Pregnancy Acne: When Does It Start and How to Treat It

Pregnancy is often linked with glowing skin and a radiant look. However, not all expectant mothers experience this ‘pregnancy glow.’ Instead of enjoying a glowing complexion during pregnancy, many women experience an inconvenient reality – pregnancy acne. 

These unexpected breakouts can add stress to an already overwhelming time. Today, I’ll delve deep into the causes and onset of pregnancy acne and provide actionable tips on managing it while ensuring your baby-to-be’s safety. 

Whether you’re suffering from the first pimple or dealing with persistent breakouts, this guide will empower you to regain control of your skin health during pregnancy.

Causes of Pregnancy Acne

Pregnancy is a beautiful journey that brings various physical and hormonal changes in a woman’s body. Unfortunately, for some women, one of these changes includes the onset of pregnancy acne. Here are the most common causes of acne that can be attributed to several factors:

  • Hormonal Changes: Fluctuating hormones during pregnancy, particularly an increase in androgens, can lead to the overproduction of sebum (skin oil), which clogs pores and causes acne.
  • Increased Oil Production: Hormonal imbalances can stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce excess oil. This extra oil, combined with dead skin cells, can clog pores and create an environment conducive to the growth of acne-causing bacteria.
  • Increased Blood Flow: The body’s increased blood circulation during pregnancy can result in higher oil production, which may contribute to acne breakouts.
  • Stress: Pregnancy is often related to a stressful period, and stress can trigger hormonal changes that exacerbate acne.
  • Dietary Factors: Poor dietary choices or food sensitivities can contribute to acne. Maintaining a balanced diet is crucial during pregnancy.
  • Genetics: A family history of acne can increase the likelihood of experiencing pregnancy acne.
  • Medications: Certain medications may be contraindicated during pregnancy and can lead to acne as a side effect.

Now, I hope you understand the potential causes of pregnancy acne. Let’s explore one key factor that significantly contributes to its onset: hormone swings.

Role of Hormone Swings

During pregnancy, several hormones play a crucial role. The following are the most important ones.


During early pregnancy, the body produces estrogen to support the baby until the placenta takes over. This hormone is crucial for developing the baby’s organs and properly functioning the placenta. However, it can also cause nausea and softer ligaments that may lead to pain in the lower back and pelvis.

In the later stages of pregnancy, estrogen plays a role in preparing the body for breastfeeding if the mother chooses to do so. It also helps the uterus respond to oxytocin during labor.


At the start of pregnancy, progesterone is produced to support the baby’s growth until the placenta starts functioning and increases the blood flow to the womb. It can also cause heartburn, vomiting, reflux, gas, and constipation. 

As the pregnancy progresses, it can also aid the baby’s development. It prevents milk production until the baby is born and strengthens the pelvic floor muscles in preparation for labor.


Oxytocin helps ease pain during labor, opens the cervix, reduces bleeding, and promotes bonding and milk production.


Relaxin hormone makes your ligaments softer, so you must be careful with certain types of exercise to avoid injury. Relaxin also plays a crucial role during labor by softening and lengthening the cervix and pelvic area, aiding a smoother delivery.

Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG)

HCG is a hormone released during pregnancy to support the mother and fetus. It also indicates pregnancy in over-the-counter tests.

Human placental lactogen (hPL)

Human placental lactogen (hPL) helps your baby receive the necessary nutrients during pregnancy.


Prostaglandins play a crucial role in preparing the cervix for childbirth.

Understanding these hormone-related changes is crucial for expectant mothers and healthcare providers to ensure a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

Treating Pregnancy Acne Safely

When it comes to treating pregnancy acne, caution is key. Many traditional over-the-counter treatments and prescription medications contain ingredients that may pose potential risks for pregnant women and their developing babies. 

Safe Treatment Options for Pregnancy Acne:

Let’s take a look at some specific pregnancy-safe skincare options and practices that can effectively address pregnancy acne:

Gentle Cleansing:

  • Use a mild, hypoallergenic cleanser to wash your face twice a day. Avoid harsh or abrasive scrubs, which can irritate your skin.
  • Opt for lukewarm water instead of hot water, as hot water can worsen acne by drying out your skin.

Topical Products:

  • It is better to consult your dermatologist or healthcare provider before using any topical acne products during pregnancy.
  • Some safe options may include glycolic or lactic acid products, generally considered safe in limited concentrations.

Natural Remedies:

Aloe vera gel, tea tree oil, and honey are natural remedies known for their acne-fighting properties. 


Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water to help maintain skin health.


To promote overall skin health, incorporate a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Avoid excessive consumption of sugary or greasy foods.

Stress Management:

Practice stress-reduction techniques like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises to help minimize stress-related acne flare-ups.

Risky Treatment Options to Avoid During Pregnancy:

Oral Retinoids:

  • Drugs like isotretinoin (Accutane) should be strictly avoided during pregnancy, as they can cause severe congenital disabilities.

Oral Antibiotics:

  • Some antibiotics used to treat acne, such as tetracycline, can potentially harm your developing baby and should be used with caution under medical supervision.

High-dose Salicylic Acid:

  • Over-the-counter products with high concentrations of salicylic acid should be avoided, as they can be absorbed into your bloodstream and potentially affect your baby.

Chemical Peels and Laser Therapy:

  • Chemical peels and laser therapy pose risks to developing fetuses during pregnancy. Consult your healthcare provider before considering such acne treatments.

Risky And Pregnancy-Safe Alternatives

A wide range of skincare products available are safe for use during pregnancy. Make sure you have a better understanding of safe and risky ingredients.

Risky IngredientsPregnancy-Safe Alternatives
Retinol (vitamin A)Gentle plant-based serums
Salicylic acid (BHAs)Natural exfoliants like fruit enzymes
HydroquinoneBrightening agents with vitamin C
OxybenzoneMineral-based sunscreens


Pregnancy acne can be a frustrating experience, but it’s essential to prioritize the safety of both you and your baby when seeking treatment. Stick to safe and gentle skincare routines, consult your healthcare provider for guidance, and avoid risky treatments to ensure a healthy pregnancy journey.


  • Michael Reed

    Michael Reed is a medical writer at Sumlab, focusing on dermatological studies and treatments. His articles help demystify complex clinical results for a broad audience.

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