Can You Use Salicylic Acid When Breastfeeding?

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There are some expectant mothers who are blessed with the clearest skin while pregnant, while the change in hormones causes others to be cursed with acne. But now that your baby is born, you might be wondering if it is now safe to use salicylic acid—especially if you are breastfeeding.

What Is Salicylic Acid?

If you read just about any acne fighting product or face cleanser in the drug store aisle, you will probably see the ingredient salicylic acid.

Salicylic acid is a keratolytic agent that belongs to the class of beta hydroxy acids that is FDA-approved to treat acne. It’s found in many over the counter skin care products, and works by breaking down the top layer of the skin to penetrate the pores to unclog them by washing away skin extra skin cells and dries up whiteheads and blackheads.This why the ingredient can sometimes make your skin peel, cause overly dry skin or redness.

Just keep in mind that it does not kill acne-causing bacteria like its sister ingredient benzoyl  peroxide does. The two ingredients are commonly used together in products such as Proactive.

Is Salicylic Acid Safe To Use When Breastfeeding?

Even though we are talking about topical acne products here and not an oral medication, it’s important to note that some topical ingredients still get absorbed in the mother’s bloodstream, meaning it can be passed along to their baby via breast milk.

While most OTC product contain 0.5 to 2 % of the ingredient, it still very well can be absorbed.

Search the Internet and you will find mixed answers to whether it is in fact safe or not. The fact of the matter is there are no “good” studies out there are either proves or disproves the safety usage while breastfeeding.

Some sources believe it is not safe at all, while other sources say small amounts used once or twice a day is safe.

One expert opinion, author of  “Medications and Mothers’ Milk, Thomas Hale, PhD, states that OTC topical acne medications with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide are both sage to use.

“The transcutaneous absorption of both of these drugs is minimal to nil. Peroxides, even if absorbed, would be instantly metabolized in the body and would not be able to reach the milk compartment,” he writes.

This means feel free to use a cleanser, cream, pad, gel or lotion that contains the ingredient.

Interestingly enough, salicylic acid is in the same family as aspirin. So if that makes you feel better about using your Neutrogena cleanser then there you have it.

To be on a safe side, always consult your doctor first before using any kind of medication—even if it’s over-the-counter—while breastfeeding.

So What About Benzoyl Peroxide?

Benzoyl peroxide is a bactericidal, or a killer of the acne-causing bacteria.

Again, there are no “good” studies about this ingredient and breastfeeding.

Even still, it’s viewed as the sagest acne treatment to use for breastfeeding women. This is because the body automatically breaks down peroxide via enzymes, so even if it’s absorbed it would be prevented from staying in the body and being passed via the milk.


Remember to avoid using Retina A medications while pregnant and speak to your OB/GYN and dermatologist before taking any prescribed acne medications post-baby if breastfeeding.

Birth control pills are also known for clearing up acne, so kill tow birds with one stone once your little one arrives.


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