The Truth About "Pregnancy Acne" (Plus 8 Products to Try)

pregnant person on the beach at sunset

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When we think about skin during pregnancy, we often think of the fabled "pregnancy glow." And while that is a physiological change some women experience and enjoy, it's a myth that pregnancy won't often be hard on your skin. More than one out of every two women can expect to develop acne during her pregnancy. Pregnancy acne is caused by the increase of hormone levels in the first trimester, and is more likely if you have a history of breakouts.

"It's such an unpredictable time," describes Annie Tevelin, the founder of clean skincare brand SkinOwl. It wasn't until her late twenties that Tevelin developed cystic acne after moving to Los Angeles and working as a professional makeup artist. After multiple dermatologist visits and product trial and error, Tevelin decided to take matters into her own hands. Suspecting her makeup and skincare products weren't exactly clean, she researched cosmetic chemistry to determine what ingredients specifically work to treat acne and wound up in a graduate program on the subject at UCLA.

"I learned so much in that program that I went back home and started making products out of my own kitchen," recalls Tevelin. "I created a product that is now called Geranium Beauty Drops. It was the first product that I ever launched and it got rid of my acne in 32 days." After sharing her success on her private Facebook group called "SkinOwl" where she was something of an unpaid beauty authority to the community, she garnered interest from members who began sending her PayPal payments to get their hands on the product. That was the beginning of SkinOwl.

pregnant woman on beach
 Isabela Martins/Unsplash

Six years since founding SkinOwl, Tevelin is expecting her first child. At 31-weeks pregnant, she's experienced firsthand the ups and downs and nuances of pregnancy—especially when it comes to pregnancy acne. "It's been an eye-opening experience because I was the girl who figured out all the skin stuff," admits Tevelin. "I had an issue and then I went to school and learned a lot and cleaned up all my ingredients and got better." As a walking advertisement for skin that can be improved by the right ingredients and as a skincare founder, she was nervous going into pregnancy, knowing she was at the whim of whatever her hormones do.

"It’s really important to reinforce the fact that even though it’s shocking and it comes out of nowhere and you don’t know how to manage it because it’s hormonal, not to go in with harsh ingredients and not feel like you have to go to the top of the totem pole of acne products," warns Tevelin. "You kind of don’t want to rock the boat." She feels that opting for clean, gentle products, not only because they will be best for your baby, but also because they'll turn out to be most effective for your skin (but you should always check with a board-certified physician). "You want to keep things very simple and start there and work your way up from there as opposed to top to bottom," she advises. "And drink a lot of water."

We had Tevelin fill us in on what skin changes women face during pregnancy and the eight skincare products she swears by to manage them. Here's what to expect (for your skin) when you're expecting.

A gentle charcoal cleanser

A gentle cleanser is the first step in Tevelin's pregnancy skincare routine. She's a fan of the Peptie Foam Cleanser by Le Mieux as well as her brand's own charcoal cleanser. "In the morning, I use the Charcoal Beauty Bar—soaping it up with my hands and using the actual suds to massage it into my face," she describes. Twice a week, and only at night, she uses the bar as an exfoliator, gently cleansing by applying the bar directly to her face. "It's a very gentle exfoliator because of the activated charcoal."

SkinOwl Beauty Bar charcoal
SkinOwl Charcoal Beauty Bar $26.00

A lemongrass hydrosol

"Lemongrass and cucumber have a way of working together so that as a hydrosol it's a decongestant and calming at the same time," says Tevelin. "If I see any breakout whatsoever on my face, I do three to four spritzes on clean skin and it calms it down in minutes." She emphasizes that, like many approaches in pregnancy skincare, less is more. In the case of her brand's Lemongrass Beauty Mist, it requires "just those two ingredients alone because they’re so effective." A lemongrass and cucumber hydrosol will also calm down redness. "If you have an actual pimple with stuff in it, it regresses the junk and then you’re just left with a tiny little red mark," notes Tevelin. "I keep it in the fridge so it’s nice and cold and it helps the puffiness—a pregnancy symptom because you’re constantly retaining water."

