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What Skincare Treatments Are Safe to Use While Breastfeeding?

September 14, 2020 | BY R. Motzell

Did you know that the ingredients in your daily beauty routine can have an effect on your baby while nursing? 

When nursing your infant, you always want to make sure that the various elements of your lifestyle – your diet, your habits, and the products you use – are healthy for your baby. It’s important to know what skincare treatments you can and can’t use while breastfeeding to keep your baby healthy and safe. 

This helpful article outlines what products and ingredients to avoid while breastfeeding, as well as which ones are safe to use.

Safe Serum: Vitamin C Serum

In the months during and after your pregnancy, you’re prone to experience hormonal changes that can affect your skin. Even if you’ve never dealt with adult acne, eczema, or dry skin, these issues can pop up during your pregnancy and stick around during nursing. 

For this reason, it’s likely that you’ll need to have some safe and reliable skincare products on hand during pregnancy and nursing. Vitamin C serum is a great option because it provides your skin with nourishing antioxidants while supporting skin firmness and hydration. 

Vitamin C serum is a highly concentrated skincare treatment that has a variety of uses. Because of the antioxidant’s ability to stimulate the production of collagen, using vitamin C serum during nursing is helpful to maintain healthy skin. Adequate nourishment helps keep your skin clear and healthy even as you undergo the hormonal changes that occur post-pregnancy.

Using a serum with vitamin C also boosts your skin’s appearance of structure, strength and flexibility. Free radical activity can increase in your body during pregnancy, which can lead to oxidative stress in your body that can weaken your skin. 

Using topical antioxidants like vitamin C can help provide your body with what it needs to balance out free radical activity and combat oxidative stress. 

You can use vitamin C serum twice daily, once in the morning and once at night. The serum is best used after cleansing, exfoliating and toning, and before any heavier products like creams, moisturizers, and sunscreen.

NOT Safe Serum: Retinol Serum 

Retinol is a derivative of vitamin A. Like vitamin C, retinol is an antioxidant, often used for its anti-aging benefits. Products with retinol can also be used to reduce the appearance of acne and acne scars. 

However, it is best to avoid this ingredient while breastfeeding. The ingredients you put on your skin can be absorbed, and some, including retinol, can be unhealthy for your baby while you nurse.

Safe Exfoliator: Glycolic Acid Serum 

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that is often used as a gentle exfoliator. Exfoliators work to slough off dead skin cells that can clog your pores and negatively affect your complexion. The hormonal changes you’ll experience during and after pregnancy can cause your skin to get extra dry. Over-dried skin can create a buildup of dead skin cells and potentially cause breakouts.

To avoid breakouts while nursing, using a gentle exfoliator with glycolic acid as the active ingredient is helpful. Glycolic acid is safe to use while breastfeeding because it is not absorbed and will not affect your breastmilk.

Glycolic acid is often used in the form of a serum but can also be found in an exfoliating treatment called microdermabrasion cream. While some exfoliators contain rough particles that can irritate your skin, microdermabrasion cream bypasses the potential for irritation through the use of tiny, gentle particles. 

In addition, application of microdermabrasion cream does not require you to scrub hard to make exfoliation happen. Since your skin may be drier and more irritated in the months after pregnancy, it is especially important to not use harsh scrubbing motions when applying your exfoliator. 

Potentially Unsafe Exfoliator: Salicylic Acid Products

Salicylic acid is an ingredient often found in anti-acne skincare treatments. This acid is a beta hydroxy acid that can work to dissolve dead skin cells to cleanse and prevent clogged pores. However, unlike glycolic acid, it is not determined to be safe to use while breastfeeding. Save your products with salicylic acid for after you are finished nursing. Instead, opt to exfoliate with the glycolic acid formula mentioned above!

Safe Moisturizer: Hyaluronic Acid Cream or Vitamin C Moisturizer 

Hyaluronic acid is naturally produced by your skin, meaning it is generally safe to add products with it into your routine while breastfeeding. Hyaluronic acid provides immense hydration and moisturization to your skin, helping to protect your skin from redness, dry skin, and breakouts that might occur post-pregnancy.

