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Anyone who’s ever had a baby knows that the postpartum period is no joke. Aside from the never-ending stream of dirty diapers and sleepless nights, you’re also dealing with raging hormones, newfound body changes, and — for some folks — postpartum acne.
Yep! You can find pimples popping up all over the place once you’ve had your tiny tot — or perhaps pregnancy acne refuses to leave the building. Either way, postpartum acne means dealing with breakouts when you’re already dealing with enough. But don’t despair. Help is at hand.
Continue reading to learn more about acne after pregnancy and what you can do to send it on its way.
There are multiple reasons you might have pimples poppin’ up postpartum:
Pregnancy puts your body through the wringer — from hair loss to mood swings to good old morning sickness. And no, your skin doesn’t escape scot-free. Your hormones are all over the shop, and besides forcing you to take a ride on an emotional roller coaster, they can also trigger acne.
All that extra hormone action encourages the oil glands in your skin to go into overdrive and produce more sebum. Then the extra oil clogs pores and causes bacteria to build up, resulting in acne breakouts. Although it’s annoying, acne is one of the most common skin changes that happen during pregnancy.
After you’ve given birth, hormone levels usually return to normal, and hormonal acne usually disappears.
For some peeps, this happens like magic — for others, it can take longer for their hormone levels to get the message (especially if you’re nursing). So if your hormones are still out of whack after the baby arrives, you may have to live with postpartum acne for a while longer.
Changes in diet and lifestyle
Welcoming a new baby can mean kissing goodbye to your old lifestyle. Instead of enjoying leisurely meals with plenty of time to prepare and cook healthy, fresh food, you might find that stuffing a few sugary snacks into your face is all you can manage.
Pre-prepared and processed foods might make an appearance in your kitchen far more frequently than when your life was yours and yours only. And unfortunately for everyone, studies show that fatty and sugar-laden snacks can trigger acne outbreaks, as can dairy foods.
When you’re running around like a headless chicken trying to keep a tiny human alive, it can be easy to forget your own needs. Drinking enough water is crucial for keeping your skin healthy and hydrated, but it’s pretty dang easy to throw hydration out the door when you’ve got other things to worry about.
Dehydration makes your skin more susceptible to inflammation, infection, and changes like acne. Why? Because when your skin’s dry, pores can break open, allowing in acne-causing bacteria.
Plus, dry skin tries to help itself by producing more sebum, which can trigger acne. You can then get stuck in an irksome and continuous cycle of dry skin and acne.
Postpartum acne isn’t choosy. It can show up pretty much anywhere, including:
Essentially, if there are lots of lovely sebaceous glands, acne is happy to move in and call it home.
Although you’re in charge of a child for the next 18 years or so, thankfully, postpartum acne shouldn’t stick around that long.
Some lucky folks find that it disappears as the baby appears, while for other less fortunate souls, it can last for a few months. Everything depends on how long your pesky hormones take to settle down and return to normal.
Also, remember that nursing affects hormone levels. So, if that’s your chosen method of feeding your little milk vampire, you may have to live with postpartum acne for a tad longer.
Firstly, remember to drink enough water and stay hydrated as this may be enough by itself to reduce breakouts. Next, remember to cleanse your face twice daily with a gentle cleanser and remove any makeup before bed. Although your skin routine may be the last thing on your mind when your tiny one starts crying, taking care of yourself is still important.
If these measures don’t help, you may need to go the extra mile with topical medications. Suitable options vary depending on if you’re nursing or not.
Postpartum acne treatments if you’re *not* breastfeeding
If you’re not nursing and no longer pregnant, there are no worries about drugs crossing the placenta or passing to the baby through milk. You just need to consider what your skin can handle.
You can use the following topical treatments:
These bad boys are a mainstay of acne therapy. They’re a form of vitamin A that have anti-inflammatory properties. They also help exfoliate dead skin cells and boost the production of shiny new ones. The new cells push out the dead cells and excess oils from blocked pores.
Try: Differin Adapalene Gel on Amazon. Adapalene is an FDA-approved retinoid acne treatment and reviewers love this stuff.
This common acne treatment ingredient kills bacteria and reduces inflammation.
Try: Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Spot Treatment Gel on Amazon. With 10 percent benzoyl peroxide, a great price, and rave reviews, this gel is an A+ option.
This is a type of beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) acid that exfoliates dead skin cells, decreases sebum production, and prevents the formation of new comedones.
Try: Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant on Amazon. A cult fave product with top-notch reviews. This 2 percent salicylic acid treatment also contains green tea to help reduce inflammation.
Azelaic acid is safe for use during pregnancy and while nursing. It’s also a good option for peeps with rosacea.
Try: Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster. Another fan fave with a lil salicylic acid boost and licorice root to reduce redness.
Options for blasting away bacteria include erythromycin, metronidazole, clindamycin. You’ll need a prescription for these, tho.
Your doctor may also recommend oral medications (which require a prescription), including:
- Birth control pills: You should see improvements in your acne in around 2 to 3 months after starting hormonal birth control.
- Oral antibiotics: Tetracyclines are usually the agents of choice.
- Anti-androgen agents: Block the production of androgen hormones and help reduce sebum production.
Postpartum acne treatments if you’re breastfeeding
Most over-the-counter topical acne treatments are considered safe for use while nursing, including the above options. The one exception is topical retinoids — while there isn’t a ton of research on them during nursing (see: tretinoin and adapalene), many experts recommend avoiding them anyways.
Also, be careful treating acne on your chest. Don’t apply topical acne medications to the area as they could transfer to the baby.
Experts typically suggest topical medications rather than oral medications while nursing, but these can include antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid, and salicylic acid.
Tons of folks with acne, postpartum or otherwise, prefer to try natural, home treatments to help their skin feel and look better. Although some home remedies are little more than folklore, the following may be worth a try:
- Take a zinc supplement: A 2020 review noted that zinc supplementation improved blemishes. If you’re chestfeeding, your RDA is 12mg. Otherwise, it’s 8 mg.
- Use a honey and cinnamon mask: A 2017 study found that this combo helped zapPropionibacterium acnes, the bad bacterial b*tch that causes acne.
- Apply witch hazel: Research from 2019 found that witch hazel tackled the bacteria contributing to acne and reduced skin irritation and inflammation.
- Use noncomedogenic products. Make sure any makeup or skin care products you use are noncomedogenic, which means they don’t clog pores. Most products will have this info right on the label or online.
And in the meantime, you can always cover your acne if you prefer.
Sometimes, no matter how well you cleanse your skin, how hydrated you are, or how often you apply over-the-counter medications, your postpartum acne doesn’t improve. In that case, it’s time to see a doctor or dermatologist. They can prescribe medications that are often more effective.
It’s also an opportunity to discuss oral prescription medications and see if they’re an option while breastfeeding. If they are, your doctor may recommend taking your meds after your tot’s last feed of the night.
Postpartum acne is super common and happens as your hormones fluctuate. It often disappears after welcoming your baby, but sometimes it can take a few months to settle down.
Try your best to stay hydrated and follow some sort of skincare routine to help send it on its way. You can also try over-the-counter medications to ease symptoms.
If nothing helps, it’s time to see a healthcare professional. They can recommend stronger prescription options, including oral meds and birth control pills.