The timing of writing this story was a bit weird, considering no one knew I was pregnant at the time. Family and friends knew, but there was no Instagram announcement or public broadcast of any kind. The reason I chose to out myself, I guess, was because suddenly I understood how much it sucked to deal with pregnancy-related acne, and I wanted to help. Before my experience, I was blissfully unaware that every effective spot-busting ingredient I have relied on in the past would be off the table (although salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are not well studied in pregnancy, in limited topical amounts they are unlikely to do harm).
There isn't a lot of data on how these ingredients affect a developing fetus. However, one thing doctors know for sure is any products derived from vitamin A, including retinoids and retinol, are unsafe to use during pregnancy. This also technically includes salicylic acid, even though I had one doctor tell me it was perfectly fine to use in concentrations of less than 2 percent. While another shook her head and said: "If you want to test it out, that's your prerogative, but I do not recommend it."
I spoke with Dr. Marisa Garshick, board-certified dermatologist in Manhattan, to shed a bit more light. "In general, some key ingredients that pregnant people should avoid include retinol or retinoids, hydroquinone, salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide in high concentrations. As with many different things, many skincare ingredients have not been specifically tested in pregnancy, so it is often best to hold off. That said, it is always advised to speak with your doctor to determine what is best for you," she explains.
With my list of no ingredients in mind, I scoured message boards and reached out to moms to suss possible leads. They had some recommendations, like azelaic acid, which many doctors universally recommend, including Garshick. "Typically acne in pregnancy can be treated with azelaic acid, available in a prescription or over-the-counter form, certain topical prescription antibiotics and low concentrations of salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide in limited quantities," she says. But since I have a good understanding of what works for my skin, I didn't bother with some of them.
I knew tea tree oil did zip for me as a spot treatment, and AHAs were much the same. Go-To's lactic acid-infused Exfoliating Swipeys ($35) worked well as a preventative breakout measure, but what I was really searching for was something to kill an unwanted eruption overnight.
Blame it on nausea (that struggle was so real), but it took me a few weeks to remember the pimple assassin I previously used on hormonal breakouts. Glory of glories, once it came to me, I quickly discovered it was, in fact, pregnancy-safe.
Keep scrolling to see what zit zapper I rediscovered.
If you're unfamiliar with Payot, the 100-year-old beauty brand was founded by Nadia Payot, who made waves in the early 1900s when she became one of the first female doctors to graduate from the Lausanne School of Medicine. Since the start, the company has made go-to skincare options with women in mind, and Payot's Pâte Grise L'Originale, is no different.
If you're used to scented skincare products, you may initially find the smell of this blemish-fighting treatment off-putting. Don't let it deter you. That said, even in the height of my morning and sometimes all day long sickness, it didn't bother me much.
One other thing to note is the creamy formula can be a little messy, but luckily it's easy to use. To apply, you'll take a cotton swab and dab a glob over the top of the offending pimple and leave it there. If you typically sleep on a silk pillowcase, use one that you wouldn't mind getting a little messy with lingering residue.
I realize I'm not making it sound very good, but trust me when I say this overnight treatment can help eliminate everything from a serious cystic pimple to a developing blemish by the time you wake up. Made with shale extract and zinc oxide, it's essentially a drawing cream that is meant to work by both controlling excess sebum and soothing inflammation to "mature" blemishes faster. It's worked really well for me both when I am and am not pregnant, and I hope it will work for you too. But why shale extract and zinc oxide? According to Garshick, "Shale extract is thought to have both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which can explain why it may be helpful in the treatment of acne," she explains. "Zinc may be helpful as it serves as a skin protectant and has antibacterial and antiinflammatory properties which can be helpful for acne. Furthermore, the zinc oxide is thought to be soothing on the skin. Together, these ingredients are also thought to help with sebum production."
Garshick also notes, "While zinc oxide is thought to be safe in pregnancy, there are limited studies on shale extract, which while it may be considered safe in pregnancy, it is always best to discuss with your doctor to determine if it is a good option for you."
So, before you add any topical skincare product to your routine, check-in with your healthcare provider to ensure that any addition you make is the best and safest solution for you during your pregnancy.
Bozzo P, Chua-Gocheco A, Einarson A. Safety of skin care products during pregnancy. Can Fam Physician. 2011;57(6):665-667.
Panchaud A, Csajka C, Merlob P, et al. Pregnancy outcome following exposure to topical retinoids: a multicenter prospective study. J Clin Pharmacol. 2012;52(12):1844-1851. doi:10.1177/0091270011429566