What's the best way to treat pregnancy acne?

Answer 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 people simply seem to have trouble with acne during pregnancy. The likely culprit is an excessive production of oil (sebum) — which happens when the body produces greater amounts of certain hormones.

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 and astringents. 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. However, medications applied to the skin or swallowed during pregnancy can enter your bloodstream and affect the baby. While most ingredients in topical acne treatments available without a prescription 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, Erythra-Derm) and clindamycin (Cleocin T, Clindagel, others) are considered safe. Other options include treatments containing benzoyl peroxide and azelaic acid.

Some acne medications are known to cause birth defects and must be avoided during pregnancy, including oral isotretinoin (Amnesteem, Claravis, others). Also avoid topical retinoids during pregnancy even though only low amounts of the medication are absorbed into the skin. Retinoids are available with and without a prescription, so read drug labels carefully.

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

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

April 26, 2022 See more Expert Answers