A healthy baby is obviously the best thing to come out of pregnancy, but in some cases, the end result isn't the only perk of the nearly 10-month journey. Some women credit their pregnancy with making their hair longer and shinier, and their skin tone clearer and more radiant. Others experience the opposite of the coveted pregnancy glow: acne.
The skin condition is common in expecting mothers, and while it might seem like a blip on the radar of a much bigger picture, that doesn't make struggling with acne any more enjoyable. "Dealing with pregnancy acne was challenging," says Erkya Hammonds, a marketing professional at Universal Music Group and mom to a 10-month-old baby boy. "I expected this glow that came with being pregnant, but instead my skin got worse."
Hammonds explains that acne put a damper on a time during which she had expected to feel her most beautiful. "I spent a lot of time in Sephora and Ulta looking for products and makeup to cover up my blemishes," she says. "I avoided taking photos throughout my pregnancy because of my skin."
Hammonds' experience isn't isolated, and many experts say that experiencing acne during pregnancy is common. Ahead, everything you need to know about what creating new life in your body could potentially do to your skin — and what to do about it.
What causes acne during pregnancy?
If your skin is breaking out more or worse than usual while pregnant, you can (shocker) thank your hormones for that. "Pregnancy is a hormonal process that can flare up acne," says dermatologist Jeaneen Chappell, MD. "It may also improve acne for some lucky women, but it isn't a condition that is predictable."
According to OB-GYN Carolyn DeLucia, MD, of VSPOT Women’s Intimate Health Spa in New York City, during pregnancy, women experience an increase in estrogen and progesterone. "As time goes on these hormones may stabilize," she says. "One may see improvement in the skin; others may not." Dr. Chappell adds that an increase in androgen levels may cause an increase in sebum production, which can also lead to acne during your term.
For pregnant women who actually see an improvement in their existing acne, Dr. DeLucia says that's due to ovulation — or, rather, lack thereof. "Pregnant women do not ovulate for nine consecutive months," she says. "Their hormones may fluctuate less, therefore improving acne in skin prone to the condition."
How can pregnancy acne be treated?
Most professionals will tell you to connect with your dermatologist and OB-GYN to discuss a skin-care regimen that works for both you and baby. "Acne during pregnancy is best managed by your dermatologist in conjunction with your OB-GYN to ensure the safe use of products and ingredients," Dr. Chappell says. Communication between both medical professionals in this case will ensure that your acne routine doesn't include ingredients that may be harmful during pregnancy (more on that later).
Because of the long list of things to avoid while you're expecting, most experts recommend going as clean and straightforward as possible with your skin-care products. Gynecologist Alyssa Dweck, MD, says that gentle, dermatologist-tested topical washes like Cetaphil might help control sebum and acne production; however, talking to your derm is always the best option for finding the most effective solution.
What skin-care ingredients should pregnant women avoid?
If your pre-baby skin-care routine includes layering topical retinoids, salicylic acids, and benzoyl peroxide, you'll want to put them far, far away for the duration of your pregnancy. "Patients should not use retinol, which is a vitamin-A based treatment," Dr. DeLucia says. "Excess vitamin A has been linked to liver damage and congenital disabilities during pregnancy." That includes isotretinoin, also known as Accutane, which has been linked to birth defects. Dr. DeLucia says that oral antibiotics commonly prescribed for acne, like doxycycline and tetracycline, should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding as well. "They have been linked to permanent discoloration of developing teeth and bone," she says.
According to Dr. Sperling, taking caution with what you put on your skin is as vital as paying attention to ingredients and medications you ingest. "Some topical treatments can be absorbed into the skin and can present issues during the pregnancy," she says.
Dealing with acne during pregnancy may feel daunting, but with the right safe ingredients and care, the condition can improve. "It gets better," Hammonds says. "My skin started improving when my son was nearly six months old. Since then, I've simplified my routine and improved my diet, and that has helped." Above all, she says, trust the process. "It's hard to see the good when you look in the mirror and focus on the bad, but I would do it all over again for my son," she says. "The journey is beautiful, so be kind to yourself and your skin."