Vitamin A in cosmetics

(Date: December 2013. Version: 1)

This factsheet has been written for members of the public by the UK Teratology Information Service (UKTIS). UKTIS is a not-for-profit organisation funded by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on behalf of UK Health Departments. UKTIS has been providing scientific information to health care providers since 1983 on the effects that medicines, recreational drugs and chemicals may have on the developing baby during pregnancy.

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.

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General information 

Up to 1 out of every 5 pregnancies ends in a miscarriage, and 1 in 40 babies are born with a birth defect. These are referred to as the background population risks.  They describe the chance of these events happening for any pregnancy before taking factors such as the mother’s health during pregnancy, her lifestyle, medicines she takes and the genetic make up of her and the baby’s father into account.

Medicines use in pregnancy

Most medicines used by the mother will cross the placenta and reach the baby. Sometimes this may have beneficial effects for the baby.  There are, however, some medicines that can harm a baby’s normal development.  How a medicine affects a baby may depend on the stage of pregnancy when the medicine is taken. If you are on regular medication you should discuss these effects with your doctor/health care team before becoming pregnant.

If a new medicine is suggested for you during pregnancy, please ensure the doctor or health care professional treating you is aware of your pregnancy.

When deciding whether or not to use a medicine in pregnancy you need to weigh up how the medicine might improve your and/or your unborn baby’s health against any possible problems that the drug may cause. Our bumps leaflets are written to provide you with a summary of what is known about use of a specific medicine in pregnancy so that you can decide together with your health care provider what is best for you and your baby.   

Every pregnancy is unique. The decision to start, stop, continue or change a prescribed medicine before or during pregnancy should be made in consultation with your health care provider. It is very helpful if you can record all your medication taken in pregnancy in your hand held maternity records.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to replace the individual care and advice of your health care provider. New information is continually becoming available. Whilst every effort will be made to ensure that this information is accurate and up to date at the time of publication, we cannot cover every eventuality and the information providers cannot be held responsible for any adverse outcomes following decisions made on the basis of this information. We strongly advise that printouts should NOT be kept for any length of time, or for “future reference” as they can rapidly become out of date.

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