You’re probably aware that your body will go through some changes during your pregnancy, like an expanding belly and unusual cravings. But you also likely didn’t anticipate your skin to revert back to what it was like when you were a teenager.
Expecting a little bundle of joy can make you more prone to breakouts, but standard remedies you’ve used in the past may not be OK to use during this time. Cue you, frantically searching for pregnancy-safe acne treatments to help you get clear skin again.
There’s a lot to navigate with pregnancy acne treatment, and it makes sense to have questions. Read on for everything you need to know, plus a few of our top picks to help you combat those pesky pimples.
What Causes Pregnancy Acne?
The usual suspect—hormones—are to blame. “Pregnancy acne is primarily caused by hormonal changes, specifically an increase in androgen hormones like progesterone and testosterone in the first trimester,” says Ife J. Rodney, MD, founding director of Eternal Dermatology Aesthetics. “This can cause the oil glands in the skin to produce more sebum, leading to clogged pores and breakouts.”
And don’t worry, it’s not just you who is going through this. “A lot of women experience pregnancy acne,” says Christine Greves, MD, a board-certified ob/gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies.
If you haven’t experienced pregnancy acne yet, consider yourself lucky. “While the hormone changes happen in all women, this does not mean all pregnant women will develop acne,” Rodney says. “Those with a history of acne or acne during their menstrual cycles are more likely to develop pregnancy acne.”
How to Treat Pregnancy Acne
- Retinoids. These include retinol, tretinoin and adapalene, and should be avoided in topical and oral forms. “These are known contributors to birth defects,” Rodney says.
- Adapalene. Also known as Differin gel, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends that you skip this during pregnancy.
- Vitamin A. Rodney warns that high doses of vitamin A have also been linked to birth defects and liver issues.
Instead, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends looking for products that contain ingredients like topical benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid or glycolic acid. Rodney also notes that lactic acid and sulfur are safe for pregnancy, while cautioning, “it’s always best to check with a healthcare provider before using any new products during pregnancy,” just to be safe.
ACOG also recommends the use of topical salicylic acid. Studies have shown that the use of low-dose, topical salicylic acid has no adverse effect on pregnancy. However, animal studies have shown a link between higher doses taken orally and birth defects. In the interest of caution, we’ve avoided recommending any products that use salicylic acid as an active ingredient.
Best Pregnancy-Safe Acne Treatments
Overall best pregnancy-safe acne treatment
We all know what a miracle worker salicylic acid can be for acne. But if you're worried about using it during pregnancy, never fear: Azelaic acid makes a great substitute. This acne treatment from The Ordinary earned a well-deserved highlight in this year's Best of The Bump skin care roundup, where our product tester told us "I noticed a change in the texture of my skin after the very first application." The lotion rubs in quickly, and smooths out uneven texture, offering brighter skin without risk. "With further use," our product tester told us, "it will prove to be a game-changer in my skincare collection!"
Size: 1 fl. oz. | Active ingredients: Azelaic acid
"Even after just a handful of uses, [my skin is] clearer. It absorbs super quickly and left my skin feeling very soft."
- Fragrance-free product is great for scent-sensitive pregnancies
- Great value for money
- Product tester found that the nozzle can get "gunky"
Best cleanser for hormonal acne
La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane cleanser is specially designed to help you clean your skin in an incredibly gentle way. The cleanser's cream-like texture feels great going on, and features spring water, niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3) and ceramide-3 to lift out dirt, makeup and other impurities without messing up your skin’s natural pH. It’s also free of oil and fragrance, so you don’t have to stress about it irritating your skin even more.
Size: 13.5 fl. oz. | Active ingredients: Ceramide-3, niacinamide
- Great for sensitive skin
- Soothing cream texture
Best pregnancy-safe exfoliant
This exfoliant from The Ordinary contains lactic acid, which gently exfoliates skin. It also can help even out your skin tone, improve dullness and target fine lines and wrinkles. To use it, apply the serum once a day to your skin. Keep in mind that it might increase your sensitivity to the sun, so you’ll want to be extra mindful of wearing a hat, sunscreen and other protection when you go outdoors.
