Can You Use Glycolic Acid While Breastfeeding? – Safety Tips For Nursing Moms

Can You Use Glycolic Acid While Breastfeeding?

From the beginning of your pregnancy, you start worrying a lot about everything you eat, drink, or put on your skin. Every woman who has ever been pregnant knows this feeling that doesn’t go away even when you start breastfeeding the baby.

And lots of your concerns are well-justified. It is a well-known fact that many topical skincare products you use, can also get absorbed and have a direct impact on your baby’s health as well.

As a mother, it is normal to be concerned that something you use may cause birth defects or pose a threat to the health or growth of your baby later through breastfeeding.

If you’re using glycolic acid for the first time, or you’ve used it in the past, you might feel unsure about its safety now that you’re breastfeeding.

Knowing that glycolic acid has great exfoliating properties, fights acne and hyperpigmentation, and even reduces wrinkles, it is no surprise you want it in your skincare routine. And here’s GOOD NEWS! It is safe for breastfeeding mothers too!

Although it’s considered safe to use during pregnancy and nursing, it’s still important to use the right dose, concentration, and apply it carefully – which I am going to explain in this article. Keep on reading to find out how to use glycolic acid in a safe way during your breastfeeding journey.

This article is not a substitute for medical advice or consultation.

What Is Glycolic Acid & What Are Its Benefits

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from some fruits, beets but mostly from sugar cane. However, glycolic acid used by pharmaceutical companies is usually lab-produced1 and not taken from sugar cane or its natural sources.

Other types of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) include: citric acid present in citrus fruits, malic acid present in apples, and lactic acid present mainly in milk.

Alpha hydroxy acids including glycolic acid, work by removing the top layer of dead skin cells and reversing sun damage to the skin!

Glycolic acid is used to treat a lot of skin issues including acne, aging skin, dry skin and dark patches. Is is also used to treat acne scars and stretch marks although there is limited scientific evidence to support the latter. A 2020 study2 shows that in the right doses, glycolic acid inhibits the growth of bacteria too.

An amazing effect of glycolic acid is that it boosts collagen production and that’s what makes it one of the most widely used alpha hydroxy acid in the skincare industry.

Does Glycolic Acid Have Any Side Effects?

Everything you use on your skin has the potential to cause side effects3. However, the side effects of glycolic acid are not that significant or unavoidable. Risks of glycolic acid include:

UV Damage

While glycolic acid eliminates signs of hyperpigmentation and sun damage, it also removes the top layer of your skin, leaving the underlying layer more prone to sun damage. It increases the risk of sunburn, that’s why many people prefer to use it at night. It is advisable to use a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 after applying glycolic acid to your skin.

The FDA4 advises wearing sunscreen daily for sun protection while you use glycolic acid and for at least 1 week afterwards.


Glycolic acid is a very effective ingredient for cell turnover and dark spot removal. However, for some skins, it simply may not work, and it can cause even more hyperpigmentation. So, if that happens, it may not be the right choice for your skin type.

Luckily, there are many other exfoliators you can use!

Irritated Skin

Products that contain glycolic acid can trigger reactions to some people with sensitive skin, causing them to experience:

  • Swelling
  • Burning sensation
  • Dryness
  • Redness and inflammation
  • Itchiness

Some people think that the burning sensation is a sign that the product is working, but it is not true. If you experience any of the above, wash off the product from your skin and stop using it.

These symptoms can also manifest if you’re using glycolic acid that is too strong or you’re using it too often. Also, if you use glycolic acid near your eyes and it gets into them, rinse them with clean water immediately.

breastfeeding safe exfoliating peel with glycolic and lactic acid

Is Glycolic Acid Safe In Pregnancy?

One of the cool things about glycolic acid is that yes, you can include it in your skincare routine even during pregnancy5. But for the well-being of both you and your baby, it is always better to consult your healthcare provider about any skin product you decide to use during pregnancy and nursing.

It’s always better to use low concentrations of it, 5% or less. So make sure to read the instructions carefully!

Is It Safe To Use Glycolic Acid While Breastfeeding?

It’s normal to be worried about the effects that glycolic acid may have on your baby through breastfeeding. But fortunately, it doesn’t absorb into the skin easily enough to pass into breast milk, so it’s safe to use even while you’re breastfeeding6.

