Let’s talk about acne and pregnancy

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Kid Acne graffiti stencil

Let’s get real for a minute: if you have acne-prone skin, one of the biggest downsides to being pregnant is that your skin might go from manageable (depending on how you treat it when you’re not pregnant) to your worst nightmare. You know what’s even worse? Even if you have clear skin all the time you still may suffer from a dreaded pregnancy breakout — for the whole time you’re baking your baby. At least, that’s what happened to me… but luckily, most of the time acne clears up after the first trimester. Allegedly.

You can go ahead and say it: acne sucks. It especially sucks as an adult, when you’re all “Shouldn’t I already be past this shit?!” My skin has never been the most stellar on its own, but after being prescribed Tazorac when I was twenty, I had it under control. Fast-forward a few years to twenty-three, when I was pregnant with Jasper. It turns out using Tazorac while pregnant is a BIG no-no, so I was suddenly stranded without my favorite skincare treatment.

Why you break out in the first place

Your body’s level of progesterone rises when you’re knocked up, which usually causes your body to amp up secretions of sebum from your skin glands. Extra sebum = blocked pores = acne.

Practices to avoid

A lot of the same rules apply to pregnancy acne that apply to regular acne: don’t scrub it. Don’t exfoliate, because your skin will most likely be too delicate to handle it. Pregnancy-specific rules also include ceasing the use of all prescription acne medication until you clear it with your doctor, and avoiding most, if not all, over-the-counter stuff you can buy. Surprisingly (at least to me), this also includes “natural” creams, which still aren’t particularly “safe.”

Bottom line: if you have a doctor, midwife, or health official involved in your pregnancy and you’re concerned, ask him or her if what you’re planning to use is ok.

Stuff that might help

First and foremost, let me say this: talk to your healthcare provider or someone you trust about what will and won’t work for you. I am by no means an expert — these are just the things that yielded the most positive results for me.

After many a late-night internet search for solutions, I discovered Moroccan Red Clay Powder. I was able to score a 6 oz. container at a local grocery store, but you can get it on Amazon as well. I won’t say that this completely rid my skin of acne, but it definitely made everything a lot better; if anything, I felt like my face was much cleaner after using it.

Another potential anti-acne aid is an oatmeal scrub. They’re way gentler than most chemical-based stuff you’ll find, and you can make your own pretty easily — you just need oatmeal and water. Another route would be to mix a tablespoon of honey and enough warm water to make a paste. You can use it as an exfoliant or lay gauze over your face and put the mixture on top of the gauze. Leave it on for fifteen minutes, and lift the gauze to remove. The oatmeal mixture will leave behind a milky liquid on your skin, and you simply rub that into your skin for hydration.

Also, consider your diet. Caffeine, dairy, cooked fats, and meat are all linked to acne. This doesn’t mean too much, since many a water-drinking vegetarian also contends with this facial curse. Foods that have been shown to help include avocado, mango, olives, garlic, and berries.

If none of this does it for you, fear not: pregnancy acne subsides soon after delivery. I don’t mean right away, but in the first few weeks that follow. Of course, if you’re breastfeeding you may still want to try to find a more baby-friendly alternative to coping with your skin if you have any flare-ups, as 80% of adults do.

Did your skin break out while you were pregnant? How did you deal with it?

Comments on Let’s talk about acne and pregnancy

  1. I remember standing in front of the mirror crying about how I looked like a pregnant teenager because of my skin. Then I read 2 little blurbs in some magazine that changed everything.

    1) eat parsley. Over time I have figured out that eating a mouthful, twice a week is the perfect balance to keep me pimple free.

    2) in high stress times when I get more of a grease bump type thing, toothpaste gets rid of them overnight. Arm and hammer works best.

    Why do they work? Damned if I remember, it does and that’s all I care about 😉

  2. I’ve never been pregnant, but I’ve battled acne for more than half of my life. I’ve tried almost everything in the book– natural remedies, harsh chemicals– but one of the best things I’ve found is raw apple cider vinegar, which I use in place of an astringent. I’ve also cut dairy and processed sugars almost completely out of my diet.

