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How to Combat Acne During Pregnancy

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If you already suffer from acne you may find it gets worse once you are pregnant. This is because of the changing hormones associated with pregnancy. In fact, even if you’ve never had acne, you may suddenly develop it.

Acne in pregnancy is quite common and is often at its worse in the first trimester. By the third trimester it has usually improved dramatically or cleared up altogether.

Other skin problems that can occur in pregnancy are:

• Atopic dermatitis

• Psoriasis

• Perioral dermatitis

• Striae Gravidarum (stretch marks)

• Telangiectasia (dilated small blood vessels in the skin)

• Pigmentary disturbance


Beware!! Most over-the-counter and prescription treatments for acne have not been tested for safety in pregnant women, so don’t attempt to self-treat without first speaking to your family doctor, obstetrician or midwife.

The following medicines are NOT suitable for use in pregnancy: Tetracycline, topical retinoids, salicylic acid preparations, oral isotretinoin (Accutane). These are teratogenic (they cause birth defects) and they should not be used even if you are planning a pregnancy and not yet pregnant.

Benzoyl peroxide is an antiseptic that can be used to treat mild acne in both adults and children and is considered safe for use in pregnancy.

Azelaic acid, made from a yeast that lives on the skin, may be used for more moderate cases of acne and is considered generally safe. It is anti-inflammatory so may help ease cases of inflammatory acne.

However, it can produce a burning sensation when applied to the skin and in people with sensitive skin, may cause contact dermatitis.

If the acne is severe, oral antibiotics such as erythromycin may be prescribed during pregnancy, but you should only take them with a doctor’s guidance. There has been some research that links antibiotic use in pregnancy with a higher risk of childhood asthma.

Although antibiotics have not been contraindicated in pregnant women, this research should be considered when deciding whether to have antibiotics in pregnancy.

Alternative Treatment for Acne

Tea tree oil can be used topically to get rid of acne and is considered safe to use in pregnancy as long as it is just used on the skin. It should NEVER be swallowed as taking it orally is toxic. You should also avoid putting it near your eyes.

In a trial of tea tree oil in the treatment of mild and moderate acne, thirty patients were given tea tree oil gel to apply to their acne spots and another thirty patients were given a placebo. They were then followed up for 45 days.

The tea tree oil was found to be 5.75 times more effective than placebo at reducing the severity of acne and 3.55 times more effective at reducing the number of acne lesions.

The researchers concluded that tea tree oil gel was an effective treatment for mild and moderate acne.

Tea tree can also be bought in a stick that you can apply directly to the spots.


Pregnancy and Acne, Acne.org. Web. 11 June 2012. http://www.acne.org/pregnancy-acne.html

Acne in Pregnancy, DermNet NZ. Web. 11 June 2012. http://www.dermnetnz.org/acne/acne-in-pregnancy.html

Antibiotics Linked to Childhood Asthma Rise, The Daily Mail. Web. 11 June 2012. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-138804/Antibiotics-linked-childhood-asthma-rise.html

Tea Tree Oil, Medline Plus. Web. 11 June 2012. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/113.html

The efficacy of 5% topical tea tree oil gel in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study, Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2007 Jan-Feb;73(1):22-5.
Abstract: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17314442

Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/ She is the mother of five children and practices natural childbirth, delayed cord clamping, full term breastfeeding and organic food diet.

Reviewed June 11, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.