Acne During Pregnancy – A Complete Guide

Acne during pregnant

Skin problems are common during pregnancy, and pregnant women often suffer from acne. While the acne will clear up after delivery, it can cause significant distress for women who have extensive blemishes on their faces or elsewhere on their bodies. In most cases, acne during pregnancy can be treated without a prescription or over-the-counter medications by maintaining good skin-care practices. For more severe cases of acne, a pregnant woman and her physician may decide to try topical agents to treat breakouts. Many topical acne treatments are thought to be safe, but they should only be used if they are clearly needed.

What Causes Acne During Pregnancy?

Many women experience acne during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. Increasing amounts of the hormones that help support the growing fetus are typically responsible for these acne flare-ups. After the first trimester, the chances of a pregnant woman developing acne go down, so if acne does not become a problem during the first trimester, it may not appear at all. In most cases, the acne will begin to clear up after the baby is delivered.

Who Is More Likely To Have Acne During Pregnancy?

Acne is a common condition, one that many women suffer from at various times throughout their lives. Acne tends to be associated with adolescence, but women in their childbearing years often experience acne flare-ups as well. Some women are more likely to develop acne during pregnancy, including those who experienced acne breakouts before becoming pregnant or who experienced acne in conjunction with their menstrual cycles.

What Are The Recommended Treatments For Acne During Pregnancy?

In some cases, acne during pregnancy can be treated at home without prescription or over-the-counter drugs. But if home remedies are proving to be ineffective and the acne is distressing, you should speak to a physician about other treatment options. Some ideas for treating acne without drugs:

  • Use facial cleansers that do not contain alcohol.
  • Wash the face only twice daily, morning and night, or after exercise. Washing too often can stimulate oil glands and lead to acne breakouts.
  • Shampoo every day, but avoid using hair products that can clog the pores on the face.
  • Wash the face with a clean, soft washcloth.
  • Don’t rub; pat your face to dry it.
  • Apply an oil-free moisturizer immediately after cleansing.
  • Use only oil-free makeup.
  • Don’t squeeze or pop whiteheads.
  • See an esthetician for a facial, if possible.

Consult A Physician Before Using These Treatments

Some acne treatments may not be safe to use while pregnant, and some physicians may prescribe specific treatments to treat acne in pregnant women. Topical treatments are absorbed by the skin, but it’s estimated that only 5 to 10 percent of the active drug may actually enter the body this way. Therefore, it’s thought that topical medications do not pose a significant risk to a fetus, but a healthcare provider should be consulted before any of the following products are used to treat acne during pregnancy.

Azelaic acid: This medication is a type of dicarboxylic acid that may be prescribed in a cream form to treat acne. It kills the bacteria that cause acne and it also inhibits the production of a substance called keratin. Keratin is naturally present in skin cells, and is known to contribute to the development of acne. The effects of this drug on pregnant women have not been studied, but it is thought to be unlikely to cause birth defects.

Benzoyl peroxide: Benzoyl peroxide is in many different products that are available over-the-counter. This drug has an extreme drying effect on the skin, and may help to stop acne flare-ups by causing the skin to peel. It also works by inhibiting the growth of bacteria that cause acne flare-ups. The effects of benzoyl peroxide on an unborn baby have not been studied, but it is not believed to cause birth defects.

Clindamycin: Clindamycin is a lincomycin antibiotic that is used topically to treat acne. It kills the bacteria that cause acne and can also reduce blemishes. There are no studies on women using clindamycin during pregnancy, but it’s thought to be unlikely to cause birth defects. Clindamycin does pass into breast milk, however.

Erythromycin: Erythromycin is a type of macrolide antibiotic that may be used as a topical treatment for acne. It is not known if or how this drug would affect a growing baby, but it is known that erythromycin passes into breast milk.

Glycolic acid: Even though there have been no studies on the use of glycolic acid in pregnancy, it is not thought to be a risk factor for birth defects.

What Is Not Recommended For Acne During Pregnancy?

While pregnant, it is important to only use products and medications that will not be harmful to the growing fetus. Even products that are used only externally (on the skin) can have an effect on the baby. Creams and lotions containing ingredients that have not been proven to be safe for pregnant women should not be used.

These treatments are commonly used to treat acne but should not be used by women who are pregnant, who could become pregnant, or may be pregnant:

Isotretinoin (Accutane): Isotretinoin is a medication that is sometimes prescribed for people who are experiencing severe acne flare-ups. However, this drug has been shown to cause birth defects in babies born to women who take it. The risk of a birth defect is so high, and the defects associated with this drug are so severe, that anyone associated with prescribing, dispensing, or taking the drug must agree to adhere to some strict policies. Women who take isotretinoin are asked to use two forms of birth control while taking the drug. In addition, any woman taking the drug must also take regular pregnancy tests. Pregnant women, women who are trying to become pregnant, and women who may be pregnant should never take this drug.

Tetracycline: Tetracyclines are a class of antibiotics that are frequently used to treat acne. These medications have a significant side-effect profile, and have been shown to cause birth defects in babies born to women who take them while pregnant.

Retinoids: Retinoids are often used topically to treat acne. At this time it is not known conclusively whether creams containing this substance can cause birth defects, but it is generally thought that it is a strong possibility. Therefore, it is recommended that pregnant women not use any creams containing retinoids (such as Retin-A or tretinoin).

Salicylic acid: Salicylic acid is an extremely common ingredient in both prescription and over-the-counter creams and face washes for the treatment of acne. It is not clear what exact risk salicylic acid poses to an unborn baby, but it is recommended that pregnant women not use any product containing this substance.


While acne during pregnancy may not be very dangerous to the mother or the baby, it can be a major cosmetic problem for some women. Acne flare-ups can be so severe that they may even cause permanent scarring. Women who are not pregnant have a variety of treatments to choose from, but pregnant women must be very careful about how they treat acne. Pregnant women should avoid using any prescription or over-the-counter drug if possible, but the challenges of living with severe acne must be taken into account when developing an acne treatment plan. Quality of life issues should be considered, as acne can cause women to become isolated and to feel depressed, which is not beneficial to the growing fetus. Many over-the-counter topical acne treatments are not thought to pose a risk to the mother or to the baby, but you should still consult a physician about treating acne during pregnancy.

This page was last updated on 11/2017

What do you need help with?