    The truth is, everyone reacts to different substances differently. It’s just a matter of patiently trying new things until you find something that works. Try something for three weeks, and if you see no improvement, try something else. Don’t give up! 🙂

  3. I don’t know if this is helpful, but after my brother was at the shore with the sea air and salt water his face seemed to clear up significantly. Maybe I salt water rinse?

  4. I’ve been kinda blessed and have never had terrible acne, just the occassional breakout. EXCEPT when I was pregnant; during my pregnancies, my face was all bumps, all the time. I was kind of relieved to find out it was a normal part of pregnancy, but also irked at the healthy-glow false advertising.

    My face also developed weird allergies while pregnant… I tried to put aloe on some extra-red face parts and broke out in hives, which never happened before or after pregnancy. My face also scarred easily during pregnancy; the only permanent acne scars I’ve ever had are from my two pregnancies. All to say: be extra careful with your skin while pregnant, because whatever you do might stick with you!

    All in all, I just tried to regulate the amount of oil on my face and be extra careful about things like washing my pillowcase often, getting a no-chem lotion, etc.

    • Hi I just read your post and I too have gotten really bad scarring from my pregnancy now. I was hoping you would be able to tell me a yr or so later has your scarring gotten any better?

  5. I’ve never been pregnant, but I’ve struggled with bumpy skin (although not true acne) ever since I was a teenager. At 27, I’m tired of it – I thought a perk of being grown up was grown-up skin! I tried Proactiv for a long time, as well as a bunch of other OTC stuff, but most of it either was drying or just didn’t do anything. A couple of months ago I ran across a store on Etsy called DeeVoo, selling natural acne and face stuff. I was a little skeptical, but the reviews were awesome, so I figured it couldn’t hurt. And hot damn, it works. Seriously. It takes the usual 3-4 weeks to show full results, but my skin feels smoother and cleaner, and the underlying redness is totally gone. I highly recommend it, and judging from the ingredients, it seems like it might be OK for pregnancy (except maybe the benzoyl peroxide? I’m not a doctor). Here’s the shop link: http://www.etsy.com/shop/DeeVoo

    I’ve also tried to be a lot better about washing my pillowcases and washcloths much more frequently – like every other day. I tried sleeping with a fresh towel over my pillowcase, but lost patience with it.

    • For what it’s worth, my partner and her sister have found that while using the whole Proactiv range was too drying, using only one of the products (I think it’s Stage 3) is plenty effective without being drying. My partner uses that and the oil-free Cetaphil to cleanse, and her skin has never looked better! I’m not sure if you can use Proactiv during pregnancy, though.

  6. I am a historically clear skinned, water drinking, vegetarian just entering my third trimester and so far the only scars I’ve acquired have been acne scars along the backs of my shoulders. I guess I’m lucky that I didn’t get much on my face. It seems to have mostly gone away now, but it was very annoying (and the scars will probably stick around for a while – motivation for a back piece?). I don’t really have any advice since I just suffered through it, but I just wanted to say thanks for addressing the issue. Because I had no idea where to even START doing anything about it (and did many of the things you advised against like scrubbing and exfoliating because I didn’t know any better).

    • See, I was frustrated when I was pregnant because I also am a vegetarian and drink tons of water, and my skin still broke out. It was all along my jaw, and I have awful scarring from it. BOO PREGNANCY ACNE.

      • I had really bad acne for years and the scars to go along with it. Once I finally got on prescription tetracycline, it cleared up my skin but I was left with scars on my face. I tried many many things but the one product that really reduced the redness and appearance of the scars (over long term use) was Skin Ceuticals Phyto Plus Botanic Gel for Hyperpigmentation. (It works really well on rosacea redness too.) It’s expensive but I love it because I finally got some results from something! Also always wearing sunscreen so the scars don’t “set” so deeply from persistent sun exposure has been helpful for me too.

