What Pregnancy Does To Your Skin & How To Deal With Unexpected Breakouts

When you see a positive pregnancy test your mind is filled with so many emotions, but chances are your first thought isn’t “how will this affect my skin?”. However, the hormone shift that accompanies pregnancy can drastically change how your skin feels, how it looks, and how it reacts to things. For some women, those skin changes include unexpected breakouts, which can be a knock to your confidence and self-esteem — and we don’t want you to have to navigate any of those emotions alone.

It’s suggested that almost half of pregnant women end up dealing with some form of acne, and frustratingly it’s one of those things that isn’t often talked about even though it can have a huge impact on our emotional wellbeing. What’s more, it’s a symptom that’s even harder to reconcile since the “pregnancy glow” is so often bragged about while expecting. But you are not alone if you’re struggling with prenatal acne, and we’re here to help. We believe that information is power and we want to help you know why you might be suffering from breakouts and what you can do to safely treat it, helping you take back some of that control and confidence. So, we’re bringing back this archived (but always relevant) post from beauty expert, Nadine Baggott, to shed some 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 skincare problem and it often is triggered by the hormonal surge of pregnancy.

Dr. Tony Chu, the 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 changes. 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 and teenage angst.


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 breakouts safely?

Well, 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, blocking the pore and trapping 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 ingredients that will help with this:

  • Salicylic Acid – this is considered safe when applied topically, though 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 – this 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.

Extra tips to keep your skin extra radiant and reduce those breakouts during pregnancy

  1. Come Clean: and start using a rinse-off, gentle cleanser twice a day, dabbing dry with a face flannel or muslin cloth. Choose one formulated for breakouts but still super gentle. You can peel slightly with Salicylic acid, so treat your skin with care, and use products that are designed for sensitive skin.
  2. Stick to Unscented: added fragrances can irritate your skin so it’s best to go for unscented everything right now. A quick aside: the safety of essential oils while pregnant is not fully understood, but it’s generally recommended to avoid any topical application.
  3. Stay Sensitive: steer clear of 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.
  4. Enjoy what you Eat: don’t beat yourself up thinking that your diet is causing you to breakout; chances are during pregnancy, 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 whole grains, 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.

Nadine’s Baby & Bump Breakout Best Buys:

And lastly, if you’re dealing with persistent acne after pregnancy

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 type applicators and are available by prescription only. Clindamycin lotion in particular has been shown to be as effective as oral antibiotics.

Additionally, Vitamin A treatments are available for moderate to severe acne (however do note these are not safe during pregnancy or while breastfeeding). 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 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 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.

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Nadine Baggott has been a health and beauty journalist for 25 years and now has a YouTube channel called TheBeautyKnowItAll.

For more skincare advice, follow Nadine on Instagram @nadinebaggott or find her on YouTube, where she tries to answer every question personally.


3 thoughts on “What Pregnancy Does To Your Skin & How To Deal With Unexpected 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!

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