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Is acne a sign of pregnancy?

Changes in hormones are the culprit behind pregnancy acne.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
acne as a sign of pregnancy
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

During pregnancy, the body experiences countless changes—and that can include changes in the skin. While you’ve probably heard about “pregnancy glow,” some skin developments aren’t always quite as welcome. Case in point: pregnancy acne. Have no fear! This is completely normal. 

The state of your skin during pregnancy will depend on your hormone levels. The good news is that most cases of pregnancy acne are not only temporary but very common and manageable. The tricky thing is that many of the go-to products for acne contain ingredients that are not safe for use during pregnancy. This article contains everything you need to know about pimples when you're pregnant.

Curology is a medical practice, so we want to remind you to be particularly aware of your skincare products while pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive. If you're a current Curology subscriber, let your provider know if you decide to try to conceive, have pregnancy symptoms, or are nursing. Meanwhile, stop using your Curology personalized prescription formula until you speak with your medical provider—not all skincare ingredients are confirmed to be safe for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Is acne a sign of early pregnancy?

Nearly all women (90%) experience some type of skin change throughout their pregnancy. These dermatological complications happen because of the big fluctuations in your body during pregnancy, including changes in hormones.¹

Pregnancy can affect acne in ways we don't fully understand yet. While some pregnant women may notice an improvement or maintenance of their acne, many also experience a worsening of acne during pregnancy. 

However, what we do know is that starting from early pregnancy, your body produces more hormones like estrogen and progesterone.² These hormones not only help with the growth of your baby but also change the way your body's immune system works, and how your body responds to inflammation or infection.³ Hormonal fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone can contribute to causing acne.⁴ 

So it’s possible that acne occurs early on in your pregnancy. However, it isn't necessarily a sign of early pregnancy for everyone.

What is pregnancy acne?

Pregnancy acne is a common skin condition that occurs in over 40% of pregnancies.⁵ Just like acne experienced by people who aren't pregnant, it appears as inflamed pimples and bumps on the face, neck, chest, back, and shoulders. It can range from mild to severe. Some people who already have acne notice that it gets worse during pregnancy.⁶

How soon in pregnancy does acne start, and what causes it?

Acne can appear anytime during pregnancy, but tends to be worse during the second and third trimesters.⁷ This causes your skin to produce more oil, which can clog pores and lead to breakouts. There's a lack of established research confirming exactly how early acne can show up or the potential risk factors for acne in pregnancy.⁸ Pregnancy acne can affect anyone, but you have a higher risk of experiencing it if you've had acne in the past.⁹ 

How to treat pregnancy acne safely

Unfortunately, there's a lack of clinical studies on the safety of many medications for acne during pregnancy. It's important to talk with a medical provider if you want to treat your acne, as many prescription and OTC treatments may carry a significant risk of birth defects.

According to research, pregnant people who want to treat their acne as safely as possible should consider topical treatments with the following ingredients (following approval from their OBGYN first, of course),:¹⁰

  • Benzoyl peroxide, a key ingredient in Curology's Acne Cleanser

  • Azelaic acid, available in Curology's personalized prescription formulas

  • Salicylic acid, the active ingredient in Curology's Acne Body Wash

     

Natural and home remedies for pregnancy acne

Some popular home remedies have appeared online, but since research on the effectiveness (and even safety) of some of these remedies is limited, it's strongly recommended to consult with a licensed medical provider to determine the best course of action for your acne during pregnancy.

Steer clear of these prescription medications if you're pregnant

There are several common prescription medications you shouldn't use if you are pregnant, including, but not limited to:¹¹

  • Isotretinoin, a form of Vitamin A.

  • Hormone therapy, sometimes used to treat acne.

  • Oral tetracyclines, including antibiotics such as doxycycline, minocycline, and tetracycline.

  • Topical retinoids, the same family of drugs as isotretinoin and also a form of Vitamin A.