  7. Can anyone here comment on whether using accutane earlier in life lessens pregnancy acne? For those who aren’t familiar – accutane (isotretinoin) is an incredibly toxic and harsh drug used only for severe or extremely recalcitrant acne, and can never be taken while pregnant because it causes severe birth defects (though you’re fine to get pregnant after it’s out of your system). It’s usually considered a last resort. It’s also the only drug that is anything like a “cure” for acne – i.e. the effects last after you quit using it. I have had sort of medium-level problems with my skin for over 15 years, (I’m around 30 now) tried everything to no avail, and finally decided to use accutane. It’s working, and I’m really happy about it, but the doctor also said that accutane doesn’t work on acne that is primarily hormonal. Did any of you have problems before, use accutane, and then get pregnant? What happened? Did you skin stay nice, or did the hormonal acne occur anyway?

    • I’ve had acne since I was 11, and started getting pimples and blackheads at 7. I’m 27 now. I’ve taken Accutane twice, once at 17 and once at 25. I’ve never been and won’t ever be pregnant. I can tell you my acne came back at 23 and the vicious trying everything cycle started again until my dermatologist gave in and let me do a second course. My skin stayed clear for about 3 years after the first treatment and about a year after my second. I still get obnoxiously obvious breakouts. So, while I’ve never been pregnant, I can say that even Accutane doesn’t work forever for some of us 🙁

      • I know this is a tangent, and you may already know this, but people with an acne profile like yours – women with long-term acne issues for whom nothing, even accutane, works – often respond to spironolactone. Especially if your breakouts tend to sync in any way with your menstrual cycle, or if you have any PCOS type issues. If you haven’t tried it, you should look into it.

    • I went on Accutane when I was 16. I had horrible acne all over my face, chest and back and it cleared it up a lot. Ever since I went on it my skin has been better and much less oily. Its not perfect, I’m now 30 and still have pimples, but its much less severe. I usually have oily skin and hair but ever since I fell pregnant my skin and hair have been great! You just never know how hormones will affect you. I’ve heard a few people tell me their skin became very dry when they were pregnant as well, so I guess that’s happened to me, but its just balanced things out a bit. I’m enjoying it while it lasts!

    • I wasn’t on Accutane but another strong prescription medication called tetracycline. It finally cleared up my persistent acne. But now I’m pregnant and breaking out like crazy. Luckily my worse break outs are on my shoulders and upper back so easier to hide than if I had a lot of acne on my face. Still – definitely sucks!

    • I took Accutane for two rounds(!) in my teens and twenties. I still got some pregnancy/postpartum acne, but I think it was not as bad as it might have otherwise been.
      When I was pregnant, my skin was so sensitive that I couldn’t even use Cetaphil cleanser on it, so I followed the recommendation of some of my natural beauty books to wash with dry milk powder or honey (mix either with a bit of warm water in your hand.) They worked awesome! I would still be doing it if it didn’t attract ants into my bathroom…

    • I used accutane in my college years and now that I am pregnant (many years later), my acne is back and worse than ever. The only drug/ remedy that has ever helped with my acne is birth control pills (it must be hormonal). Accutane is a harsh drug that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone- ever since taking it my skin is painfully dry and itchy (but still broken out!). If your acne is hormonal, I don’t think accutane is the solution.

  8. I’ve never been pregnant but I have battled severe cystic acne for about the last 8 years (I’m 20). So I’m still young but I’ve tried a million things. I’ve had the most success with natural products. My favourite so far is Snap Clear Skin Facial Cleanser: http://well.ca/products/snap-clear-skin-facial-scrub-with_5210.html

    Also, I’m convinced Coke and Pepsi make me break out. However, Sprite seems to be fine so I think it’s the colouring.

  9. I am a chemist by profession and would like to add there is nothing that is “chemical” free. Water is a chemical, too! Maybe you would like to consider changing the headline to “drug” free? Unmedicated? It is one of my pet peeves that the word chemical gets such a bad press. If you are really worried try to understand what all ingredients of your beauty products are, and do not buy anything that does not list them in detail. I would also beware of “natural” or “mineral” which does not automatically mean healthy. Just don’t be afraid of chemistry.

