Is acne medication safe in pregnancy?

Expert advice on which acne creams, treatments, drugs and medicines are OK to use during pregnancy

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In a nutshell

Some are safe, others are not

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The expert view

If you already suffer from acne, you may be wondering if your usual treatment is safe to use now you are pregnant. And if your acne is an unwelcome side-effect of pregnancy, you will no doubt be wanting to safely and quickly clear it up! 

“Lots of women will find that their skin improves during pregnancy, though others will find that the hormone changes make their skin worse than usual,” explains MFM’s GP Dr Philippa Kaye. “If you are taking acne medication it is best to see your doctor before you become pregnant, so that your medication can be changed. If this is not possible, then see your doctor as soon as possible.”

Unfortunately, the range of prescription acne treatments available to pregnant women is smaller than is usually on offer, but it is still worth seeing what your GP can prescribe or recommend. 

“Some creams, such as those containing benzoyl peroxide or erythromycin, can still be used so speak to your doctor,” advises Dr Kaye.

What is NOT safe 

The main acne products which are NOT safe for use in pregnancy are:

  • Roaccutane (generically called isotretinoin), which can cause birth defects, as well as increase the risk of miscarriage and infant death
  • Hormonal therapies (flutamide, spironolactone), which can lead to birth defects
  • Topical retinoids (adapalene, tazarotene, and tretinoin), which pass into the bloodstream
  • Oral tetracyclines (doxycycline, minocycline, tetracycline), which affect bone growth and tooth colour in the foetus
  • Salicylic acid-containing products, which can lead to birth defects
  • Alpha-hydroxy acids, as they are absorbed into the bloodstream and the effects on foetuses are unknown

Self help at home 

Dr Kaye also suggests trying to keep your skin under control with a non-medicinal regime at home. She recommends:

  • Do not wash or cleanse your face too often. Any more than 2 or 3 times a day can irritate the skin
  • Be sure to wash your hair regularly, especially if you have oily hair
  • Tie hair back off your face so it does not irritate the skin
  • Try not to squeeze spots and blackheads as it can lead to scarring

Mums on our forum say

“With all my pregnancies I have ended up with spots on my face, chest, tops of my arms and back. I’m 7 weeks pregnant now and it’s back, it is a nightmare as I seem to suffer all the way through.” Dairymilk

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“Since becoming pregnant I’ve not wanted to eat anything even remotely healthy and have been living on junk so my skins worse than its ever been at the mo lol! Tea tree is good though, I always put it on any particularly nasty zits before bed but it can dry your skin out so use it sparingly.” Sarahboo

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