Various birth defects are possible if these medications are taken while pregnant.¹² Read labels carefully; products are required to carry a warning that states it's unknown if these medications can harm a developing baby or a child that is being breastfed.

If you want to treat acne while you're pregnant, it's important to talk with your dermatologist and OBGYN. Together, you can decide which option is best for you.

Tips to minimize pregnancy acne

Pregnancy acne is a natural condition and usually goes away when your hormone levels return to normal. That said, there are some things you can do to help manage it.

Take extra care to keep skin clear

Audit your daily skin care regimen

  • Use cleansers and moisturizers based on your skin type.

  • Use lukewarm water and avoid over-cleansing the skin; washing just 1-2 times per day is enough!

The least you need to know about acne and early pregnancy

  • Acne can be one of the early signs of pregnancy. Hormonal changes during the first three months of pregnancy are often associated with acne. (But just because you have new pimples doesn't mean you're pregnant!)

  • Pregnancy acne is a result of hormonal fluctuations which cause your oil glands to secrete an over-abundance of oil, resulting in clogged pores.

  • A few topical agents are ok to use if you feel you must manage a break-out, but several common acne medications shouldn't be used due to the risk of birth defects.

  • Ask your medical provider. Always be sure to discuss any products you use during pregnancy with your OBGYN.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Curology's licensed dermatology providers can assist you with a personalized treatment plan to help treat acne. Many of Curology's personalized products contain ingredients that have been shown to be safe for pregnant or breastfeeding people and their babies. Sign up for a 30-day trial* and start your personalized skincare journey today!

FAQs

Is acne an early pregnancy sign?

Acne may be one of many symptoms of pregnancy, but not every pregnant person will develop acne.¹³ It's best to take a pregnancy test to be sure.

How soon in pregnancy does acne start?

Acne during pregnancy most frequently occurs during the second and the third trimesters,¹⁴ but there's a lack of established research confirming exactly how early acne can show up.¹⁵

What does early acne pregnancy look like?

Like acne on people who aren't pregnant, it looks like inflamed pimples and bumps on the face and on the neck, chest, back, and shoulders.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Kar S., et al. Pregnancy and Skin. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecolgy India. (June 2012).

  2. Kepley, J.M., et al. Physiology, Maternal Changes. StatPearls. (2023, March 12).

  3. Robinson, D.P. and Klein, S.L. Pregnancy and pregnancy-associated hormones alter immune responses and disease pathogenesis. Hormones and Behaviour. (August 2012).

  4. Elsaie, M.L. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an updateClinical Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. (2016, September 2).

  5. Ly, S., et al. Treatment of Acne Vulgaris During Pregnancy and Lactation: A Narrative Review. Dermatology and Therapy. (January 2023).

  6. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Skin Conditions During Pregnancy. (July 2022).

  7. Ly, S., et al. Treatment of Acne Vulgaris During Pregnancy and Lactation: A Narrative Review. Dermatology and Therapy. Ibid.

  8. Ly, S., et al. Treatment of Acne Vulgaris During Pregnancy and Lactation: A Narrative Review. Dermatology and Therapy. Ibid.

  9. Chien, A.L., et al. Treatment of Acne in Pregnancy. J Am Board Fam Med. (March 2016).

  10. Chien, A.L., et al. Treatment of Acne in Pregnancy. J Am Board Fam Med. Ibid.

  11. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Skin Conditions During Pregnancy. Ibid.

  12. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Skin Conditions During Pregnancy. Ibid.

  13. Awan, S.Z. and Lu, J. Management of severe acne during pregnancy: A case report and review of the literature. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology. (2017, July 13).

  14. Ly, S., et al. Treatment of Acne Vulgaris During Pregnancy and Lactation: A Narrative Review. Dermatology and Therapy. Ibid.

  15. Chien, A.L., et al. Treatment of Acne in Pregnancy. J Am Board Fam Med. Ibid.

Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

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