    Apart from that: I have not been pregnant, but do suffer from clogged pores, and the best, cheapest, and least ingredient treatment for me has been olive oil and steam: Rub face with a little bit of olive oil, and then apply a clean, steamed towel to face (soak in very hot tap water and then wring out). Steam face several times until most of the oil is gone. Rinse face with cold water. I have dry skin and stopped using soap on my face, just the olive oil treatment whenever my skin starts to have too much sebum and it has worked pretty well so far. Likely this is not enough for serious cases of Acne, then you may want to ask a dermatologist for advice.

    • I came here to say exactly this! Acetic acid and sodium bicarbonate sound a lot scarier than vinegar and baking soda, don’t you think? 😉 Also, arsenic is natural. And essential oils can be a hell of a trigger for people with sensitive skin.

      While I think they can be a little hair-trigger in their recommendations, I think the Cosmetics Database is a good start: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

    • I wanted to mention that I have tried this oil-cleaning method, and it really didn’t work for me – made everything a lot worse. I’ve heard great things from lots of people, but everyone is so different! So if you are thinking of trying this, I might recommend just doing it on a bit of your face for awhile, until you have an idea about whether or not it will break you out….

  10. I’ve had acne all my life, but now I’m pregnant its actually cleared up a lot! Crazy hey. I’ve used loads of things over the years but the best would have to be Tea Tree oil cleanser from The Body Shop. I’ve also read that just dabbing tea tree oil directly into spots can help dry them out. Like someone said above, different things work for different people, but that has worked wonders for me.

    • I’ve struggled with my skin since high school, but duringmy current pregnancy, my skin is the best it’s been for tears. Though sadly, I seem to be breaking out again now as I reach the end :(.

  11. I’ve yet to be pregnant; but I have had severe acne since I was 10 and am unable to use OTC or prescription treatments due to chemical sensitivities. I wash my face with water (no soap!) twice a day, moisturize with jojoba oil every morning, spot treat with tea tree oil, and take green tea extract. This has worked better than anything I have found yet. FYI, jojoba oil won’t clog your pores because it’s a similar consistency to human sebum. Also, I am not sure if green tea extract is safe for pregnancy due to the caffeine levels etc. – check with a doctor

  12. I’m 9 months pregnant with my 2nd child. During my first pregnancy I had the clearest most perfect skin, but this time I got all pimply and greasy. I’ve been on a quest for the past couple of years to quit using commercial products and make my own, and LOVE the oil cleansing method. I was my face with a mixture of castor oil and avocado oil, although you could use many different types of oils. Then I run a washcloth under hot water and steam my face a couple of times. Just google ” oil cleanse method”. I was weary of rubbing oil directly on my skin, but seriously, it’s never been better. I’ll never buy facewash again.

  13. I’ve read that benzoyl peroxide (as opposed to salicylic acid, the other common ingredient in over-the-counter acne creams) is safe for pregnancy, so I’ve continued to use my 2.5% BP acne cream from acne.org during pregnancy. However, I also struggled with severely dry skin for the first part of pregnancy, so I started using pure coconut oil as a moisturizer… my skin has now rarely looked better. (And I’m 22 weeks pregnant with skin that got MUCH worse when I first got pregnant.) It’s counterintuitive, but sometimes PUTTING oil on your skin is just the thing to help clear up acne. Dry skin=dead skin cells clogging pores=breakouts.

    • I was told be several OB’s and my midwife that unless you are eating your face wash/acne gel or have a SEVERE aspirin sensitivity of one of several RARE blood disorders the salicylic acid is fine. The no salicylic acid thing is way way over hyped but then that seems to be the case with most pregnancy issues.

  14. Never been pregnant, but in the lead up to my wedding, I was hyper anxious to not break out on the day (which I’m sure would have led to more breakouts, plus all the wedding-stress). I have oily skin, lots of blackheads and lots of pimples once a month. I found a chocolate mask that I used every day, and still use when my face gets bad. The recipe is:

    1/3 cup cocoa powder (antioxidant)
    1/4 cup thickened cream
    2 teaspoons cottage cheese
    1/4 cup honey (antibacterial)
    3 teaspoons quick oats (for exfoliating, but not scrubbing)

    mix together, put on face for 15mins, rinse, store rest in fridge. Smells awesome!

