Severe Acne During Pregnancy
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Severe Acne During Pregnancy

Severe acne during pregnancy probably wasn’t the type of “glow” you were hoping for. Unfortunately, for many expecting mothers, acne is often worse early in pregnancy, clearing up the closer you get to your due date. Although many treatment options for acne are off limits while you’re pregnant, there are still ways you can get clearer skin.

Severe Acne During Pregnancy

There’s nothing that differentiates the pimples you get during pregnancy from any others, says Lawrence E. Gibson, Mayo Clinic dermatologist. The main cause is an influx of hormones, which makes your skin produce excessive amounts of oil. When combined with dead skin cells, this forms a plug in your pores. Add bacteria that normally reside on your face into the equation, and inflammation — pimples — are the end result. Severe acne can leave behind a bad reminder of its presence: scars.

Skincare Basics

To get acne under control, the same rules apply when you’re pregnant as they did when you were a teenager. Wash your face twice a day with a mild cleanser, using only your fingertips to wash — avoid scrubbing your face with a washcloth or harsh cleansing pad. If your hair gets oily, shampoo it daily to prevent breakouts along your hairline. Pull your hair back, rather than letting it cover your face. Use oil-free makeup. And don’t pop or squeeze pimples or lay a finger on your face except when washing or applying topical acne treatments. Popping acne lesions can worsen the infection and cause permanent scars.

Safe to Use

Topical acne treatments are generally recommended during pregnancy, and many of them are safe for both you and your developing child. The preferred prescription topical is erythromycin, says Gibson, although azelaic acid is another choice. He notes that there’s been little research on over-the-counter acne medications, such as those that contain benzoyl peroxide, but there have been no adverse reports associated with this medication. Benzoyl peroxide covers all the bases by killing bacteria and removing oil and dead skin cells that clog your skin. However, the American Pregnancy Association indicates that you may wish to eschew products that contain salicylic acid, another medication commonly found in over-the-counter acne treatments.


Some of the acne medications dermatologists might have prescribed to you before pregnancy is strictly off limits now that you’re about to become a mother. The AAD indicates that oral tetracyclines cannot be used during pregnancy, as they can affect your baby’s bones and teeth. Topical retinoids, popular options for many women, are also a no-go. While only around 10 percent of these medications enter your blood, dermatologists generally don’t prescribe them to minimize the risk of harm to your baby. One prescription oral drug used to treat severe acne, isotretinoin, is particularly dangerous to use during pregnancy and is known to cause serious birth defects. So potent is isotretinoin, even women who are not pregnant must use two forms of birth control and submit to routine pregnancy tests while undergoing treatment.

The Best Advice

As noted by the APA, while many drugstore cleansers and topical medications won’t harm you or your baby, it’s best to err on the safety and ask your doctor which products he or she recommends. Also, despite your best efforts, severe acne during pregnancy — or during any stage of life — can be difficult to treat on your own. Talk to your obstetrician or a dermatologist about treatment options that are right for you.

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