Pregnancy skin & the battle against breakouts

Your skin is supposed to glow whilst you’re pregnant, so why are you suffering from breakouts, and what can you safely apply to your skin to treat them? Beauty Know-It-All Nadine Baggott is here to shed light on the subject.


You’re pregnant – congratulations! Or you’ve just given birth to a perfect baby and it’s love at first sight – so why are you breaking out? You’ve long said goodbye to your teenage years, so by rights you should have also waved goodbye to breakouts, but adult acne is an increasingly common skin care problem and it often is triggered by the hormonal surge of pregnancy.


Dr Tony Chu, consultant dermatologist at Hammersmith Hospital and founder of The Acne Support Group, says, ‘There’s a switch mechanism that usually turns on at puberty and switches off after about five years. But in some people, usually women, the switch is delayed and turns on later, perhaps triggered by stress or having a baby.’


Recent studies show that between 40-50% of adults between 20 and 40 are diagnosed with low-grade persistent acne and that 1 in 9 adults consult a doctor about acne every year, while millions suffer in silence. The exact cause is still unknown but it is attributable to several factors including hormonal change. Well, probably not much of a surprise here: your body will never go through such a hormonal roller coaster as when pregnant and breastfeeding. You can think of it as the grown up equivalent of puberty – just without the awkwardness.


Many of the medical treatments for acne – such as antibiotics and retinol (see below) – are not advised when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, so what exactly can you do to tackle your baby breakouts safely? What is known is that acne and breakouts are an inflammatory disease of the skin that affects the tiny pores of the face, arms, back and chest. Your hormones cause the sebaceous glands in the pores of the skin to produce more oil than normal which, in turn, causes dead skin cells to become sticky, to block the pore and trap the oil. So the key to tackling these unwanted bumps and lumps is to calm your skin down and get rid of the excess sebum.

Here are two products you can try:

  • Salicylic Acid – safe when applied topically, not recommended in any oral form. It is an exfoliating acid derived from Willow Bark that is both anti-inflammatory and lipophilic (i.e. it’s attracted to oil). This means that a serum or lotion with 2% Salicylic worn overnight on your breakouts can work it’s way into your pores to exfoliate away the dead skin cells and unblock them. What’s more, salicylic acid comes in spray form for your body too, so it can work all over. Try to only use this product when dealing with active acne, not as a preventative measure.
  • Zinc – is a great mineral that works topically and orally to calm and soothe skin. You shouldn’t take supplements when pregnant or breastfeeding without the advice of your midwife or GP, so for this you can try a topical spray.


Here are a few extra tips to keep your skin extra radiant and reduce those breakouts:

  • Come Clean – and start using a twice-daily rinse off gentle cleanser with a face flannel or muslin cloth. Choose one formulated for breakouts but that is unscented and super gentle. You can peel slightly with Salicylic so treat you skin with care, and use products that are designed for sensitive skin.
  • Stick to Unscented – added fragrances can irritate your skin so it’s best to go for unscented everything right now. The safety of essential oils while pregnant is not fully understood, but it’s generally recommended to avoid any topical application, as they can irritate your sensitive skin. Also steer clear of those harsh stripping spot gels and lotions that contain alcohol. Your skin becomes super sensitive during pregnancy and breastfeeding so be kind to it with sensitive skin products.
  • Enjoy what you Eat – don’t beat yourself up thinking that your diet is causing you to get spots; chances are, it isn’t. It is wise to avoid too much sugar (for more reasons than just the health of your skin!) and it’s good to know that some dairy products can make breakouts worse, however, neither of these dietary habits directly cause acne or spots. You are growing and feeding another human being so give yourself a break and simply try to eat a well balanced diet full of wholegrains, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein and fish. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that what’s good for your baby’s growth is also good for your skin.


My Baby & Bump Breakout Best Buys:



For Persistent Spots

After you have given birth and stopped breastfeeding you might want some medical help if your skin has not cleared up. For more persistent spots your GP can prescribe topical antibiotics. These usually come in miniature roll on deodorant type applicators and are available by prescription only. Clindamycin lotion in particular has been shown to be as effective as oral antibiotics. Finally Vitamin A treatments are available for moderate to severe acne. Topical Vitamin A derivatives called Tretinoin and Differin are supplied as creams, gels and lotions and work to dry up excess sebum. But common side effects include very dry, irritated and inflamed skin, and extreme sensitivity to sunlight, so that a sunscreen must be used at all times. Finally an oral Vitamin A derivative called Roaccutane is available. It is a very powerful anti acne drug and with it doctors can control and cure even the most severe forms of acne. But it is also teratogenic, causing possible birth defects, which is clearly why it cannot be used when pregnant or breastfeeding. That said, the drug is proven to clear up 95% of severe acne in four months, and it’s advised that you have a thorough consultation with your doctor and weigh all the pros and cons before proceeding with such a measure.


For more skincare advice, follow me on Instagram @nadinebaggott or find me on YouTube, where I try to answer every question personally.


Nadine Baggott has been a health and beauty journalist for 25 years and now has a youtube channel called TheBeautyKnowItAll answering all of your beauty questions.

Image uploaded from iOS (1).jpg

Want more more health and beauty tips mama? Check out our free ios app!


3 thoughts on “Pregnancy skin & the battle against breakouts

  1. Hi, I’ve just bought The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% but just noticed it says on their website it’s not suitable for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding? Is there a reason why it’s included in your list?

    1. Sorry I’ve just spotted it’s not on the Deciem website but on a company selling their products and it states Salicylic Acid is not recommended for use during pregnancy

      1. HI Monique – thanks so much for reaching out! You are correct, salicylic acid is not safe during pregnancy when taken orally or in high doses (usually in the form of a prescription medication). It is generally considered safe when small amounts are applied topically and on an infrequent basis, which is why the guest author recommended this product. However, the best thing you can do is talk with your healthcare professional and take their guidance on the matter. At Baby2Body, we generally recommend using products with glycolic acid (less than 10%) instead of salicylic acid for the treatment of acne and breakouts. I do hope this helps – please let us know if you have any further questions!

Leave a Reply