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Bad Skin While Pregnant: Why Pregnancy Can Give You Acne (And What To Do About It)

Scott McDougall
Scott McDougallMPharmDirector & Registered Manager

Reviewed on 18 Oct 2023

Here’s the unfortunate truth: an awful lot of women experience bouts of acne during pregnancy. It’s so common that around 50% of women can expect to develop it at some point or other. The severity may range from mild to severe, varying from person to person.

Usually more prevalent during the first and second trimester, women experience a change in hormones during pregnancy that can trigger sebum production and make skin more oily, leading to clogged pores and pimples. So here’s what you need to know about pregnancy acne – and the steps you can take to treat and prevent it.

Is bad skin a sign of early pregnancy?

Some women notice sudden breakouts and ask themselves: am I pregnant? True enough, increased acne and changes in the skin can be a symptom of early pregnancy. Especially if you don’t suffer from spots normally, this could be a sign that your hormone levels are changing.

In some cases, women may start to experience acne symptoms before they’ve missed a period. Of course, the only way to know for sure is to take a pregnancy test. Sudden bouts of acne alone do not constitute confirmation either way.

If you are pregnant, then you may find that the acne starts to settle once your hormone levels begin to stabilise. In the meantime, it’s important not to pick or squeeze the pimples, or you may be left with scars.

Pregnancy acne and gender

There is an old wives’ tale that says if you experience acne during pregnancy, it means you’re more likely to have a girl. Perfectly clear skin, on the other hand, suggests you’re having a boy. However, modern medicine has come a long way since then – we don’t need to rely on skin changes as a gender predictor.

Expectant parents can now find out the sex of their baby when they visit the sonographer for a 20-week scan. The results are generally very accurate – though not always 100%. Genetic testing is the only way to know for certain, however, this is usually reserved for babies at risk of genetic abnormality.

When does pregnancy acne go away?

Pregnancy acne should go away naturally once you’ve given birth and your hormone levels have normalised. It usually develops around the fourth or fifth week of pregnancy due to hormonal changes. This means you likely won’t need any potent acne treatments: you can simply wait for it to clear up.

When pregnancy acne lasts throughout a pregnancy, it can be extremely frustrating and painful, but it’s important to stay patient and be extremely careful about seeking treatment. Oddly, some women find that their skin clears up while they’re pregnant, so it’s an unpredictable process.

Common acne zones

So where does acne most commonly occur during pregnancy? Most often it affects the face, and the T-zone in particular, i.e. the forehead, nose and chin. However, it can also appear on the chest, neck, shoulders and back. Cystic chin acne is not uncommon if the acne gets quite bad. This is due to the raised hormone levels experienced during pregnancy.

What acne medications are safe during pregnancy?

Finding pregnancy-safe medication can feel like a bit of a minefield, which is frustrating if you have a condition like acne that you wish to treat effectively. With a combination of medical treatment and self-care, most cases of acne can be reduced, if not alleviated completely.

It’s important to remember that any substance swallowed or applied to the skin can enter your bloodstream, and therefore affect your baby. For the most part, topical over-the-counter treatments haven’t had in-depth studies to confirm their safety in pregnancy. One prescription treatment that is known to be safe in pregnancy is the topical treatment Zineryt, which contains erythromycin.

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The safety of using benzoyl peroxide to treat pregnancy acne is still cause for debate. Therefore, it should be avoided unless advised by a doctor for severe acne.

Certain acne medication is known to cause birth defects, and should never be taken while pregnant. These include:

Natural pregnancy acne remedies

Of course, alongside any medical treatment you may be taking, there are also natural ways to help clear up your pregnancy acne. Ensuring a proper diet, plenty of rest and a good facial hygiene routine will be beneficial. Below are some of the most popular home remedies and tips for treating your acne while pregnant – without the risk of side effects:

  • Rather than excessively scrubbing your skin, wash problem areas with a gentle cleanser. Strong astringents can irritate the skin, which will make acne worse
  • Try to avoid picking or squeezing your pimples – however tempting that may be. Picking can cause scarring and further infection
  • Be aware of the products you apply to your skin. Oily cosmetics are a bad idea, as are heavy concealers. Keep your hair clean and try not to touch your face too often
  • If you sweat a lot from heat or exercise, take regular showers to avoid blocked pores
  • Ensure that your clothes, towels and pillowcases are washed regularly
  • Apply topical natural remedies such as: apple cider vinegar, baking soda, citrus fruit, honey and coconut oil. Coconut oil is a great moisturiser for problem skin
  • Make sure that your diet is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy sources of protein, and healthy fats like nuts and avocado. Where possible, avoid refined sugars, processed foods and caffeinated beverages

These are our tips for treating acne while pregnant. If you have any questions or comments, you can chat with us online or take a free online assessment to see what treatments are available to you.

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