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Pregnancy and Acne

Woman carrying her baby

It’s not uncommon to experience acne when you’re pregnant. There’s a huge increase of hormones in your body that can make your skin more prone to blemishes, and we’re here to break down why, when, and how to manage it.

By: Dr. Kenosha Gleaton
Acne is a condition where glands in the skin become clogged with oil or dead skin. Acne can show up in the form of blackheads, pimples, bumps, and redness. Most of us are familiar with acne from our teenage years, but some experience it throughout our lives, including adult years and during pregnancy.

There are four major factors that can cause acne: oil production, clogged pores, inflammation, and bacteria. There are also indirect factors that influence the onset of acne like stress, medication, hair products, skin products, nutrition, and hormones.

Up to 40% of women may experience acne while pregnant. Increased hormones levels, mainly progesterone, stimulate the skin’s oil glands, leading to increased oil production and clogged pores. While pregnancy-related acne is most common in the first trimester, women can experience acne throughout the entire pregnancy.

Diet, nutrition, and acne

Your diet during pregnancy is so important for the baby, but nutrition also plays a huge part in your overall health, including your skin. For instance, certain vitamins, like vitamin A, directly impact your skin cells and a deficiency in them can lead to dry skin. In addition, studies show that a high intake of omega-3 fatty acids, found in Omega DHA, can decrease inflammatory acne.

This is why a balanced diet can be so beneficial to your overall health and can potentially help clear your skin.

To complement a healthy diet, you should also take a prenatal vitamin full of important nutrients that not only help the development of your baby, but also promote healthy clear skin.

Curious about whether your favorite foods and routines could sabotage your maternal glow? Check out common culprits below.

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Foods to reduce or avoid

  • Cow milk and cheese: the proteins in cow’s milk when digested can trigger breakouts and further aggravate acne. Replace these with oat or nut milks, vegan cheese, goat cheese, etc.
  • Iodine: Excessive amounts of seafood as well as table salt and garlic salt can increase iodine levels. Iodine is turned into iodide, which can irritate the skin and pores when excreted. Try sticking with freshwater finds like bass or catfish and replace your salt with sea salt.
  • Soy: soy contains phytoestrogen, a type of plant estrogen that can interfere with the body’s hormone receptors, and excessive amounts may lead to an increase in estrogen and possibly hormonal acne.

Acne medications to avoid

  • Accutane or Retin-A: Also known as Isotretinoin, can cause severe birth defects. They should never be used while pregnant; it’s important you talk to your doctor about any medication you may be taking or considering while pregnant.
  • Topical vitamin A products: excessive use of topical vitamin A has been linked to birth defects
  • Hormonal medications: any hormonal acne treatments should be avoided during pregnancy as these can affect hormonal balance of the fetus.
  • Oral tetracyclines: an antibiotic that can cause discoloration of fetal teeth

So how to keep your skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom?

Treat your skin kindly during this time! Consider using a gentle cleanser to wash your face twice daily, and try to avoid scrubbing your face as this can further irritate your skin. A good moisturizer can be beneficial for hydrating and calming the skin while preventing breakouts. Also consider switching to oil-free cosmetics. If you do want to use a topical acne treatment, consider these pregnancy approved options below.

Pregnancy safe topical medications

  • Topical benzoyl peroxide
  • Azelaic acid
  • Topical salicylic acid
  • Glycolic acid

Most of these ingredients are in OTC products and readily available. If you’re using topical acne treatments with other ingredients, be sure to clear these with your OB provider.

Pregnancy-safe supplements

  • Zinc Monomethionine: This form of zinc acts as an anti-inflammatory.
  • Probiotics: These work as good bacteria, and some strains specifically have shown to be great for skin problems.
  • Vitamin A: While topical vitamin A can be dangerous, supplementing with a healthy amount of vitamin A can help clear out pores and limit inflammation.
  • Omega-3: Another anti-inflammatory that can help calm the skin and prevent breakouts.

Finally, make sure you’re washing your sheets, pillowcases, towels, and face regularly. Bacteria can stay on these surfaces and further irritate the skin.

Over 40% of pregnant women experience acne, especially in the first few months.

Hormones, medications, and diet can all influence the onset and severity of acne, so it’s important to avoid certain ingredients. Adding supplements and a proper skin care routine can help alleviate breakouts. Fortunately, many of the supplements recommended for reducing acne are also found in a good prenatal multivitamin. By implementing the above measures, you can expect to significantly improve acne and breakouts.

But what about those other pregnancy symptoms, such as fatigue and nausea?

Check out our pregnancy blog for answers to all of your pregnancy-related questions.

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