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Dealing with Pregnancy Acne? We’ve Got 5 Ways to Treat It

Dealing with Pregnancy Acne? We’ve Got 5 Ways to Treat It

Pregnancy comes with a wide variety of symptoms — both good and bad!

While you may get glowing, healthy-looking skin, you are equally likely to suffer from breakouts (especially if you were prone to blemishes pre-pregnancy).

But when does pregnancy acne start, and how long can you expect it to last? The skin care experts at Skin Pharm have more about pregnancy acne and five ways you can safely treat it.

When does pregnancy acne start?

Let’s tackle the question you came here for — when does pregnancy acne start? For most people, pregnancy acne begins about six weeks into pregnancy.

However, research has shown that more than 40% of pregnant people will deal with “severe” acne at some point in their pregnancy. The good news is that most pregnancy acne is manageable, especially when you know what products you can safely use while pregnant.

Pregnancy acne is often one of the first pregnancy symptoms people notice, as it occurs at about the same time that people are experiencing morning sickness and breast tenderness.

If you are trying for pregnancy and already struggle with breakouts, it’s crucial to develop a plan to treat them safely before the positive pregnancy tests occur. It’s often a good idea to change your routine to a pregnancy-safe one when you start attempting pregnancy so that you’re not caught unaware.

Why do breakouts happen during pregnancy?

Why breakouts happen during pregnancy is a question asked nearly as frequently as when does pregnancy acne start. The answer, which is the same for many questions about pregnancy, comes down to hormonal changes.

In early pregnancy (especially the first trimester), the body is flooded with a surge of hormones, especially progesterone and estrogen. Both hormones are essential in helping the body maintain a strong, healthy pregnancy, but there are also drawbacks.

For instance, progesterone also naturally increases the amount of sebum (natural oil) that the body produces.

The more active the oil glands are, the more likely your pores will become clogged. For both pregnant and non-pregnant people, the equation that leads to breakouts is the same — debris (dead skin cells, environmental factors) + bacteria + clogged pores (due to oil or non-supportive skin care products) = breakouts.

Increasing any of these factors also increases the risk of acne flare-ups.

Five ways to treat pregnancy acne

Just because your oil production may be up and you’re noticing more pimples than you usually have doesn’t mean you have to just sit back and watch them pop up.

There are ways that you can still maintain the health and appearance of your skin without worrying about harming your baby. Your best resource is your healthcare provider, so always check with them before making any changes.


One of the best ways to treat pregnancy acne is to amend your basic skin care routine to be as gentle and supportive as possible. Try the following routine, suggested by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG):

  • Wash your face just twice a day (when you wake up in the morning and before you go to bed at night). Overwashing can strip your skin of the natural oil it needs to protect itself and stay hydrated, as can using too hot water (which is why lukewarm water only is recommended). In addition, you’ll want to use a gentle cleanser to protect your skin further while still cleaning off all the dirt, debris and grime that can clog pores and lead to breakouts.
  • If your hair tends to be on the oily side, take steps to keep it off your skin as much as possible. Tie or pin it back and use headbands as much as you can, and make sure that you wash it every day (again, showering or bathing in only lukewarm water). This may be just the trick you need if you notice breakouts occurring mostly around your hairline.
  • If you do get blemishes, avoid popping or picking at them. Although it may be tempting, avoiding picking can also help prevent scarring as your skin heals. In addition, every time you touch your face, you risk spreading even more bacteria or debris to your skin. Wash your hands frequently (especially before touching your face) and do what you can to stop picking at your blemishes when they do occur.
  • Check your cosmetics and skin care products to verify that they are oil-free or non-comedogenic (meaning they won’t clog your pores).Many people with pregnancy acne are dealing with skin that is already producing more oil than pre-pregnancy, so why add any more to the mix if you can help it?

Not all acne treatments are safe for pregnant women to use, as they may be able to pass through to your baby and have harmful effects.

The best way to know which products are (and aren’t) safe to use is by contacting your OB-GYN or dermatologist, but we also wanted to provide a list of the ingredients you should avoid while pregnant.

