Q&A: Can I Take Acne Medication?

What acne medications are safe to take while I'm breastfeeding?
ByJack Newman, MD, FRCPC
March 2, 2017
Hero Image

Most acne medications are applied to the skin. When drugs are applied to the skin, much less gets into your blood than if they are taken by mouth. Drugs that don’t get into your blood cannot get into your milk. In the vast majority of cases, the amount of drug that is absorbed into the blood from the skin is negligible, though there are exceptions.

Then there are oral acne medications, such as tetracycline and erythromycin. It is generally thought that tetracycline shouldn’t be used while breastfeeding because of its effects on children younger than eight (some say 12), namely staining of developing permanent teeth. However, this risk is very small when nursing. The reason? When you are prescribed tetracycline, the pharmacist will warn you not to take it with milk because the tetracycline binds to calcium and won’t be absorbed into your body. Thus if you take tetracycline while nursing, the tiny amount that gets into your milk will bind to the calcium and not get absorbed but will come out in the baby’s poop.

Another acne treatment is retinoic acid (tretinoin, also sold as Retin-A), which is usually applied to the skin but can be taken by mouth as well. It is absolutely contraindicated during pregnancy because it has been shown to cause birth defects. However, its use by nursing moms is generally considered safe because so little of the drug is absorbed by the mother’s body.

Related Video

Can You Take Tylenol While Pregnant?

profile picture of Anna Davies
Anna Davies
Contributing Writer
pregnant woman in pajamas sitting on her bed

Taking Tylenol While Pregnant May Increase Risk of ADHD, Study Says

profile picture of Nehal Aggarwal
Nehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
folic acid supplement pregnant women should take

Do You Need Folic Acid or Folate? It Depends on Your Genes, Study Says

profile picture of Anisa Arsenault
Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Illustration of a prescription bottle full of pills

Study Takes a Closer Look at What Antibiotics During Pregnancy Mean for Baby

profile picture of Ashley Edwards Walker
Ashley Edwards Walker
Contributing Writer
Pregnant woman holding cigarette

Could Drugs and Alcohol During Pregnancy Become a Crime?

profile picture of Ashley Edwards Walker
Ashley Edwards Walker
Contributing Writer

How to Relieve Headaches Without Medication

profile picture of Maria Kammerer
Maria Kammerer
Certified Nurse-Midwife

Is It Safe to Take Ketoprofen?

profile picture of Christian Hoffman, MD
Christian Hoffman, MD
Article removed.