What's the best way to treat pregnancy acne?

Answers from Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D.

Pregnancy acne can be treated with self-care and medication.

Pregnancy acne isn't a special form of acne. Some women simply seem to have trouble with acne during pregnancy. The likely culprit is an overproduction of oil (sebum) — which happens when certain hormones go into overdrive.

To treat pregnancy acne, start with self-care:

  • Wash problem areas with a gentle cleanser. Twice a day, use your hands to wash your face with a mild soap and warm water. Avoid certain products, such as facial scrubs, astringents and masks, because they tend to irritate skin, which can worsen acne. Excessive washing and scrubbing also can irritate skin.
  • Shampoo regularly. If you tend to develop acne around your hairline, shampoo your hair every day.
  • Don't pick or squeeze blemishes. Doing so can cause infection or scarring.
  • Avoid irritants. Don't use oily or greasy cosmetics, sunscreens, hairstyling products or acne concealers. Use products labeled water-based or noncomedogenic, which means they are less likely to cause acne.
  • Watch what touches your skin. Keep your hair clean and off your face. Also avoid resting your hands or objects on your face. Tight clothing or hats also can pose a problem, especially if you're sweating. Sweat and oils can contribute to acne.

Medication also can be used to treat pregnancy acne but any medication applied to your skin or swallowed during pregnancy can enter your bloodstream and affect your baby. While most ingredients in over-the-counter topical acne treatments haven't been studied in pregnancy, typically only small amounts are absorbed into the skin. This makes it unlikely that the treatments would pose a risk to a developing baby.

Generally, skin treatments containing erythromycin (Erygel) and clindamycin (Cleocin T, Clindagel, others) are considered safe. The safety of using benzoyl peroxide to treat pregnancy acne hasn't been established. This treatment should only be used if clearly needed.

Acne medication known to cause birth defects — including oral isotretinoin (Amnesteem, Claravis) and topical retinoids — must be avoided during pregnancy.

If you're concerned about pregnancy acne, consult your dermatologist or your health care provider. Together you can weigh the benefits and risks of various treatment options.

Aug. 25, 2016