We sought to describe demographic characteristics of and pattern of contraception use by Canadian women prescribed synthetic retinoids who voluntarily contacted the Motherisk Program in Toronto and to describe the degree of use of the Pregnancy Prevention Program (PPP) for retinoids. Prospectively gathered intake data from isotretinoin-exposed women was statistically compared to that from matched controls selected from our database. Intake data is qualitatively reported for etretinate-exposed women. We included women who voluntarily contacted the Motherisk Program from November 1, 1988, to January 30, 1991, for counseling about reproductive risks of isotretinoin or etretinate. Primary outcome parameters were maternal age, race, marital status, socioeconomic status; gravity, parity, previous miscarriages and elective abortions, maternal tobacco and ethanol exposure, contraception use, and use of PPP (educational components used, patient recollection of warnings). The 26 isotretinoin-exposed women were younger than controls (25.2 [SD 6.7] years vs 28.9 [SD 5.1] years, P = 0.03), tended to be adolescent (30.8% vs. 3.8%, P = 0.014) and sought counselling later in gestation (10.1 [SD 8] weeks vs. 6 [SD 4.2] weeks, P = 0.01). Twenty (77%) knew the drug was teratogenic, yet 10 (38.5%) used no contraception, 6 (23.1%) experienced method failure, and 2 (8%) stopped contraception during isotretinoin therapy. In conclusion, although cognizant of the teratogenicity of isotretinoin, more than one-third of the women in this study used no birth control or experienced contraception failure. In this same group, however, compliance with contraception use appeared to increase in those who saw more of the PPP.