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The Guide to Combating Acne During Pregnancy
As someone who has been pregnant twice, I can tell you that it's a beautiful, life-changing time.
It's so exciting to bring a new life into the world!
But I'm going to be real: It's not easy physically or emotionally.
Your body goes through a lot in those nine months.
For many women, this means skin changes...like acne.
When you keep hearing about a "pregnancy glow," it can be a real bummer!
So, what can be done? Or does it just have to be ignored until it goes away on its own?
Keep on reading for everything you need to know about this common pregnancy side effect!
Why Does Acne Occur During Pregnancy?
Here's your one-word answer: hormones.
(Ugh, those guys can seriously be troublemakers.)
Around week six of pregnancy - during the first trimester - production of androgens surge.
This is necessary to support the baby's development.
These androgens are converted into estrogen and progesterone, which cause excess sebum production.
Here's a refresher: Sebum is oil that's naturally secreted by your skin's sebaceous glands.
This excess sebum production can clog pores and cause bacteria to build up, thus resulting in acne.
The rapid acceleration of androgens is also responsible for other pregnancy skin conditions like melasma, which I personally struggled with during my two pregnancies.
Unfortunately, if you were acne-prone in your adolescent and adult years before pregnancy, chances are that it'll come back in the first trimester.
And, if you had it during your first pregnancy, you'll probably have it when you get pregnant again.
But wait, there's more!
Even if you didn't deal with acne at all before pregnancy, it may decide to make an appearance then.
The good news?
It should improve after you give birth and your hormones return to their previous levels.
Why It's Important to Address Acne
Breakouts can seriously be a downer during an otherwise happy period of your life.
While some may dismiss acne as a cosmetic problem, the effects it can have on your mental health are real.
Studies have shown that acne can lead to depression, feelings of embarrassment, decreased self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts.
As a result, those with acne may withdraw from social situations, work, and even neglect their self-care routine.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a real concern, too.
In a study of 100,000 women, 1 in 7 experienced PPD after giving birth.
Scrolling through social media isn't exactly self-love boost we need, either.
We're constantly bombarded with flawless-looking pictures that have been edited with apps and filters.
Although we know these pictures aren't "real," we still compare ourselves to others!
Feeling frustrated about acne is completely normal.
I want you to know that you're not alone - millions of people (literally, 50 million Americans) have experienced acne.
But on the bright side, it's only temporary during pregnancy.
Don't let it distract you from your many beautiful qualities!
Why It's Important to Read Product Labels
When you're not pregnant and experiencing acne, you can tackle it with over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription treatments, as well as diet and lifestyle changes.
But, when you're pregnant, things get trickier (which is why I'm writing this post!).
It matters what topical and oral products you use because they can be absorbed by your body and potentially harm your baby.
Some treatments even come with a high risk of causing birth defects, which I'll get to in a minute.
Here are some general guidelines:
- Talk to your primary care physician, OB/GYN, or dermatologist before taking any acne medication while pregnant. This is especially important if you're already taking other medication.
- Follow the instructions on the product label and use only as recommended. Most formulas are only intended for use once or twice daily.
- Avoid face or body peels, which can increase your body's absorption rate of skincare ingredients.
lAnd, this goes for most things in pregnancy, but if you're ever unsure about using a skincare product, ingredient, or formula, I personally stuck to the mantra "better to be safe than sorry."
Ingredients to Look For
The following skincare ingredients are safe for treating acne during pregnancy.
If you see the word "acid," don't be frightened!
I'm going to talk about a couple of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), and these can actually do some pretty great things for your skin.
Click here for an in-depth post about them.
A derivative of sugarcane, glycolic acid is an AHA.
It penetrates the skin the most easily of all the AHAs because it has the smallest molecular size and is the most active.
It makes an excellent peeling and exfoliating ingredient - it's often used in in-office chemical peels.
In OTC products, it removes the top layer of dead skin cells and encourages cellular turnover.
This helps with the rebuilding of collagen and elastin, which means that skin healing can be accelerated and signs of environmental damage can be reduced, like those from pollution.
As a result, you'll see fewer blemishes and the dark spots that they can leave behind!
And, if you're looking for some anti-aging action as well, glycolic acid has got you covered.
