How to Safely Treat Postpartum Acne and Other Skin Conditions

Jennifer E. Engen

The pregnancy glow doesn’t last forever. For many women, the time after giving birth is marked by skin conditions like acne, melasma and dry skin. And that is completely normal. 

Pregnancy and postpartum are times of skyrocketing hormones, and with excess hormones comes acne and other skin conditions. Pregnancy skin clears up shortly after birth for some women. However, that’s not the case for everyone. Don’t worry; postpartum skin acne doesn’t last forever. You can treat it safely and effectively, even while breastfeeding. 

What is postpartum acne? Why does it happen?

When your period comes around, do you notice acne flare-ups? Acne breakouts during menstruation happen because of the hormone progesterone. During the last stretch of menstruation, the body produces more progesterone to build up the uterus lining. When you are pregnant, the same is true — your body is flooded with progesterone and other hormones to ensure a healthy pregnancy. An increase in progesterone can trigger your sebaceous glands to overproduce sebum — the oily substance that protects your skin. Too much sebum can mix with dead skin cells and clog your pores, which leads to acne. 

Progesterone levels drop after giving birth, and they don’t fully normalize until your period returns. As it drops, hormonal acne clears up for many women. But again, there is no magic timeline. Your body works in its own time. It can take longer for some.

The rollercoaster of hormones that your body is experiencing plays a huge role in postpartum skin. However, other factors of being a new mother can compound and worsen your skin. Sleep is a common acne trigger. It’s no secret that new mothers don’t get the best sleep, which can be bad news for your skin. Sleep deprivation is associated with acne

Stress, which new mothers know all too well, is another major trigger for acne. While it doesn’t directly cause acne, stress tells your body to release cortisol. Extra cortisol in the body causes the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum — see the trend? 

Drinking enough water can be tough when you have a baby to care for. However, being dehydrated also has a direct effect on your skin. When your skin isn’t as hydrated as it normally is, dryness and irritation can occur. 

Woman using skin care products

Getty Images/andreswd

How long does postpartum acne last?

There is no one answer for how long postpartum acne or skin conditions will last. However, we can tell you that it is typically temporary. For some, it clears up shortly after they give birth. For others, it can last for months, especially as breastfeeding increases your hormones. It’s how your body responds to the changing hormones in your body. 

How to get rid of postpartum acne

Before you invest in a new line of cure-all face products, you can start with simple lifestyle changes: 

  • Make your skincare routine an important part of your day and maintain good skin hygiene. 
  • Keep your skin as clean as possible by avoiding touching your face. You should also clean your phone as often as possible. 
  • Stay consistent with your skin care routine. 
  • Moisturize and drink plenty of water to ensure your skin is hydrated.

If acne doesn’t clear up on its own, additional steps may be necessary. When breastfeeding, it’s best to be careful about the medications or acne treatments you take. Most topical acne options are safe to take after giving birth. Usually, they include ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, both of which unclog pores and exfoliate dead skin. 

There are times when that won’t be enough, and a prescription is needed to help treat the skin condition. Before starting a new skin care regimen, talk to your doctor about treating your acne if you are breastfeeding. Birth control may help lessen acne. Painful, postpartum cystic acne that won’t go away warrants a trip to a dermatologist. If you are not breastfeeding, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics or isotretinoin to treat postpartum cystic acne. Isotretinoin has been linked to congenital disabilities and should be avoided during pregnancy.

Young woman applying skin products

Getty Images/Aja Koska

Other skin conditions that happen postpartum

Postpartum acne is one of the most common skin conditions women experience. However, it is not the only one. Below you’ll find other common occurrences and how to treat them.

Spider veins: Spider veins are swollen veins that become visible under the skin. This happens due to increased hormone levels and blood circulation. During postpartum, they are most commonly found around the nose, on the cheeks and legs. In healthy women, spider veins shrink down, and some disappear after a few months postpartum. 

Melasma: 15% to 50% of pregnant women experience melasma, or speckled spots across the skin around the cheeks, nose, chin and forehead. It’s even referred to as the “mask of pregnancy.” Elevated estrogen and progesterone levels can result in an overproduction of melanin in the body. Melasma is harmless; however, to help the spots fade, you’ll want to wear sunscreen and minimize sun exposure.

Dry skin: Hormonal changes can cause persistent postpartum dry skin across the face. To treat dry skin, start by washing your face and moisturizing. If you have sensitive skin, it’s good to stick with fragrance-free and additive-free options. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, especially while breastfeeding. 

Oily skin: Your oil-producing glands were pushed into overdrive while pregnant. For some women, this can result in oily skin postpartum. You should avoid moisturizers and makeup with oil to ensure you don’t clog your pores during this time. 

Too long; didn’t read?

Postpartum acne is extremely common, and for most people, it clears up naturally over time. There is no set timeline for better skin. You can help the process by making a few lifestyle changes — like incorporating a skincare routine or cleaning your phone. Of course, if it isn’t going away after months of waiting, talk to your doctor about medications that can help. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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