You just need to be careful about how you apply it, the area and its concentration.

Safety Tips For Applying Glycolic Acid As A Nursing Mom

Like with all things you use on your skin, it is good to use glycolic acid properly and in the right amount.

Safe concentration: To begin with, ensure that the concentration of glycolic acid you use is not more than 5%.

Where to apply it: Make sure glycolic acid is not applied to areas where your baby’s skin may come in direct contact7 with it, or where they could lick and ingest it.

If you need to use topical skin care products to heal and hydrate your breasts skin, there are lots of natural skin care products that won’t have a negative impact on your baby.

When to apply it: It’s better to use glycolic acid at night, and always make sure to use sunscreen the next day.

Can I Use AHA While Breastfeeding?

Alpha hydroxy acids are natural acids that come from plants and foods. Glycolic acid and lactic acid are some of the most well known, but all AHAs work almost in the same way. If you’ve been wondering whether is it okay to use AHA while breastfeeding, the answer is yes, they’re considered safe. But keep in mind, it’s generally recommended to use low concentrations.

It is also important to note that some AHAs, like lactic and glycolic acid, may sometimes cause irritation of the skin, which could cause soreness and discomfort in the breast area. It’s also not recommended to use AHAs in that part of your body because you’ll have the baby in direct skin to skin contact and the baby can lick and ingest the acid directly from your skin.

Except for AHAs, be careful with all types of ingredients and acids in your skincare products, and avoid mixing them together. It is important to always check the label before use!

Does AHA Pass Through Breast Milk?

AHAs are not absorbed into the bloodstream and breast milk in significant amounts when used topically, so there’s no risk to breastfed babies. However, as with every new product you start using, it is always better to consult your doctor.

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid during breastfeeding

What Acids Can You Use While Breastfeeding?

There are also many other acids that are deemed safe to use for pregnant and nursing women. Some of them include:

1. Lactic Acid

It is an alpha hydroxy acid that is used in skincare products to exfoliate and moisturize the skin. Derived from milk, fruits and vegetables it is used in cleansers, moisturizers and serums.

While there’s still limited research, it is considered safe8 because it doesn’t get absorbed significantly into the bloodstream when applied topically in low concentrations. It is very similar to glycolic acid.

2. Hyaluronic Acid

It is a natural acid that is found in the body, skin, joints and eyes. In the skin hyaluronic acid plays an important role to keep it hydrated and plump.

It is commonly used in skincare products such as moisturizers and serums to provide hydration in the skin. Since it is natural in the body, it is also considered safe to use during nursing your baby.

While glycolic acid works more by exfoliating the skin and breaking down dead skin cells which leads to more even-looking skin, hyaluronic acid helps to hydrate and promote a more youthful complexion. Hyaluronic acid is completely safe for breastfeeding moms.

3. Azelaic Acid

It is available in both prescription and over the counter products, like creams, gels, and serums. It is generally considered safe for most skin types, but it may sometimes cause side effects such as dryness, itchiness, and redness.

While there is limited research, azelaic acid is considered safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However it is better to consult your doctor whenever you decide to use azelaic acid because some people may have a sensitivity or allergy to this ingredient. It is also good to do a patch skin test and be mindful of any changes or reactions that happen while using it.

It is a fantastic alternative to retinols and it’s a wonderful acne treatment to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding9.

4. Ferulic Acid

Ferulic acid is an organic acid that is found in various plants, like rice, wheat, peanuts and apples. It’s an antioxidant that helps protecting the skin from UV rays, pollution and other environmental factors. It is often used in skin care products for its ability to enhance the effects of other antioxidants, such as vitamin E and vitamin C serum.

When used topically it can help to brighten the skin tone, reduce blemishes and improve overall skin texture.

Since it is a naturally occurring substance found in many foods, it is unlikely to cause any significant risks to breastfeeding and pregnant women or their babies when used topically.

5. Citric Acid

Citric acid is also an alpha hydroxy acid available in many skincare products, known for its benefits in cell turnover and gentle exfoliation. While it is considered safe to use during breastfeeding, it is not advisable to use it in irritated and rough skin.

Similar to all alpha hydroxy acids, it is considered low risk and baby safe in small amounts. It’s best to start using citric acid in a low concentration and then gradually increase it over time so your skin adjusts.

