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Treating and Preventing Acne During Pregnancy: Everything You Need to Know

A pregnant woman.

Being pregnant and bringing a new life into the world is incredible. But let’s be real; it isn’t easy physically or emotionally. One’s body and skin go through a lot in nine months. For many women this means a surge of acne–not quite the “pregnancy glow” we were promised. 

So what can be done? Thankfully there are some great options for skincare during pregnancy.

Why Does Acne Occur During Pregnancy?

Hormones! Pesky little troublemakers!

Female hormones (progesterone and estrogen) and male hormones (testosterone and other androgens) all rise during pregnancy.

Increasing levels of progesterone and estrogen help to stabilize the uterus, direct nutrients to the placenta, and facilitate growth of the fetus. While it is less understood how androgens facilitate pregnancy, we do know that around six weeks of pregnancy, a production of androgens begins to surge. This surge of androgens can cause excess sebum production. This can be problematic for some women.

Sebum is a natural oil that is secreted by your skin’s sebaceous glands. This excess sebum can clog pores and cause acne symptoms. Studies show, unfortunately, that if you were acne prone in your adolescent and adult years before pregnancy, you are at a higher risk to have acne during pregnancy.

What Are Safe Options That Can Help Acne During Pregnancy?

While the choices for treatment are more limited than when you’re not pregnant, there are still some really great options. Acne can be treated with both prescription medications as well as cosmetic procedures. Alpha hydroxy acids (or AHAs) are one option to consider. 

Glycolic acid is an AHA that penetrates easily into the skin because of its molecular size. Glycolic acid can improve skin issues like blackheads and enlarged pores, and is an excellent peeling and exfoliating agent, which can brighten and improve the texture of your skin. Glycolic acid isn’t only in peels. Our Glytone creamy and gel wash are glycolic washes that can be perfect for acne prone skin (available in our office). So, if you find yourself dealing with dull skin, acne, and/or hyperpigmentation during pregnancy, glycolic acid could work for you.

Other Acne Treatment Options:

Sometimes topical prescriptions will be recommended by your provider. Two commonly used topicals are Azealic Acid or Clindamycin. Both topicals are safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

  1. Azealic acid has both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It works by clearing your pores of acne-causing bacteria. It also helps to reduce inflammation so acne becomes less red and irritated.

  2. Clindamycin also has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Clindamycin works to suppress inflammation in the skin, thus reducing the amount of accumulation of material in skin pores leading to inflamed acne lesions.

Safe Acne Treatment Procedures for Pregnant Women:

  1. CO2 slushes can be a fantastic addition to a skin regimen during pregnancy. These are performed in our office by our aesthetician. The CO2 slush procedure is performed by applying a gauze pad with a dry ice mixture over the skin, which exfoliates and reduces the redness and inflammation of acne.

  2. Acne facials are a medical facial for acne prone skin. Your skin will be thoroughly cleansed and prepped and steamed, in order to open up the pores. Blackheads and whiteheads will be extracted and when these areas heal up in a few days, the skin will be smooth and free of these blemishes.

Even when pregnant, UV protection should be applied daily. We recommended an SPF 30 or higher every single day. This is not only protecting your skin from unwanted UV damage, but can also helpful to prevent hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin during pregnancy).

What to Avoid when Pregnant:

As a general rule of thumb, product descriptions that say “anti-aging,” “skin lightening,” “wrinkle creams,” are not safe during pregnancy. Some over-the-counter acne medications also should not be used. A lot of these products contain retinoids, hydroquinone, or salicylic acid, all of which should be avoided during pregnancy.

  1. Retinoids are a common anti-aging cream used to prevent fine line and wrinkles and prevent collagen from breaking down. How do you know what to avoid? When looking at a label, you want to avoid things like adapalene, tretinoin, retinoic acid, retinol, retibyl linoleate, retinyl palmitate, and tazarotene.

  2. Isotretinoin is another commonly used medication to treat people with severe cases of acne. It should NEVER be used during pregnancy and has been shown to cause birth defects.

  3. Salicylic acid is extremely common in acne skincare products. It works well for whiteheads and blackheads. However, salicylic acid shouldn’t be used during pregnancy.

Please consult with your OBGYN or dermatologist before starting any new products while pregnant. Our providers at Northeast Dermatology are ready to answer any questions you might have and help get your skin glowing.




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