Pregnancy is a time of both immense joy and, let’s be honest, some extreme discomfort. Growing a human inside your body is absolutely one of life’s great miracles, but it’s also often weird, disconcerting, and frankly gross. The road to meeting your baby can be long and winding, with exciting new obstacles that pop up, and nobody’s experience is identical to another: some women have to deal with daily bouts of morning sickness, while others happily indulge in cravings; some spend their lunch hour napping at their desk, while others are happy to wake up early for prenatal yoga. Take a peek at any pregnant woman’s google search history, and you’ll find a plethora of questions, including “Do you get acne while pregnant?” The answer for many women, unfortunately, is a resounding yes.
Clear, glowing skin is one of the pregnancy perks you hear about most often, but it isn’t always a given, as some women experience acne during pregnancy. “It is thought that acne develops during pregnancy largely due to hormonal changes,” says Dr. S. Tyler Hollmig, the Director of Dermatologic Surgery and Director of Laser and Cosmetic Dermatology at Ascension Texas. “This is especially true during the first and second trimester when progesterone levels increase, which may cause excess oil production by glands in the skin. This oil production may clog pores and lead to buildup of bacteria and inflammation.”
Acne after IVF meds is another hurdle some women can experience. “This typically occurs due to varying hormone levels from IVF treatments,” Dr. Hollmig says. “And it should be co-managed with a dermatologist and reproductive endocrinologist, as hormone levels are so critical to a successful pregnancy in these scenarios.”
There’s a lot to think about while pregnant, and bad skin should be the least of your worries. Here are six dermatologist-approved tips to avoid acne while pregnant and maintain that pregnancy glow you hear about so often.
1. To Beat Acne During Pregnancy, Simplify Your Skincare Routine
Pregnancy is not the time to test out that elaborate ten-step beauty regime you keep reading about. When it comes to taking care of your skin, uncomplicated is best. According to Dr. Hollmig, it’s smart to steer clear of harsher products in favor of those made with gentler ingredients. “Pregnant women should avoid treatments for acne that are unsafe. These include prescription products such as isotretinoin (a powerful, Vitamin A-based acne treatment known to cause severe birth defects), topical retinoids, spironolactone, and tetracycline antibiotics.”
If you’re thinking, “But that rules out some of the most effective acne-fighting ingredients out there!” then unfortunately, you’re correct. Avoiding harsh-but-effective ingredients is just one of those extra-not-fun side effects of having acne while pregnant. However, all hope is not lost—there are still some ways to get your skin back on track while keeping your kiddo safe.
2. Opt For Pregnancy-Safe, Acne-Busting Products
There are still answers to your acne-filled prayers, however. “Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications, such as azelaic acid, may be safely used during pregnancy—but as with everything, they’re best used under the guidance of a physician,” Dr. Hollmig says, noting that skincare products like gentle cleansers are helpful, as well.
Mostly, you want to treat your skin kindly when you’re pregnant. “Limit washing to twice daily, and avoid aggressive scrubbing and exfoliation—this can help reduce skin irritation,” Dr. Hollmig says. And if you are wondering about acne treatment while nursing, it isn’t much different. “Most meds that are contraindicated during pregnancy should not be used during breastfeeding, or should be used cautiously under a dermatologist’s guidance,” he says.
3. One Great Way To Avoid Acne While Pregnant: Stay Hydrated
Given that alcohol is (temporarily!) off the table, staying hydrated is a lot easier—but the truth is, upping your water intake is probably one of the first pieces of advice you’ll receive from any doctor while you’re pregnant. “Drinking plenty of water is helpful during pregnancy, as there is a large expansion in blood volume required to carry a healthy pregnancy,” says Dr. Hollmig. “Drinking too little water may adversely affect the skin.” Most women experience an elevated level of thirst while pregnant, but if you find yourself needing reminders to hydrate, try investing in a sleek water bottle you actively enjoy drinking out of—or logging your intake with a phone app. A couple slices of lemon, cucumber, or strawberry floating in your water lend some serious, healthy flavor, and can make you feel extra fancy, to boot.
4. Eat Smart (…At Least When You’re Not Having Serious Cravings)
Look, we’re not going to tell any pregnant person to put down the chips and ice cream—we’re neither cruel, nor are we gluttons for punishment in the form of hate mail. But the truth is, fueling your body and the growth of your baby with the best nutrients is also super important, and the food you eat can also affect your skin. “Certain studies show a high sugar and high dairy diet may worsen acne, so avoiding overconsumption of these items may be helpful,” Dr. Hollmig says. So, if your cravings have died down and you’re just finishing up the ice cream not because you really want it anymore, but just because it’s taking up room in the freezer, it may be worth handing it off to a partner to finish instead (that powerful combo of sugar and dairy may exacerbate having acne while pregnant, after all).
5. Log Those Zzzzs
“Healthy sleep habits are important for skin health in and out of pregnancy,” Dr. Hollmig says. To feel your best while pregnant, pay attention to your body and prioritize sleep whenever possible. Not only does the pregnancy hormone progesterone cause acne, it’s also the culprit for the extreme bouts of fatigue that some women experience during their first trimester. This is the time to indulge in a midday nap or early bedtime without feeling guilty. You’re growing a human being, for crying out loud! Once you hit your third trimester, a pregnancy pillow is key for finding a comfortable and safe position for sleep.
6. Clean Up Anything That Touches Your Face
Personal hygiene is always a good idea, and can help keep your skin in tip-top shape both in and out of pregnancy. “Bacterial overgrowth is a potential cause of acne. Maintaining clean linens, clean hair, and even cleaning your cell phone all may help reduce acne,” says Dr. Hollmig. This one’s honestly a great tip for beating acne while pregnant and after—of course your phone can cause acne, but that hadn’t occurred to us at all before!