” The formula also contains antioxidant chamomile oil and vitamins, among various essential oils, which are known to be soothing and reparative to your skin.

Safety Precautions 

No matter which regulatory authority you find most convincing—the American or European ones—it’s always best to speak with a healthcare provider to discuss any safety measures you should follow should you choose to use Bio-Oil while breastfeeding.

In addition to avoiding applying it to your nipples, surrounding areas, or other places your baby may accidentally ingest it, there is also a small risk of developing a contact allergy. This is because, in rare cases and high concentrations, some people may develop an allergic reaction to essential oils, especially if you have an existing skin condition, such as atopic dermatitis, or have had reactions to topical skincare in the past.

Breastfeeding-Safe Alternatives 

Finally, if you’re not the gambling type, both of our experts have some breastfeeding-safe skincare tips you can try, particularly if your breasts feel uncomfortable, irritated, or chafed.

Dr. Mehr recommends extra virgin coconut oil, a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial hydrating oil to soothe and protect your delicate skin. She also encourages remembering a straightforward skincare edict: “Less is often better...especially when it comes to what we eat, medications we ingest, aggressive exercises or movements we perform, and, of course, beauty and skincare products we put on our bodies.”

Likewise, Dr. Hausauer advocates a minimalist approach, while emphasizing the importance of caring for your breast and nipple skin when breastfeeding. Firstly, she advises washing your breasts and nipples daily with warm water and gentle soap. “[Then], treat or prevent nipple tenderness by using a safe nipple cream or even drops of your breast milk, which contain skin softeners and antibodies to prevent infection, and air dry.”

Dr. Hausauer reiterates the importance of discussing specific products with a healthcare provider—for safety, yes—but also to avoid formulas that can clog your milk ducts or irritate your skin. “Purified lanolin (unless you have an allergy) or hydrogel pads are two common options to soothe nipples [and breast skin].”

A Word From Verywell

Much like so many moments in parenthood, sometimes, there are just no easy answers. If you’re considering using Bio-Oil while breastfeeding to help hydrate, tone, and smooth your skin while reducing the appearance of stretch marks, always consult with a healthcare provider, since there may be some risks involved. They’ll be able to give you the best advice tailored specifically to your and your baby’s unique situation and needs.

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6 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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