It is also important to follow the recommended usage instructions and stop its use if you experience undesirable or adverse effects.

All acids that you may use on your skin, because they’re exfoliators, can increase the sun sensitivity of your skin. So it’s important to use a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF of 30 or higher that contains physical blockers, such as zinc oxide sunscreen or titanium dioxide sunscreen. It is also recommended to avoid sun exposure during peak hours, wear protective clothing and stay inside whenever possible.

Some other ingredients that are not part of the acids but are considered safe to use while nursing your baby in case of skin concerns, include:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin B6
  • Niacinamide or vitamin B3
  • Mineral sunscreen

Is It Safe To Use Glycolic Acid While Breastfeeding

What Acids Should Be Avoided While Breastfeeding?

Since acids can be potent, there are limited options that are considered safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Therefore, it is important to be aware of what you can and cannot use during these delicate times to avoid potentially harming your baby. The acids that you shouldn’t use no matter what kind of problematic skin you may have during breastfeeding are:

1. Retinoids

Retinoids including retinol and tretinoin are a class of compounds that are chemically related to vitamin A and are considered a type of acid. The most commonly used retinoids are tretinoin, adapalene, and tazarotene and are often used to treat acne and wrinkles.

All of these products are considered dangerous ingredients that are best to be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding due to their potential to be very harmful to a developing baby.

Remember that it is not safe to use retinol while breastfeeding.

2. Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid commonly used in skincare products to exfoliate the skin, unclog pores, and treat hormonal acne. It comes in different forms and concentration, such as gels, creams, body lotions and toners.

However, it is not considered safe for use in pregnant women or during lactation because it can penetrate into the skin and be absorbed into the bloodstream and potentially to the baby through breastfeeding. High doses can be dangerous to a developing baby, so it’s best to avoid it until after breastfeeding.

3. Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is a skin-lightening agent that is used to treat various skin conditions such as melasma, dark spots and dark patches. It inhibits the production of melanin (the pigment that gives color to our skin, hair, and eyes).

It’s a powerful ingredient that should be avoided during breastfeeding due to its potential to be penetrated into the body and harm a nursing baby.

Are There Any Other Ingredients To Avoid While Breastfeeding?

After all the ingredients mentioned above, is there still any skincare product to avoid while breastfeeding? Sure. There are always skincare ingredients to be careful about and not be included in your skincare routine while nursing. These include:

  • Oxybenzone

It is an ingredient used in sunscreens to absorb ultraviolet light. It enters breast milk and can cause rashes, irritation and hives in your baby10. So, avoid chemical sunscreens.

  • Parabens

They are typically used as preservatives in many skincare products. Babies can be sensitive to parabens. In extreme cases they can affect even their endocrine system.

  • Some Of The Essentials Oils

They are highly concentrated plant extracts that contain strong chemical compounds. Some of them are known to have hormonal effects and can interfere with lactation or harm the baby.

  • Antibiotics

They can pass into the milk and disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the baby’s gut. They can cause allergic reactions and lead to diarrhea or colic.

  • Benzoyl Peroxide

It is not recommended for use from breastfeeding women. There’s little research on its safety during breastfeeding, so it’s better to err on the side of caution and avoid using benzoyl peroxide.

Why You Should Change Your Skincare While Breastfeeding?

While your pre-pregnancy and pre-breastfeeding skincare products may have been very effective for you and still are, it’s important to remember that your baby is much more sensitive and anything that enters your bloodstream or breast milk can potentially harm them.

That’s why it is always better to ask the right questions, such as can I use AHA while breastfeeding, or is your previous skincare routine or sunscreen still suitable when you have your baby in your arms. Having the right answers of these questions before using anything, removes any doubts and gives you peace of mind that your baby is safe and healthy.

The purpose of this article is informative. It’s not a substitute for professional medical advice or medical care. Remember: safety first! Consult your doctor/pediatrician in case of any doubts. The author of this article does not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here.


About Me - Zooey BarnettHello Moms! I am Zooey. I am a wife and a mother of three amazing kids: almost 5-year-old Haley and 2-year-old twins Jesse and Matthew. I am a jogger, cooker and blogger.

If you have a question or a comment, do not hesitate to write to me! 🙂

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