Beware Moms: 35 Skincare Ingredients To Avoid While Breastfeeding

| Reviewed By Sarah Schulze, MSN, APRN, CPNP

During pregnancy or breastfeeding, it is important to continue caring for your skin. It is advised to steer clear of these 35 skincare ingredients in order to maintain the health of yourself and your baby.

1. Retinol

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A. You’ll want to avoid using skincare products with retinol because this ingredient could cause congenital defects.

During pregnancy, high doses of retinol and other retinoids can result in birth irregularities.

While over-the-counter skincare products typically have a smaller amount of retinoids, you should ask your medical provider for a different product if you need a prescription for your skin care.

2. Retin-A

Retin-A is also a retinoid that some women use to treat acne. Even though levels of Retin-A are minimal in most skincare products, you should avoid putting lotions and other products with Retin-A directly on your breasts.

Some side effects of Retin-A include peeling of the skin, itchiness, and irritation.

3. Retinoic Acid

Retinol converts to retinoic acid and can improve your skin’s appearance after damage from aging, scarring, and acne.

Skincare products with retinoic acid have the potential to cause birth defects, skin irritation, and development issues among unborn and newborn babies.

It’s best to avoid products with retinoic acid and other retinoids for the duration of your pregnancy and breastfeeding journey.

4. Retinyl Linoleate

Retinyl linoleate has been banned or deemed unsafe for skincare products, yet some creams still contain this ingredient.

Studies link retinyl linoleate with developmental and reproductive toxicity as well as an increased risk of cancer.

5. Retinyl Palmitate

Retinyl palmitate is also a retinoid, a derivative of vitamin A. Oral retinyl palmitate can cause complications in pregnancy and early development.

Even though topical retinyl palmitate is safer than oral, it’s best to avoid it in skincare products to maintain the health of your baby during breastfeeding.

6. Vitamin A Derivatives

Vitamin A derivatives are any of the retinoids listed above. The body converts vitamin A to retinoic acid to repair the skin.

When taken during breastfeeding or pregnancy, vitamin A derivatives can cause developmental issues, cancer, and other complications.

7. Tretinoin

Tretinoin helps treat acne and other skin conditions, and it can be taken topically or orally. This skincare ingredient can cause birth defects, premature birth, or miscarriage during pregnancy.

Although not many studies have been done on the effects on babies during breastfeeding, if it can cause complications during pregnancy, it can potentially mess with your child’s development during the early stages of their life.

8. Adapalene/Differin

Differin is also a retinoid that should be avoided in skincare products. Although the amount of Differin absorbed in the skin when applied topically is low, there isn’t a lot of data to support whether Differin is safe for breastfeeding.

9. Tazarotene

Tazarotene is another retinoid that you should avoid in your skincare products while breastfeeding your baby.

There isn’t a lot of data to support that tazarotene is safe to use as a skincare treatment while breastfeeding, so it’s better to be cautious.

Tazarotene in high doses can be unsafe for you and your baby when absorbed through the skin.

10. Oxybenzone

Oxybenzone is an active ingredient found in chemical sunscreens used to protect against UVA and UVB rays from the sun.

Products with oxybenzone can cause allergic reactions in babies when used on the mother’s skin as well as hormonal imbalances in the mother.

Oxybenzone has also been found in breast milk, so your baby could end up ingesting it through breastfeeding. Instead of using oxybenzone, you can use products with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

11. Octinoxate

Octinoxate is another active ingredient in many chemical sunscreens. Although studies showing the effects of octinoxate on humans are limited, several studies reveal that it’s harmful to the environment and animals.

12. Avobenzone

Avobenzone is also found in chemical sunscreens that protect the skin against UVA and UVB rays from the sun.

Since there aren’t many studies that prove whether avobenzone is safe for babies when you’re breastfeeding, you should opt for healthier ingredients in your sunscreen.

13. Octisalate

Octisalate is another active ingredient in chemical sunscreens that can be unsafe for your baby during breastfeeding. The FDA regulates the use of octisalate in sunscreens, so you may be able to use a little bit of it on your skin.

However, keep in mind that chemical sunscreens can cause hormone disruption, so it’s best to avoid using octisalate if you’re concerned about your milk supply, your postpartum recovery, or your child’s development.

14. Homosalate

Homosalate is an active ingredient in chemical sunscreens, and it’s also found in lip balms and other skincare products. This ingredient can affect hormone levels and act as a potential endocrine disruptor.

Some research also shows that homosalate can increase the pesticides absorbed in the body. Play it safe, and use sunscreen with safer, healthier ingredients.

15. BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid)

Beta hydroxy acid (BHA) is directly related to aspirin, which can show up in breast milk.

Although there are mixed studies about BHA in skincare products, aspirin can cause metabolic acidosis in babies and other unpleasant medical conditions. Avoid skincare products with BHA on the ingredient list.

A mother breastfeeding her baby in a room with soft light and living plants.

16. Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is a skincare product used to treat dark spots on the skin. During pregnancy, this product can cause birth defects, but there aren’t a lot of studies on its effects on breastfed babies.

It’s best to avoid this ingredient when choosing skincare products as you breastfeed your baby.

17. Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a common ingredient found in skin masks and peels as well as cleaners and skin toners.

Since it remains on the skin longer than other skincare products, it can be harmful to babies who will be exposed to the product during breastfeeding. Salicylic acid is also used in higher concentrations when used in face masks and peels.

18. Fragrances

Fragrances can be irritating for babies with sensitive skin and noses. Newborn babies have a heightened sense of smell, especially when they’re looking for their mothers’ breastmilk. Avoid using any skincare products with added fragrances.

19. Essential Oils

Essential oils are natural ingredients that are typically considered safer than fragrances.

However, since their use is not regulated by the FDA, there’s no way of knowing if the essential oils you’re using are safe for your breastfeeding baby.

Since young babies have such a sensitive sense of smell, it’s best to wait to use essential oils until you’ve finished breastfeeding.

20. Phthalates

Phthalates are in almost everything from plastics to packaging to toys, but you can avoid using them in skincare products.

These ingredients act like synthetic hormones and disrupt male genital development. They can also increase the risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

During pregnancy, phthalates can cause developmental issues with language, motor skills, and other essential functions.

21. Triclosan

Triclosan is an ingredient added to many cosmetic products to help reduce the risk of bacterial contamination.

Although there isn’t sufficient evidence to say that triclosan is safe for topical use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, due to its antibacterial qualities, it can cause bacterial resistance. Try using skincare products that don’t include triclosan.

22. PFAS

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are environmental chemicals that can show up in your breast milk. These chemicals help make the skin smoother, but they can be harmful for your baby to consume.

Try to avoid your exposure to these substances by choosing skincare products without them. 

23. Hemp/Cannabis

Hemp and cannabis products have become widely popular, even in skincare products.

The Surgeon General has warned that using skincare products with THC can cause fetal brain developmental issues and low birth weights among newborns. Avoid skincare products with hemp and cannabis. 

24. Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is a petroleum-based active ingredient used in skincare products. This substance can irritate your baby’s skin, especially if they have sensitive skin.

Mineral oil is considered safe for babies who don’t have sensitive skin when used in small amounts. However, it’s best to avoid mineral oil if possible to make sure your baby is comfortable. 

25. Propylene Glycol

Propylene glycol is another petroleum-based skincare product ingredient that can irritate your baby’s sensitive skin.

Propylene glycol doesn’t show up in your bloodstream, so it won’t find its way into your breast milk. However, there aren’t enough studies to suggest that this ingredient is completely safe for your baby.

26. Parabens

Parabens are common in cosmetic products, but they can be absorbed into the skin. These substances can cause your babies to have allergic reactions, and they can damage the endocrine system.

Most safe skincare products for you and your baby are labeled paraben-free. 

27. Paraffin

Paraffin is unsafe for babies to consume in high doses. Skin creams and products containing paraffin can increase the levels of paraffin in your breast milk. Avoid using cosmetic products with paraffin during breastfeeding.

28. Propylparaben

Propylparaben is typically used as a preservative in cosmetic and skincare products. As a paraben, it can be absorbed into the skin, and it’s not considered safe for you and your baby to use while breastfeeding.

29. Ethylparaben

Ethylparaben is another paraben used as a preservative in skincare and cosmetic products. Like the other parabens, this active ingredient should be avoided when you’re looking for a cream to treat your skin.

30. Butylparaben

Butylparaben is another paraben with antimicrobial properties that help preserve cosmetic and skincare products.

This paraben has become controversial because it causes sensitivities in the skin and can disrupt the function of the endocrine system.

31. Isopropyl

Isopropyl alcohol is an active ingredient in skincare products with antibacterial qualities.

This ingredient is not safe for consumption, so it’s best to keep it away from your baby and any skincare products you use until your baby is older and no longer breastfeeding.

32. Isobutyl

Isobutyl is another paraben that can disrupt the endocrine system and other developmental issues in young babies. Opt for paraben-free skincare products while breastfeeding.

33. Methylparaben

Methylparaben is among the many parabens that should be avoided in skincare products while breastfeeding. It can disrupt your hormone balance and could potentially affect your child’s development.

34. Arbutin

Arbutin is an active ingredient that helps brighten the skin. Although it’s safer than other brighteners like hydroquinone, it can irritate sensitive skin.

Since babies typically have sensitive skin when they’re first born, avoid using skincare products with arbutin until you’ve finished breastfeeding your baby.

35. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is another preservative used in skincare products. This ingredient can cause allergic reactions and skin irritation in babies. Look for skincare products free of formaldehyde.


Keep an eye out for these active ingredients in your skincare products, and make the switch to safer, healthier options for you and your breastfeeding baby.