Retinoids, the synthetic derivates of vitamin A, have a key role on cellular differentiation and developmental tissue specificity. Their effects are mediated by nuclear receptors which transactivate homeobox genes. They are teratogenic to animals and they all induce similar malformations dependent on the dose and the duration of exposure. This is a review of the teratogenic effects of vitamin A and its synthetic derivates--isotretinoin, acitretine and topical retinoids--in humans. High dose vitamin A have a potent teratogenic effect and are therefore contra-indicated during pregnancy. Isotretinoin is responsible for a syndrome including malformations of the central nervous system, heart and thymus, together with craniofacial defects. The incidence rate is high and comparable to thalidomide (ie, 25%). This high teratogenic potency justifies a strict limitation of such a prescription in women susceptible to become pregnant. Acitretine, which replaces etretinate because of its long half life of 120 days, might also be teratogenic in humans. In addition, it may be back transformed into etretinate, thus contraindicating pregnancy for 2 years after withdrawal. Finally, despite a low percutaneous resorption, available data on the use of retinoids as topicals are limited and their use during pregnancy is therefore not recommended. Although they are efficient in skin diseases, the use of retinoids in women of the child bearing age is very limited because of their potent teratogenic effect.