Vitamin A in cosmetics

Date: December 2013, Version 1

What is it?

Vitamin A (retinol) and related compounds (e.g. ‘pro-vitamin A’/beta carotene) are common ingredients in everyday moisturisers, facial products and cosmetics.

Is it safe to use cosmetics that contain vitamin A during pregnancy?

No studies have been carried out which examine whether cosmetics containing vitamin A are safe to use during pregnancy. However, the levels of vitamin A found in everyday cosmetic and skin care products are generally low. Additionally, because these products are applied to the skin, the amount of vitamin A that enters the mother’s bloodstream, and could potentially reach the baby in the womb, is likely to be very small.

It is therefore unlikely that the amount of vitamin A in everyday moisturisers or cosmetics will pose a risk to your unborn baby. 

Because high levels of vitamin A in pregnancy can harm a developing baby it is always important to read the product leaflet and to avoid products from unknown suppliers, e.g. unbranded products sold on the internet. Use of ‘alternative medicines’ or ‘health products’ for which the ingredients are not clearly listed is also not advised as many of these products do not go through safety and quality control checks and may also contain other harmful substances.

Who can I talk to if I have questions?

If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy and are in any doubt about using a product or medicine, speak to a trained health care advisor such as your doctor or pharmacist. 
A separate bumps information leaflet is available for prescribed vitamin A-based treatments, such as Isotretinoin tablets and gel.

How can I help to improve drug safety information for pregnant women in the future?

Our online reporting system (MyBump Portal) allows women who are currently pregnant to create a secure record of their pregnancy, collected through a series of questionnaires. You will be asked to enter information about your health, whether or not you take any medicines, your pregnancy outcome and your child's development. You can update your details at any time during pregnancy or afterwards. This information will help us better understand how medicines affect the health of pregnant women and their babies. Please visit the MyBump Portal to register.

General information
Sadly, miscarriage and birth defects can occur in any pregnancy.

Miscarriage occurs in about 1 in every 5 pregnancies, and 1 in every 40 babies are born with a birth defect. This is called the ‘background risk’ and happens whether medication is taken or not.

Most medicines cross the placenta and reach the baby. For many medications this is not a problem. However, some medicines can affect a baby’s growth and development.

If you take regular medication and are planning to conceive, you should discuss whether your medicine is safe to continue with your doctor/health care team before becoming pregnant. If you have an unplanned pregnancy while taking a medicine, you should tell your doctor as soon as possible.

If a new medicine is suggested for you during pregnancy, please make sure that the person prescribing it knows that you are pregnant. If you have any concerns about a medicine, you can check with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist.

Our Bumps information leaflets provide information about the effects of medicines in pregnancy so that you can decide, together with your healthcare provider, what is best for you and your baby.