Size: 1 fl. oz. | Active ingredients: Lactic acid
- Easy to use
- Can be diluted with other products
- Also improves dullness
- A little goes a long way
- May increase your sensitivity to the sun
Best pregnancy-safe acne face wash
Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleanser is designed to clean your skin while infusing in moisture. It’s made with glycerin, along with niacinamide (vitamin B3) and panthenol (vitamin B5) to pamper your skin as you cleanse. This wash is hypoallergenic and free of fragrances, parabens and sulfates, making it a great choice for people with especially sensitive skin.
Size: 20 fl. oz.| Active ingredients: Glycerin, niacinamide, panthenol
- Gentle on skin
- May not be strong enough for tough acne
- Doesn’t form a lather
Best pregnancy-safe acne spot treatment
Once zits pop up, you want to hit them where it hurts. These patches from Mighty Patch feature hydrocolloid that goes to work covering and trapping the gunk inside your pimple. They’re clear and thin, so you can wear them during the day and even under makeup. These patches aren't medicated and have strong adhesive to stick onto your skin, but can also be easily removed when the time is right. Worth noting: The box contains medium and small patches for different-sized breakouts.
Size: 39 count | Active ingredients: Hydrocolloid
- Not medicated
- Can be worn under makeup
- Easy to apply and remove
- Medication may be required for tougher zits
- Some of the patch may still be visible
Best pregnancy-safe night cream
A good moisturizer is also an important tool in keeping your skin healthy during pregnancy. This option from First Aid Beauty is a popular choice. It features colloidal oats and shea butter to infuse moisture into your skin, and can even ease minor irritation from eczema. Apply it nightly before bed for an extra boost of moisture.
Size: 1.7 fl. oz. | Active ingredients: Colloidal oats, shea butter, sodium hyaluronate
- Thick texture
- Soothes and moisturizes
- Safe for sensitive skin
- May be too thick for some
Best pregnancy-safe face mask
Summer Fridays’ Jet Lag Mask helps perk up dull skin and can be used in a few ways—as a daily moisturizer, overnight mask or dry skin spot treatment. The mask features glycerin and hyaluronic acid to help lock in moisture. Niacinamide also helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and pores, perking up your skin in the process. The mask is even fragrance free—a great bonus for moms-to-be who have scent-sensitive pregnancies!
Size: 1 fl. oz. | Active ingredients: Glycerin, hyaluronic acid
- Multi-use treatment
- Smooth texture
- Travel-friendly size
How We Chose the Best Pregnancy-Safe Acne Treatments
Pregnancy acne can be frustrating to deal with. To help you choose the best pregnancy-safe acne treatments, we spoke with a dermatologist and a board-certified ob/gyn for the advice they offer patients about choosing these products. We also consulted information from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and American Academy of Dermatology on the best and safest ingredients to use on your skin during your pregnancy. From there, we tracked down the most popular pregnancy acne products on the market and narrowed the field based on safety of ingredients, effectiveness and value. Reviews from real users were also considered to make sure we had the best sense of how these products perform for a range of expectant mothers.
Interested in learning more about our editorial process? Read about how our team develops and reviews all articles here.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.
Ife J. Rodney, MD, is the founding director of Eternal Dermatology Aesthetics, and has more than 15 years of experience across all aspects of cosmetic, surgical, and medical dermatology. She completed her undergraduate degree and dermatology residency at Howard University in Washington, DC, and held a dermatopathology fellowship at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.
Christine Greves, MD, is a board-certified ob/gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. She received her medical degree from the University Of South Florida College Of Medicine, and is a fellow of the American Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
American Academy of Dermatology Association, Is Any Acne Treatment Safe to Use During Pregnancy?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Skin Conditions During Pregnancy, July 2022
Canadian Family Physician, Safety of Skin Care Products During Pregnancy, June 2011
American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, Topical Acne Drugs: Review of Clinical Properties, Systemic Exposure, and Safety, April 2003