Jane Iredale lemongrass spray
Jane Iredale Lemongrass Love Hydration Spray $33.00

A witch hazel concentrate

"Our Neck+ is a concentrate, that you can use on your neck and chest and really anywhere that you have uneven texture and tone, but I’ve started using it as a serum," describes Tevelin, who says the witch hazel and the Irish moss act as a toning, decongestive agent. "That’s literally my serum morning and night." During pregnancy, skin tone can become uneven. This serum addresses that while it also combats potential dark marks or red spots from hyperpigmentation and acne.

SkinOwl Neck+
SkinOwl Neck+ $68.00

A botanical hyaluronic acid

"Then it’s all about moisture because of the dehydration and how much water your baby is taking from you," explains Tevelin of her beauty routine. She uses two products next, mixing five to seven drops of the Geranium Beauty Drops with one to two drops of the Maqui Berry Beauty Whip. "Together not only do they add moisture to the skin but it’s botanical hyaluronic acid so you look really plump and supple and the ingredients also help with dark marks," explains Tevelin. "So if you are someone who is dealing with melasma or the face mask that women sometimes get with pregnancy, that mashup is awesome."

SkinOwl Geranium Beauty Drops
SkinOwl Geranium Beauty Drops $30.00

A cooling cream

"The last thing is the Eye+," says Tevelin. "That’s our hero product that constantly sells out." She describes it as working immediately when you put it on with puffiness, dark circles, lines, and wrinkles. "I will say that puffiness is definitely not something I was dealing with prior to pregnancy, but it’s absolutely something I’m dealing with upon being pregnant," confesses Tevelin. Just like with the Neck+, she says you can put the Eye+ anywhere—"on the temples, on the eyes, sometimes around the mouth and the nose people get puffy," she says. "I put the Eye+ on straight out of the fridge, morning and night, and it's been a godsend."

SkinOwl Eye+
SkinOwl Eye+ $46.00

Clean makeup

"Makeup plays such an important role during pregnancy because it’s one of the culprits that can make you break out if you’re not using the right makeup," warns Tevelin, who is obsessed with Ere Perez. "I literally use everything from the line. Everything." She loves the brand's Oat Milk Foundation, its Quinoa Water Foundation, and its concealers. "The brand has this Carrot Colour Pot which is just a very pigmented lip pot that I also use on the eyelids and the cheeks," she says. "It’s the most gentle makeup but it’s so pigmented and so dewy and so amazing." Tevelin explains that "on the one hand, it's important to recognize that you can have the best skincare line ever, but if you're still using icky makeup and you're not washing your makeup brushes, you're not going to get ahead of it."

Ere Perez oat milk foundation
Ere Perez Oat Milk Foundation $37.00

A beauty wand

For women who are dealing with puffiness or fatigue or poor lymphatic drainage, Tevelin suggests using a facial massage tool around the eyes, jawline, and nose. "A lot of women experience a widening of the nose when they are pregnant, so the beauty wand helps contour," says Tevelin. "It's really gentle and you can use it with oil."

Mount Lai de-puffing tool
Mount Lai De-Puffing Rose Quartz Eye Treatment Tool $30.00

A healthy dose of self-care

"If somebody doesn’t have all the money in the world to go and just buy a new skincare regimen—because you have a lot of expenses when you’re pregnant with a child on the way—simple little things like running ice cubes on your face can really help," admits Tevelin. "Your hormones lead to you feeling a little warm at times, especially now that it’s summer, and rubbing ice cubes on your face is so great for depuffing and tightening the pores." She also recommends taking baths and throwing in Epsom salt, dried organic flowers, or baby oil "Literally just lay in the bathtub and it will help your skin," Tevelin suggests. "It just gives you a moment to just be—anytime you have to do that while you’re pregnant I think is good for your skin because it’s stress-reducing."

Key Ingredients

Epsom salts are composed of magnesium sulfate. Magnesium sulfate can help reduce inflammation and help with skin detoxification.

Dr Teals epsom salt
Dr Teal's Pure Epsom Salt Soothe & Sleep Lavender Soaking Solution $5.00

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