Pregnancy acne: It’s not all glowing

pregnancy photography

Is the pregnancy glow real?

Ah, the pregnancy glow. Holy grail of all three trimesters. Well-intentioned people feel obliged to say you have it, even when you clearly don’t. Or maybe it’s just a perma-sheen of sweat from fighting back waves of nausea.

It can feel as if there’s a societal pressure when pregnant to be emanating a fertility goddess-like glow, perhaps so that people can compliment you without stepping onto the dodgy turf of commenting on your size. However, there are many pregnancy symptoms that can leave us feeling less than glowing, and if you are one of those women who suffer flare-ups of acne in pregnancy (myself included) it can really knock your confidence.

The science bit

Depending on which source you look at, more than 2 out of 5 women will suffer from acne during pregnancy, and it’s especially common in the first trimester. You’re more likely to suffer from acne in pregnancy if you already have a history of it. Although some healthcare professionals may dismiss acne as a cosmetic complaint, it can have a massive impact on a woman’s quality of life and can even put the sufferer at greater risk of depression.

Hormonal changes in pregnancy lead to increased activity in the oil-producing glands in your skin. There are more of these glands present in the skin on the face than other parts of the body.

But what is the point of having more oil in your skin? Well, increased sebaceous (oil gland) activity encourages the development of Montgomery tubercles in the breast. These are pimple-like bumps on the areola that provide lubrication to the nipple during breastfeeding. This increased oil production, and the higher volume of circulating blood during pregnancy, probably contribute to the famous pregnancy glow.

What can I do about my pregnancy acne?

There are many prescription treatments available for sufferers of acne, both oral (tablet form) and topical (applied to the skin). However, not all of these are safe to use in pregnancy. If you are already using prescription medication and trying to conceive or think you might be pregnant, it’s really important that you consult your GP or dermatologist straight away. Topical retinoids and certain types of antibiotics aren’t suitable for use in pregnancy because of a risk of harm to the developing baby. Fortunately, there are still some medicines that can be taken during pregnancy. If your acne is bothering you and shop-bought skincare remedies aren’t working, make an appointment to see your doctor and talk to them about how it’s making you feel. Your GP should discuss the treatment options available to you while pregnant and weigh up the possible risks and benefits. Be prepared that if you’re in your first trimester it may be a waiting game, as many women find that their skin settles down later on in pregnancy with no treatment necessary.

skincare for acne in pregnancy

In any case, many women prefer not to take any drugs in pregnancy unless they really need to, so here are some options to consider trying first.  I highly recommend La Roche Posay’s Effaclar range for acne-prone skin (during pregnancy and beyond!). The problem with many high street skincare products for spots is that they work by drying out the affected area. This often has the opposite desired effect of making the blemish more obvious because it also dries the skin around the spot. The Effaclar range uses anti-inflammatory and hydrating ingredients and is gentle on sensitive skin. The Effaclar Duo+ Unifiant moisturiser comes in two shades (as well as a non-tinted version) so you can use it instead of foundation. It can be applied easily with fingertips or a make-up brush/sponge and is buildable, so you can achieve fuller coverage, or just go for a dewy, fresh look. It’s so quick to use that it’s now become my go-to base since having a baby, as I find primer, foundation and blending way too much effort!

A French study found that acne in pregnancy was more likely to affect the back than acne in non-pregnant women. I discovered the Serozinc Toner Mist spray in the lead-up to my wedding as I was wearing a backless dress and was terrified of a breakout with that area being on full display. I started using it again on my back and chest when pregnant, and found that it helped to heal old blemishes and keep new ones at bay.

And a final word, be careful which stretch mark lotions you use or which part of the body you use them on. Some contain shea butter which, whilst being a lovely rich moisturiser, is comodogenic meaning that it blocks pores. Blocked pores can also lead to spots so if you’re using a shea butter-based stretch mark remedy, avoid putting it on your upper torso if you’re prone to spots on your back and chest and wash your hands after applying to avoid transferring any to your face by mistake.

pregnancy skincare

As for the pregnancy glow, don’t worry if it never comes. You will glow with hormonal pride when your baby arrives.