Salicylic Acid and Pregnancy: Is Acne Medication Safe?

acne pregnancy
Unfortunately, one of the most annoying side effects of pregnancy is acne. Your hormones are all over the place throughout your pregnancy, which means that you may come face to face with your teenage acne issues once again.

Acne can be annoying, but fortunately, you can use some of the over the counter treatments for acne while pregnant.

One of the best ways to treat acne whether you are pregnant or not is to use face washes that contain salicylic acid. This ingredient clears the skin debris and is also effective against P. acnes – a bacteria that promote acne.[1]

During pregnancy, your skin will begin to behave in ways that it has never done so before. You may notice that your skin is a lot drier than normal, or has more oil. You also may notice that you start to break out.

Throughout your pregnancy, androgens will be running throughout your bloodstream. These androgens can increase hair growth, unwanted dryness, and cause your skin to breakout. Fortunately, most of these afflictions are only temporary and will go away once you are no longer pregnant.

However, even if you know that your skin issues will go away with the birth of your child, it still doesn’t mean that you want to be riddled with acne throughout the nine months of your pregnancy.

Fortunately, if you are riddled with acne throughout your pregnancy then you can use face washes that contain no more than 2% of salicylic acid. Any higher percentage is considered unsafe during pregnancy.[2]

Even though face washes with 2% salicylic acid are safe, many women still choose to avoid the ingredient. If you feel like you want to avoid face washes and acne products with this potent anti-acne ingredient then you do have options.

Talk to your OB/GYN about safe topical antibiotics that you can use on your skin throughout your pregnancy. They may be able to prescribe a few different options to help clear your skin up. If not, then a dermatologist should be able to help out.

There are a variety of other facial and body lotions and creams that you should also avoid during pregnancy. The biggest culprit is any product with retinoids in it. These anti-aging products are especially harmful to pregnancies.

Retinoid and retinol

Retinoid and retinol containing products are used to treat acne, pigmentation issues, and as well as for their anti-aging benefits.

Retinoid is a derivative of vitamin A that speeds up the division of cells on your skin. This increases your skin’s renewal and prevents fine lines, wrinkles, and acne.

While retinoids may sound like a wonderful skincare item, they can actually harm the baby. Studies have shown that women who consume high doses of vitamin A and vitamin A derivatives throughout their pregnancy are putting their baby at risk for birth defects.[3]

Oral retinoids should definitely be avoided during pregnancy, but so should topical retinoids that can be found over the counter at any beauty or drug store.

Most of the studies that have linked vitamin A to birth defects have been looking at oral retinoids and oral vitamin A. However, OB/GYN’s are still resistant to let women use topical retinoids during pregnancy.

Just like retinoids, oral salicylic acid is not recommended during pregnancy. However, as stated above, you can use topical salicylic acid on your face in small doses. Just look for acne washes and products that contain 2% or less of the potent ingredient.

In general, the acne face washes that you find at the drug store or the beauty store should be safe during pregnancy. If you are worried about your skincare routine during pregnancy, just ask your OB/GYN. Most skincare products are safe, but there are a few that should be avoided.[4]

Acne during pregnancy can be annoying, but in the end you will have a healthy baby that you can dote over while your acne heals and skin goes back to normal. Once you have your baby and your hormones return to normal, then your skin should return to normal as well.

Post pregnancy, you are allowed to use most products on your face. If you aren’t breastfeeding then you are allowed to use every type of acne medication and face wash that you desire. If you are breastfeeding, then you should avoid oral salicylic acid, but topical salicylic acid is fine.

If you do suffer from hormonal acne during pregnancy, then try not to fuss over it too much. Many women suffer from the occasional pimple throughout their pregnancy and once their babies are delivered their beautiful skin should come back.


  1. Allure:Here’s Exactly What Salicylic Acid Does to Your Skin. [Link]
  2. ncbi:Safety of skin care products during pregnancy. [Link]
  3. Retinoids and pregnancy: an update. [Link]
  4. ncbi:Are topical retinoids teratogenic? [Link]
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