  • Isotretinoin (13-cis retinoic acid) is an oral vitamin A derivative known as a retinoid (sometimes seen under Accutane, Claravis©, Sotret© or Zenatane. It is commonly used to treat cystic acne. Unfortunately, using Isotretinoin while pregnant isn’t recommended.
  • Spironolactone (Aldactone) is a potassium-sparing diuretic, which means it is a medication that removes fluid from your body through urination. Unfortunately, this medication can also block male hormones, which can negatively impact fetal development.
  • Adapalene, also known as Differin® gel, helps to reduce the frequency and severity of breakouts while also supporting existing breakouts to heal more quickly. However, most experts recommend stopping its use during pregnancy as it is chemically similar to retinoids.
  • Tazarotene falls into the realm of topical retinoids and is also found under the brand names Avage® and Zorac®. While it helps keep the pores clear and improves the look and feel of your skin, it may cause damage during development and should be avoided in pregnancy.
  • Certain oral antibiotics — if you deal with more severe acne, your doctor may have prescribed you an oral antibiotic. While many antibiotics are safe, certain antibiotics like minocycline, tetracycline and doxycycline should be stopped in the second trimester. Clindamycin, on the other hand, is often considered safe.

Luckily, there are also safe, over-the-counter skin care and acne medications to use during pregnancy. While you should always run your entire skin care routine by your OB-GYN as soon as you find out that you’re pregnant, the following are some of the more safe bets.

  • Glycolic acid is an exfoliant (specifically, an alpha-hydroxy acid) commonly used to treat acne, and it is considered safe to continue to use while pregnant. This ingredient can also help to speed up skin cell turnover and increase collagen production, making the skin appear more youthful and radiant — although you’ll likely have a pregnancy glow already! You can find glycolic acid in our Crystal Clear carifying pads.
  • Salicylic acid is another acne-fighting medication and exfoliant (specifically, a beta-hydroxy acid) on the list of pregnancy-safe treatment options. Salicylic acid clears off dead skin cells and bacteria from the skin’s surface, helping to reduce the likelihood of breakouts. Salicylic acid can be found in our Papaya Enzyme CleanserClay Time and Clarifying Pads, too.
  • Benzoyl peroxide is safe to use in small amounts during pregnancy. Like its cousin (hydrogen peroxide), benzoyl peroxide functions as an antiseptic, helping to reduce the number of bacteria on the skin’s surface.
  • Azelaic acid is a medication that helps treat redness and inflammation, not just for breakouts but also for other skin conditions like rosacea. The ingredient also has antimicrobial properties, so it helps clean off bacteria from the skin’s surface, reducing the likelihood that it ends up in your pores. A derivative of azelaic acid (potassium azeloyl diglycinate) can be found in Youth Serum, one of our favorite products for expecting mamas!

While changing your pillowcases won’t “treat” pregnancy acne, per se, it will help to prevent breakouts from occurring. The buildup on your face (oil, dead skin cells  and skin care products like moisturizers and serums) transfers to your pillow when you sleep.

If you don’t wash your pillowcase frequently, that buildup has a much higher chance of transferring back onto your skin and clogging your pores. Try to toss it in the wash at least a few times a week, especially if your skin is more oily than usual.

In addition, if you’ve had your pillow for more than a year or two, you may want to consider buying a new one or at least washing it if possible. No matter how frequently you change your pillowcase, some of that debris will still get past it and embed into your actual pillow.


If you’re the type of person who frequently finds their hands traveling up to their face, treating pregnancy acne may involve another, sometimes more challenging step. In addition to not picking or popping any blemishes that may show up, it’s also essential that you try to keep the face touching to a minimum.

Remember, anytime you touch your face, you risk transferring whatever is on your hands onto your skin. Although this doesn’t guarantee a breakout, it does increase the likelihood substantially.

To sum things up...

When does pregnancy acne start? Unfortunately, whenever it wants to! Whether in your first or third trimester (or even postpartum), breakouts are more likely to occur when your hormone levels are high.

Having pregnancy-safe ways to treat them without harming your baby is essential to keep you looking your best, even if you may not be feeling that way on the inside!


Management of severe acne during pregnancy: A case report and review of the literature | International Journal of Women's Dermatology

Is any acne treatment safe to use during pregnancy? | AAD

Isotretinoin and other retinoids during pregnancy | March of Dimes


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