profile picture of Rebecca Kolp, MD
Rebecca Kolp, MD
OB-GYN

Acne During Pregnancy

Feel like you’re going through puberty all over again? Why you're getting all those pimples—and how to safely treat them.

And you thought acne was the stuff of teenage angst, right? But getting pimples during pregnancy—on your face, back and other body parts—is actually pretty standard. You can (probably) chalk it up to those pregnancy hormones.

What Causes Acne During Pregnancy?

It’s thought that pregnancy hormones might increase the skin’s production of oil. The oil builds up and clogs the pores, attracts bacteria and causes that dreaded acne. You might spot smallish, reddish bumps, or you might get the ones that are white and pus-filled. They’re not fun—but at least you're in good company. Breaking out is really common during pregnancy. Sure, some moms-to-be get that “pregnancy glow,” but plenty of others get pregnancy zits.

Pregnancy Acne Treatment

Wondering what acne medications are safe during pregnancy? Before using any over-the-counter lotions and creams, it's best to check with your doctor. There aren't any conclusive studies on the use of benzoyl peroxide during pregnancy, but Hilary Baldwin, MD, a dermatologist and medical director of the Acne Treatment and Research Center in Morristown, New Jersey, believes it's safe. Once benzoyl peroxide hits the skin, it's immediately converted into benzoic acid. "Very little of the benzoic acid is absorbed into the blood stream. And even if it was, benzoic acid is used in food all the time. It's the preservative in rice crispies cereal and an anti-foaming agent in carbonated beverages," Baldwin says. "I can't believe a small amount added in an over-the-counter product would do any damage at all." The safety of Retin-A (tretinoin) during pregnancy also hasn't been extensively studied, but most doctors advise against using products with it.

If your acne is really bothering you, your doctor may be able to prescribe something. While many acne meds, including minocycline, doxycycline, tetracycline and Accutane, are off-limits during pregnancy (because they can cause birth defects), there are some topical prescription meds that could be effective, such as clindamycin, metronidazole and azelaic acid. "These are helpful for mild to moderate acne, but do little for moderate to severe acne," Baldwin says. Laser and light therapies are also safe during pregnancy, she adds, as is visiting your dermatologist to have large pimples injected with dilute steroid solution, which can help heal larger pimples within 12 to 24 hours and reduce scarring.

Sometimes, a little self-care can go a long way. Give these easy, at-home acne remedies a try:

Wash your face with a gentle cleanser. Try using a mild soap and warm water morning and night. You may want to skip the facial scrubs, astringents and masks, since they tend to irritate the skin and can make your acne worse.

Shampoo regularly. If you're noticing acne pop up around your hairline, shampoo your hair every day.

Avoid irritants. Stay away from oily or greasy cosmetics, sunscreens, hair products and acne concealers. Products that are labeled water-based or noncomedogenic are generally less likely to cause acne.

Keep your hands off your face. A lot of women notice acne outbreaks where they lean their hands against their face.

Use tea tree oil. Baldwin says this natural essential oil can sometimes be helpful in clearing up acne.

Try a clay or charcoal mask. It won't reduce the acne itself, Baldwin says, but it can help cut down on greasiness.

Resist the urge to pick! Touching or popping your zits can actually make your acne worse.

What Other Pregnant Moms Do For Acne

“My face is a wreck—tons of zits and dry, peeling skin. I’ve been using an apricot scrub for the peeling and super moisturizer for the dryness, but nothing is defeating this acne.”

“Ugh, I’ve been just scrubbing my face with water for now because I can’t figure out my skin! It’s really broken out, even all on my chest. I usually have dry skin, and I still look a little 'flaky,' but then I touch it and it seems kind of oily.”

“Mine has been the same way lately. Dry and breaking out seems like an oxymoron to me, but not with pregnancy. I finally broke down yesterday and had a facial. I can already tell it made a big difference.”

PHOTO: Getty Images