Treating Acne During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, you may notice a sudden flare-up of acne breakouts, even if your skin has been relatively clear for years. And for some people, pregnancy can cause acne to develop for the first time—ever.

Pregnant woman drinking glass of water in kitchen at home
Dougal Waters / Getty Images

It's annoying, but know that changes in the skin are very common during pregnancy. Whether or not you decide to treat acne during your pregnancy depends on your skin, your situation, and your obstetrician's advice. It definitely can be done—it just needs to be done with special care.

Start With Good, Gentle Skin Care

Good basic skincare is your first best step. Cleanse your face morning and night with a gentle cleanser, such as Dove or Neutrogena. Avoid toners or astringents if they seem irritating. If your skin feels dry, follow up with a light moisturizing lotion or cream.

Your skin may be much more sensitive during your pregnancy, so your regular skincare products might start to sting, burn, or irritate your skin. Switching to mild, fragrance-free options will help your skin feel better, and might even calm down those breakouts.

Talk With Your OB and Dermatologist

Before starting any acne treatment, even over-the-counter acne products, talk to your obstetrician.

Mild acne may not need any special treatment at all, and your healthcare provider might suggest waiting until the baby is born before starting a treatment. By that time, your acne may go away on its own.

If your acne is worsening, if you have been battling breakouts since before your pregnancy, or if your acne is severe, you may feel the need for an acne treatment medication. For the health of your developing baby, your healthcare providers will be selective in the products they recommend.

While some treatments are safe, certain medications should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding mothers. Your obstetrician and dermatologist must be part of your acne treatment team during this time because they can guide you to the safest, best acne treatments for you.

Treatments Generally Considered Safe

While the treatments below are considered safe to use during pregnancy, you should talk to your healthcare provider before using any acne medications.

Glycolic acidGlycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that helps exfoliate the skin and unclog pores. You can find it in many OTC products, and it's considered safe to use during pregnancy. Start off slowly, though, because it may irritate your skin.

Benzoyl peroxideBenzoyl peroxide is found in many over-the-counter and prescription acne medications. It hasn't been fully studied in pregnant women. However, it's one of the most widely recommended acne treatment medications and most healthcare providers consider it safe to use during pregnancy. You and your healthcare provider will have to weigh the pros and cons of this medication and decide if it's right for your situation.

ErythromycinIf your dermatologist decides you need a prescription medication for your inflammatory acne, erythromycin is an option. This antibiotic helps reduce acne-causing bacteria. It's not the most effective acne treatment, though, and is most often prescribed along with another acne treatment.

Acne treatment facialsThis is a completely non-medicated option for treating your acne. During an acne facial, an esthetician will deeply cleanse, exfoliate, and do extractions to clean out your pores. It's a nice way to pamper yourself during your pregnancy; just be sure to let your esthetician know you're pregnant.

Topical clindamycin, topical azelaic acid, and certain oral antibiotics are safe during pregnancy as well.

Treatments to Avoid

Many acne treatment medications can harm a developing fetus and must be avoided during pregnancy. Let your dermatologist know you are pregnant or could become pregnant when you are discussing treatments for acne.

Accutane (isotretinoin)Commonly known by its trade name, Accutane, isotretinoin has been linked to severe birth defects in babies whose mothers took this drug while pregnant. Isotretinoin also increases the chance of miscarriage.

Topical retinoidsPregnant or breastfeeding mothers should not use the topical retinoids Differin (adapalene), Tazorac (tazarotene), and Retin-A (tretinoin). The effect of topical retinoids on a developing fetus has not been studied thoroughly. As such, they should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

TetracyclineOral tetracycline, as well as its derivatives doxycycline and minocycline, can interfere with normal bone growth, as well as discolor the teeth of a developing fetus. Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers should not use these antibiotics.

These lists should not be considered comprehensive. Always talk to your healthcare provider before using any acne treatment medication while pregnant or breastfeeding.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.