It can brighten the complexion, soften skin and help it to appear more supple, and reduce signs of wrinkles.
So, if you find yourself dealing with dull skin, acne, and/or hyperpigmentation during pregnancy, glycolic acid could work for you.
This is one of the most popular AHAs used in skincare products.
Lactic acid is a natural acid that can come from milk, fruit, or vegetables.
It can also be produced synthetically.
Fun fact: It's also made by muscle tissues during a workout.
Lactic acid is helpful for acne because of its gentle exfoliation properties and its ability to stimulate cell turnover.
If you have sensitive skin that gets red or irritated at the mere thought of exfoliation, this ingredient is for you!
Lactic acid offers all the benefits of its sister, glycolic acid, but in a gentler, less-irritating formula.
It also offers anti-aging benefits.
It effectively softens and improves skin’s texture while smoothing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
You’ll still get a more even, youthful complexion and brighter skin without the redness or discomfort of harsher formulas.
If these ingredients aren't yielding results, your OB/GYN or dermatologist can prescribe a topical antibiotic, such as the following:
Oral antibiotics can work as well, particularly for cases where acne appears to be worsening or isn't responding to topical methods.
Safe oral antibiotics include:
- Erythromycin (yes, it's also available as a pill)
Light-based therapies are also an option for treating acne in pregnant women, although they're not the first choice.
If neither topical nor oral antibiotics are having an effect on acne, red and blue light phototherapy is safe and can be used.
However, they're not covered by insurance and need to be performed by a dermatologist once a week.
And, in rare, severe cases, oral corticosteroids may be prescribed to prevent scarring.
Ingredients to Avoid
As a general rule of thumb, product descriptions that say “anti-aging,” “skin lightening,” “wrinkle creams, ”and “acne creams” often contain unsafe ingredients during pregnancy and should be avoided.
There are exceptions to this, of course - just read the product label to know what ingredients you're getting.
The following ingredients shouldn't be used in your skincare routine because of the risk they pose to your baby.
Retinoids are a type of vitamin A that speed up cell division and prevent collagen from breaking down.
The pre-formed vitamin A is retinol.
It’s found in animal products like dairy, fish, and meat (especially liver) and is also made synthetically.
Retinol is used to help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and pimples, improve the appearance of skin tone, and fight fine lines and wrinkles.
I, personally, love retinol - just not for use during pregnancy as it has shown to cause birth defects.
It should be avoided at all costs.
The graphic below shows you what to look out for.
This prescription-only acne medication is typically used as a last-resort option for people with severe cases of acne.
It's also classified a retinoid and works by reducing sebum production.
Isotretinoin is infamous for its gnarly side effects.
It should NEVER be used during pregnancy as it's been proven to cause birth defects.
Women going on Isotretinoinactually have to agree in writing to use birth control and have regular pregnancy tests before, during, and after treatment.
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) and is extremely common in pimple-fighting skincare products.
The difference between BHAs and AHAs is the number of carbon atoms.
For BHAs, the hydroxy part of the molecule is separated from the acid by two carbon atoms, and AHAs are separated by one carbon atom.
Salicylic acid is great for oily skin types as it regulates sebum production and has a drying effect.
It also makes a great spot treatment for pimples because it gets deep into pores, cleans them, and helps calm inflammation.
It works well for whiteheads and blackheads, but not usually for cystic acne.
However, salicylic acid shouldn't be used during pregnancy because it can cause complications and/or birth defects.
In general, BHAs shouldn't be used during pregnancy, either.
Pregnancy-Safe Acne Products
Feeling overwhelmed? Shop the blog for your skincare needs without having to look around or leave the comfort of your couch! All included products and acne cleansers are safe to use during pregnancy.
For Targeted Treatment:
Whether you're planning to have a baby or are expecting, congratulations!
I know there's a ton of info to process at this time and things to remember.
Hopefully, this blog post saved you a phone call to your doc!
As a mama, you'll have to make a lot of upcoming decisions.
So, if you want to combat your acne, go for it - you have the knowledge to do so.
You deserve to enjoy this special time in your life as much as you can - don't let acne stop you!
Friends, do you have any tips or product recommendations that helped with your pregnancy acne? Want to vent your breakout frustrations? Share with us in the comments!