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Acne during pregnancy can be frustrating, especially since certain common skincare ingredients, such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, aren't recommended. Here are alternate ways to tackle pregnancy breakouts.

By Kathleen Felton
August 07, 2018
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If you're pregnant and plagued by breakouts, shopping for spot treatments suddenly becomes very confusing. Most dermatologists and ob-gyns recommend their pregnant patients steer clear of skincare products that contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, but these common pimple-fighters are featured in most over-the-counter acne products.

"Both of these ingredients are considered Pregnancy Category C," explains Purvisha Patel, MD, a dermatologist based in Tennessee and the founder of Visha Skincare. The term means that while there aren't enough well-controlled studies on the ingredients in humans, they have been shown to have adverse reactions on fetuses in animal studies. "Knowing this, they are generally avoided or used in very small concentrations," Dr. Patel says.

To further complicate your acne-fighting plan, other ingredients such as willow bark, the chemical bleaching agent hydroquinone, retinol, and prescription retinoids are also off-limits when you're trying to get pregnant or expecting. (Sadly, this means that Differin, one of the most popular over-the-counter acne treatments, is also not an option.)

How to deal with pregnancy acne

"It does seem grossly unfair to need to adjust to a changing body as well as skin that may have been clear since your teen years, and now you're breaking out all over again as if you were 14," says Ava Shamban, MD, a Beverly Hills dermatologist and founder of SKIN FIVE.

The good news? Many women will notice their acne improving as they near their due date. "In general, [it] is most prominent in the first trimester," Dr. Shamban says. "As estrogen levels rise in the rest of the pregnancy, the acne will clear."

You're not doomed to live with breakouts until then, though. While there are pregnancy-safe acne treatments out there, a closer look at the ingredients list is often necessary—salicylic acid in particular tends to pop up in a wide range of formulas, both in products marketed for acne and others you might not necessarily expect it to be in, such as some moisturizers and concealers.

Below are five dermatologist-approved ingredients that can help fight breakouts and are generally deemed safe for moms-to-be. Always speak to your ob-gyn before adding a new ingredient to your routine, however, and schedule an appointment with your dermatologist if over-the-counter treatments don't seem to be working; a topical antibiotic or in-office procedure such as a light glycolic peel or acne facial could help, too.

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