Acne in pregnancy is not uncommon. Hormone changes affect the skin at all times in life, pregnancy is no exception. Women can find their skin clears up, some even glow. But others shine… with red pimples and oily skin. Acne can be most troublesome in the first trimester, but it can linger throughout pregnancy, too.
If you find that you’re breaking out during pregnancy—and especially if you never have before—you’ll be ushered into the world of dodgy acne remedies. People with pimples are desperate; trust me I’ve had my fair share. And we’ll buy into to any infomercial or advertorial going. But when you’re pregnant a lot of acne medications and over-the-counter “cures” are either off limits or untested.
Benzoyl peroxide is a category C drug in pregnancy; this means we just don’t know what the effects are on the baby. Apparently about 5% of the medication is absorbed into the mother’s system, but there’s no research on how this affects a fetus. Quite possibly none at all. Some doctors recommend using small dabs on individual pimples if necessary. Salicylic acid and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are similarly understudied and possibly risky. The labels on the packaging read, “Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant during treatment.” Retin A or retinols in high doses and tetracycline are contraindicated in pregnancy and breastfeeding. The anti-acne drug Accutane is definitely not safe in pregnancy and has been associated with miscarriage and severe birth defects. If you’re feeling cautious about applying untested medications to your skin, none of the above really helps.
The best advice for temporary, hormone-triggered acne is usually geared towards ideas of self-acceptance and patience. So annoying, I know. But pimples are often best left alone. Still, there are a few gentle things you can do that might lessen the severity of the condition.
1. Add the following antioxidant-rich foods to your diet when possible: salmon, dark green veggies, olives, berries, strawberries, cantaloupe, and extra virgin olive oil. And make sure you’re getting your vitamins via foods or supplements.
2. Apply a small dab of tea tree oil to pimples; there is no serious research on this (herbal treatments are not always safe) but it’s generally considered absolutely fine, especially in small topical doses. Here are some more ideas about natural acne remedies.
3.Drink lots of water. Water always helps with the skin, no matter what the problem. And women need more water in pregnancy as they are producing a lot more fluid now.
4. Use a mild face wash like Cetaphil. And don’t wash constantly. You have acne due to hormones not because you’re suddenly dirty.
5. Exfoliate but don’t overdo it. Exfoliating is always a good idea as it gets rid of pore-blocking dead skin cells, but lots of exfoliating on skin that is breaking out can make things worse.
6. Leave your pimples alone. They can get more inflamed from squeezing and may scar as a result of picking.
7. Moisturizing is not necessarily bad when you have acne, it’s just important to use a light moisturizer that is noncomedogenic, (the fancy word for “not clogging pores”). Everyone recommends “oil-free” moisturizers but some of them can be pretty heavy, so that’s not always the answer. The same goes for any make-up you might wear.
8. Try to get sleep and do things that promote less stress in your life. I almost hate writing this because it’s so hard to sleep at certain points in pregnancy, so just do what you can. Normal amounts of stress shouldn’t cause massive breakouts.
Of course talk to your doctor or midwife about any over-the-counter medications you want to try and consider a visit to the dermatologist if the situation becomes severe. And remember, the acne will go away eventually, if not by the third trimester, certainly once the pregnancy is over.
photo: Americo Nunes/Flickr