6 Retinol Alternatives: The Best Facial Serums for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Moms

Annoyed You Can’t Use Retinol While Pregnant or Nursing? Use These Anti-Wrinkle and Anti-Acne Skincare Ingredients Instead

by: sarah ban

Considering virtually all dermatologists, estheticians and beauty editors worship it on top of the fact it’s been repeatedly scientifically proven to help keep skin looking youthful—like Halle Berry youthful—AND clear of zits (think we’re hyperbolizing? Read this, this, this and this), we’re going to guess you take your skin seriously if you’re a retinol user. Even clean, green brands add retinol to their serums because it’s just THAT good.

No wonder you’re pissed you can’t use retinol while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you’ve ever feared you’ll be missing out on gorgeous skin due to this unfair restriction, save your rage for your husband’s rattly snoring and find peace knowing that there are exceptional alternatives worthy of your pregnant or postpartum skin.

6 Retinol Alternatives That Will Keep Your Skin Just as Young and Fresh

First, in order to figure out what the best retinol alternatives are, we need to know what retinol exactly does:

  1. boosts collagen production, resulting in fewer wrinkles and fine lines
  2. speeds cell turnover, resulting in less hyperpigmentation/discoloration and a more even and brightened skin tone
  3. decongests pores, resulting in the appearance of smaller pores and less acne

The best retinol alternatives will serve the same function and deliver the same effects to skin. Easy peasy, right? Here are the six we covet.

(If you want to know which facial serums contain these ingredients, keep scrollin’ and a-scrollin’.)

Vitamin C: for Wrinkles

Listen up! When it comes to being a study subject, vitamin C is RIGHT NEXT TO RETINOL on the podium. In other words, it’s also been proven in research a bazillion times for its effectiveness as a topical skincare product. It’s a fantastic ingredient that brightens dark spots and boosts collagen production.[1] It also protects against sun damage[2] (a.k.a. the thing that makes you age the quickest) thanks to its potent antioxidant properties. And it’s considered to be safe for pregnant women, according to dermatologists.[3]

Peptides: for Wrinkles

If you’re afraid your plump and dewy grape-like face will shrivel into raisin form after you ditch the retinol, you need peptides in your life. Science and many a smoothed-skin woman have shown this ingredient can visibly iron out the wrinkles.[4]

Low-Molecular Hyaluronic Acid: for Wrinkles

Does your skin look permanently glum and distressed from all those sleepless nights and possibly heartburn? Rub on the hyaluronic acid, which majorly hydrates and makes you look plumper (it’s the substance that derms use in fillers, but it works on top of your skin too!). Despite the name, it’s not an acid, but a humectant. And you need to make sure the skincare product you use contains hyaluronic acid that’s small enough to pass through the surface of your skin instead of hanging out outside for you to see the effects. And considering it occurs naturally in the body to lubricate joints, it’s safe to use.[5]

Epidermal Growth Factors (EGF): for Wrinkles

EGFs are known to make skin physically thicker. According to Allure.com, studies have confirmed EGFs “can switch on genes responsible for fibroblast activity, thereby revving up collagen production.”[6] In the same article, dermatologist Michael Kassardjian, MD, says EGFs produce similar effects as retinol by “building collagen to help with lines, evening tone, decreasing roughness—but with far less irritation.”

Glycolic Acid: for Acne and Wrinkles

If you’re devastated you need to table the retinol and want another double-whammy anti-wrinkle and anti-acne solution, glycolic acid is your answer. It occurs in beauty products in very small doses and is deemed safe.[7] Glycolic acid works by dissolving the gunky “glue” between skin cells, effectively exfoliating the dull and old outermost layer of skin and letting your skin’s fresh, nicer-looking layer shine through.

Azelaic Acid: for Acne

Azelaic acid can be used in place of salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to get your clear skin on. It works by killing bacteria and reducing keratin to prevent clogged pores and can also brighten up your complexion.[8]

The Best Skincare Serums for Pregnant and Nursing Moms (to Safely Reap the Skin Benefits of Retinol and Salicylic Acid)


IMAGE Skincare’s VITAL C hydrating anti-aging serum


  • 3 types of peptides
  • 4 types of vitamin C
  • hyaluronic acid

Developed by a plastic surgeon and esthetician, this serum contains THREE of our retinol alternatives in one lightweight, silky serum that smells like citrus (but not in a tacky way)! This serum is a nursing mother’s dream come true. In fact, you’ll love this so much you’ll probably keep using it when you let retinol back into your life.

From the horse’s mouth:

  • Brightens and tightens skin
  • Binds moisture to the skin
  • Supports collagen synthesis
  • Protects against the effects of environmental damage
  • Clinically proven to Support collagen synthesis

DNA EGF Intensive Renewal


  • Peptide
  • EGFs

If you’ve heard EGFs come from fetal foreskin, it’s true. But don’t worry—this one is “bio-engineered from barley grown in natural pumice with pure waters.”

From the horse’s mouth:

  • High concentrations of EGF are clinically proven to reduce the appearance of pores, fine lines, wrinkles, irregular pigmentation, photo-damage + texture in as little as 8 weeks.
  • More even skin tone
  • Resilient & redefined skin texture
  • Reduction in pore visibility, fine lines & wrinkles
  • Reduction in skin discoloration & age spots

SUNDAY RILEY C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum


  • Vitamin C (specifically Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, the best kind)
  • Glycolic acid

Sunday Riley’s amazing CEO formula is a GGM must-have. Click here to see why it’s part of our Skincare Hall of Fame.

From the horse’s mouth:

  • A highly-potent, fast-absorbing serum infused with 15 percent THD ascorbate (vitamin C) to fight the look of dullness, dark spots, and discolorations, while instantly increasing brightness, radiance, and luminosity.
  • Targets: uneven skin tone; dullness and uneven texture; pores

Glo Skin Beauty Brightening Serum


  • Azelaic acid
  • Glycolic acid

Although this serum is marketed as a brightening treatment, it’s also a safe option for baby-carrying or baby-nursin’ moms who want to tackle blemishes thanks to two types of acids that help provent pore congestion. It’s tough finding an anti-acne serum without salicylic acid (which many experts advise NOT to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding), but this offers two of the best substitutes.

From the horse’s mouth:

  • targets areas of discoloration and with a blend of brightening ingredients, lightens dark spots and inhibits further damage.
  • improve the overall tone and texture of your skin
  • stop the production of melanin and ensure a glowing complexion

The Last Resort for Acne: Erythromycin and Clindamycin (Oral Rx)

These substances sound like a means for murder in a chaotic Breaking Bad scheme, but they’re AOK if you’re fraught with acne concerns. Both are antibacterial acne medications considered safe to use for pregnant women, according to the Mayo Clinic.[9]



[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3673383/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579659/

[3] http://nymag.com/strategist/article/best-skincare-products-pregnancy-safe.html

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15648443

[5] http://nymag.com/strategist/article/best-skincare-products-pregnancy-safe.html

[6] https://www.allure.com/story/growth-factors-in-skin-care-penis-facial

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3114665/

[8] http://nymag.com/strategist/article/best-skincare-products-pregnancy-safe.html

[9] https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/pregnancy-acne/faq-20058045


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C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum

Glo Skin Beauty Brightening Serum

Image Skincare VITAL C Hydrating Anti-Aging Serum

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