When your skin is properly hydrated, you’ll see less breakouts, redness and irritation. Using moisturizer with hyaluronic acid in the morning and at night while breastfeeding will help to keep your skin hydrated and healthy.

Additionally, for similar moisturizing effects, you can also opt for a vitamin C moisturizer as well to reap the same benefits mentioned earlier while adding in additional nourishing ingredients like shea butter for maximum hydration!

Safe Sunscreen: Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide

Sunscreen is a must when pregnant and nursing. Your skin is often extra sensitive due to hormonal changes in the time during and after pregnancy and getting a sunburn with already-irritated skin is no fun. 

However, choosing the right sunscreen to use while breastfeeding is essential. Mineral-based sunscreens are safest for your baby while nursing. Opt for a sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide when breastfeeding. These ingredients are found in mineral sunscreens, which are also the best choice for anyone with sensitive skin.

NOT Safe Sunscreen: Chemical-Based Sunscreens 

Mineral sunscreen is also important while breastfeeding because the ingredients in chemical-based sunscreens can be absorbed and potentially harm your baby. While nursing, it is best to avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone or octinoxate as their active ingredients. 

In addition, some sunscreens contain retinol, which, as we mentioned earlier, you also want to steer clear of while nursing.

Safe Spot Treatment: Benzoyl Peroxide

Using a small amount of benzoyl peroxide to treat pimples during and after pregnancy is generally safe for your baby. When dealing with pregnancy hormones, having a good spot treatment on standby can help. It can be disheartening if you have never struggled with acne in the past and end up seeing your first breakouts in the time during and after pregnancy. 

Fortunately, ingredients like benzoyl peroxide can help reduce the appearance of individual pimples as they come.

NOT Safe Spot Treatment: Differin Gel 

Differin gel is a retinoid, meaning it supplies your skin with retinol in a much higher concentration. Retinoids are typically only available when prescribed by a doctor – with the exception of Differin. As with other forms of retinol, Differin gel can be absorbed into your system and affect your breastmilk. 

Although retinoids can be helpful in treating acne at other times in life, they’re best to avoid while pregnant and nursing for the safety of your baby.

Other Safe Skincare Treatments

Some other skincare treatments to use while breastfeeding include azelaic acid and niacinamide. These two ingredients are often used to treat acne and other skin issues that may arise during pregnancy and nursing. You can often find azelaic acid and niacinamide in some cleansers and serums. 

Lifestyle Changes for Better Skin While Nursing 

If you’re experiencing redness, rashes, and irritation during your breastfeeding phase, hormonal changes are often to blame. Making changes to your diet and lifestyle can often make a difference in the severity of these skin issues. One of the best ways to keep your skin healthy and strong while breastfeeding is getting a sufficient amount of antioxidants in your diet.  

Dietary sources of antioxidants can work alongside topical antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin B to strengthen your skin as your body undergoes hormonal changes. Foods and drinks that contain antioxidants include leafy greens, walnuts and berries--while you can also get antioxidants from tea, coffee, and chocolate, some argue that the caffeine in these food sources are harmful to the baby. You can also get antioxidants from supplements!

Extra Precautions to Take 

If you have a skincare regimen that you already use and are pregnant or beginning to nurse your newborn, check your products to see if they contain any of the unsafe ingredients listed in this article. In addition, if you are unsure about the impact a skincare treatment might have on your baby, it is best to consult your pediatrician.

While breastfeeding, be mindful of the potential effects of any oral medications on your breastmilk as well. Because prescription medications are absorbed into your body, many of them can impact your breastmilk and potentially be unhealthy for your baby. However, many common medicines have little to no discernable impact on your breast milk. A bottle of prescription medication will typically warn you if there is risk associated with taking the medication while nursing. If you are unsure about whether your medication is safe to take while you nurse, it is wise to talk to your doctor before making a decision. 

In addition, if you are on a medication that is essential for your health or wellbeing but will potentially affect your breast milk negatively, it is important not to attempt to get off your medication without the careful guidance of your doctor. If you cannot safely nurse because of medication or other health-related issues, you may be better off using formula instead.


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