Pregnancy & Postpartum Acne: A Survival Guide

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano
9:00 am

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When you’re pregnant, there is enough to adjust to—a rapidly expanding belly, “morning” sickness, and a new child to prepare for, amongst your chief concerns—and adding pregnancy acne onto the list can be a mama-to-be’s worst nightmare. To help you nip your problem in the bud—both in the with-child stage and postpartum period—San Francisco’s resident skincare expert Kimmy Williams of Acqua e Sapone Acne Treatment Center is here to guide you through the bumpy road ahead.

Why does pregnancy and postpartum acne occur?
“Both pregnancy and postpartum acne are heavily influenced by the hormone fluctuations that occur during the first trimester and the period following childbirth. Drops in estrogen and spikes in testosterone cause a rise in sebum production, which feeds the bacteria living deep inside the follicle and contributes to the formation of acne.”

What can women do to control their acne?
-Diet Changes
“Stay away from potentially acne-triggering foods including iodine, peanuts, and especially soy and dairy, which can trigger hormone fluctuations that lead to increased oil production. Substitute dairy with green leafy vegetables as your primary calcium source, drink almond, coconut, rice, or hemp milk instead of dairy milk, and stick to grains and legumes for protein instead of tofu and cheese if you are vegetarian. Here are some inspiring recipe ideas.”

-Supplements & Pills (including prenatal vitamins)
“Iodine is a common mineral found in multivitamin supplements and although it is essential for healthy thyroid functioning, in excess it is excreted through the follicles and can be highly irritating for the pores of acne-prone individuals. In addition, there have been some recent findings that have linked biotin with increased breakouts and this is often found in prenatal vitamins. Try VitaFusion PreNatal DHA and Folic Acid Gummy Vitamins, Stuart Prenatal ONE Multivitamin with DHA, and Up&Up Prenatal Gummy Multivitamins.”

-Acne Products
“Some of the most commonly used acne-fighting ingredients in both prescription and over the counter skincare products are not recommended for pregnant and nursing women because they may cause harm to unborn babies. Isotretinoin, commonly known by the brand name Accutane, is an oral medication that has been shown to cause severe birth defects, and topical ingredients like retinol and salicylic acid (BHA) have also shown to be potentially harmful for the fetus. Stick with exfoliating alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) that break up the dead skin cells that clog the follicles and help keep the pores clear. Mandelic acid is my favorite acne-fighting ingredient because it contains additional antifungal, antibacterial, and pigment-lightening benefits that help fight inflamed acne types, as well as the dark marks that they often leave behind. The lightening benefits of this acid can also help with ‘pregnancy mask,’ the large dark marks that can form due to increased hormone levels during pregnancy. Benzoyl peroxide is another useful antibacterial ingredient that can help reduce the red, swollen, and sometimes pus-filled lesions of inflamed acne, but check with your doctor and obstetrician as it is sometimes not recommended for pregnant women.” (Ed Note: You can buy a selection of Kimmy’s acne-specific skincare products here.)

-Lifestyle Changes
“Stress, lack of sleep, and not performing your skincare routine consistently are all factors that can further aggravate mommy acne. To minimize the effects of lifestyle changes on acne, integrate stress-relieving exercises like yoga, meditation, and walking into your day. Also, get in the habit of putting aside time to perform your skincare regimen as soon as you get home for the night, so that you don’t have to fight yourself to go through your skincare routine once you are tired.”

-Makeup Products
“The recent wave of natural and organic cosmetic products flooding the market might be great for baby, but bad news for acne. Coconut oil, soybean oil, and mineral oil are all comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients commonly found in natural makeup products and can lead to the formation of ‘acne cosmetica’ in acne-prone individuals. You also want to stay away from liquid makeup because it is specifically designed to fill in the pores so that your skin looks smooth on the surface. Stick to mineral powder with no primer, since that also functions the same way as liquid makeup by filling in the pores so that skin appears smooth and even. Check out a list of acne-safe makeup products here and lipcare here.”

-Hair Products
“Comedogenic hair products often cause breakouts on the forehead, the edges of the face, and down the sides of the neck of acne-prone individuals, because these are the areas that shampoo and conditioner run down when you are in the shower. Common pore-clogging ingredients to look out for not just in your shampoo and conditioner, but in all of your styling products including gel, mousse, and hairspray are: sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, coconut oil, and avocado oil. Check out a list of acne-safe hair products here.”

For someone who is not pregnancy or postpartum, but still struggling with acne, would she follow the same advice above? Or is there anything you would add/subtract?
“Dealing with acne is always difficult, but being a new mom presents the added challenges of fluctuating hormones, lifestyle changes, dietary restrictions, and the risks associated with some of the most effective acne-fighting treatments. Someone who is not a soon-to-be or new mommy would follow the same guidelines, but would not be as limited in terms of acne-fighting products and can utilize the keratolytic benefits of retinol and the antibacterial benefits of salicylic acid, which usually leads to a faster clearing time.”

Leave a Comment



Fabulous tips – they’re all so attainable. Pinning this!

Warm Regards,

Erin Wirth

Great advice! I have found that evening primrose oil helps a lot to or high quality fish oil.


Stay away from iodine, hahaha! You know you need more of that during pregnancy, right?

Anyway, what worked for me was:

1. Washing my face with salt water, and leaving it to dry on my skin. Just mix boiling water with kitchen salt and wait for it to cool. The saltier the better!

2. Oatmeal flour mask – just blitz oats in a food processor to make a powder, mix with water, and use as a mask. (Maybe add honey or salt if you want too)

3. Washing my face with honey, if the salt was too much. It’s naturally antibacterial.

4. If you’re after AHAs, fruit is a natural source, and lemon juice is perfect to use.

Debbie Hansen

Thanks for the helpful guide posted above. Some individuals prefer to use the natural treatment, just like the Manuka honey presented at This product is made of pure anti-bacterial properties that eliminate the harmful bacteria in the skin, leaving moisturized and beautiful. Aside from acne, it is also capable of treating various kinds of skin ailments, which include scabies, ringworm, candida infection and eczema.


Hi Katie,
Acne during pregnancy is an ultimate nightmare! I am not usually prone to acne, but every time I’m pregnant, I always get that cystic acne that takes a long time to heal, very painful, and just plain awful. Since medication is a no-no, I resort to using ice cubes to minimize the pain and just deal with it until it’s gone. I also avoid dairy products. I noticed it made me prone to breakouts. Thank goodness for supplements! These tips are very helpful. Thanks a lot for sharing!


I had no idea pregnancy acne would be this easy to take care of! This is the best thing I have read in a long time, and I finally feel like myself again now that I’ve got this information. Thank you so much for dressing this!



My friend is 12 weeks pregnant and she has acne. She said, she can’t take or use products to get rid of it because it might cause conflict with the baby. I have never thought that it is easy to get rid of acne during pregnancy with this helpful post. I have to tell my friend. thanks


Some women may suffer from various health issues such as acne, thyroid and cancer which respond to the body and in a dramatic way. this can also cause abdominal pain and server cramps after the periods.