    My wedding day skin was THE best it’s ever been. Can’t be bothered anymore though (unless there’s some other occasion coming up with loads of photo’s that’ll last FOREVER) 🙂

  15. I can’t recommend Lush Cosmetics products enough. I got terrible acne my first trimester and searched desperately for something a bit more gentle and pregnancy friendly than retinol. I started using their coal based face cleanser and tea tree toner. It’s worked wonders for me.

    • I was just about to recommend LUSH. The Greased Lightening spot treatment worked wonders on clearing up my skin. I see a noticeable difference overnight. Love it!

  16. The B Kamins line is pretty good. I used it whilepreggers. I got it from Sephora but it’s made in Montreal. It’s geared towards severe acne though so it may be overkill for those of you that just have a bit of breakout. For girls like me who have preggo acne Iike a 15 year old kid, it sure helps a lot!

  17. I’ve had really good results with Dr. Hauschka’s cleansing milk as a cleanser, witch hazel as an astringent and aloe as a calming agent! so simple and has been effective.
    I’ve struggled with acne since I was a teenager. My skin got remarkably clear in the first trimester, but then my forehead broke out like crazy in the 2nd. I spoke to an herbalist about my options, and he suggested this, and it works great with no chemicals!!!

  18. I am struggling with pregnancy acne on my shoulders and upper back (luckily my face is staying 90% clear and when it does break out a mud mask helps a lot). I’m only making a little headway with it but I find comfort that it’s so clearly hormonally related – a few days spike of really bad nausea and exhaustion and I will have corresponding worse skin, more acne spots, skin redder/more irritated.

    What helps somewhat is keeping the area lightly moisturized with a mineral oil free lotion or with massage oil. And then when I’m in the shower, I pat a diluted baking soda paste on the area for 30-60 seconds – it helps draw the oil to the surface and dry the skin out a little. I do the baking soda treatment only every other day. It’s a balance for me of keeping the skin both from getting too oily and too dry.

  19. I was fine during my first tri but the acne started during my third. In my second trimester I basically felt like a tan pregnant goddess but as soon as I hit the home stretch things went horribly wrong (with my looks – Otherwise I was perfectly healthy & so was Baby). My nose widened and my face spread and broke out. I kept it fairly under control until the day I delivered, when it flared up ten fold along with broken blood vessels and other nasties. It took until about 6 months post-partum for my face to return to normal.

    Tea tree oil is my #1 treatment for acne, pregnant or not. It’s wonderful. I also do a routine where I carefully cleanse the night before, apply a good moisturizer right before bed and don’t touch my skin (except maybe a rinse with water-only) in the morning.

    • Ahh im 6 weeks postpartum and struggling!! Did youbstart burth control or anything to clear your skin after baby?? Or did it just go away on its own?

  20. Since I have had my second child, 5 months ago my face has been breaking out a lot. I am not usually the one to try something new but I was at my whits end and decided that I would try the Made From The Earth Green Tea Cleanser, since I saw it on Dr. Oz. I LOVE it!!! Since I have been using it my face has stayed pretty cleared up and it feels and look wonderful and glowing. After having used it for about a week, about 3 times a week, my Mom noticed a difference and definitely wanted to try it for herself.

  21. My doctor told me NOT to use Proactiv while I was pregnant because of all the chemicals. Unfortunately, in month 2 of my pregnancy, I started to get really bad acne breakouts on my face. I asked two seperate doctors, and they both recommended I use Citrus Clear products instead of Proactiv, because they are natural and they actually DO WORK. I use the Control Line from Citrus Clear – and it is quite strong and it does work! And it does not have all the chemicals that Proactiv has. Good luck!

  22. After looking for pregnancy acne solution I came across dermalmd blemish serum on The Google. I struggled with breakouts before becoming pregnant, and after getting pregnant they only got worse. I couldn’t use my current skin regimen due to the harmful chemicals in it. Dermalmd is amazing!! It has worked wonders on my skin. The serum feels too soft and creamy and doesn’t dry my skin out. I love the spot treatment too! It works fast! I HIGHLY recommend dermalmd to anyone!

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