Can I Use Benzoyl Peroxide While Pregnant?

pregnant woman washing face


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From the moment you found out you're pregnant, you've likely been met with a list of things you should avoid. And while there's certainly no shortage of off-limits activities, foods, and products, we're happy to report that benzoyl peroxide is not among them.

Benzoyl peroxide, an antiseptic that kills and prevents bacteria, is one of the most commonly used ingredients for treating acne; and it's found in many skincare products, including cleansers, toners, and serums. Because acne is among the various skin concerns that can appear or worsen during pregnancy, benzoyl peroxide can be an excellent addition to your skincare routine during this time.

To make sure you have all the information you need, we consulted the experts. Read on to see what two board-certified dermatologists say about using benzoyl peroxide while pregnant and what precautions you should take.

What Is Benzoyl Peroxide?

Benzoyl peroxide is a topical antiseptic that kills acne-causing bacteria, and it's thought to be the acne treatment available without a prescription. "It's considered an antibacterial and comedolytic agent," explains Fatima Fahs, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Detroit. "This means that it helps to reduce the amount of acne-causing bacteria on the skin as well as unclog pores."

The ingredient works by exfoliating the skin to get rid of dead skin cells, excessive oil, and bacteria buildup that's sitting underneath the top layer of skin.

As one of the most popular acne treatments around, benzoyl peroxide is available over-the-counter as facial cleansers, topical creams, and body washes. "It comes in a variety of formulations and concentrations (2.5-10%)," Dr. Fahs adds.

Is It Safe to Use Benzoyl Peroxide During Pregnancy?

Unlike certain skincare ingredients (like, say retinol), benzoyl peroxide is safe to use throughout your pregnancy. Benzoyl peroxide is considered generally considered to be safe to use in pregnancy by the FDA, says Corey L. Hartman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Birmingham, AL. The federal agency's pregnancy risk categories measure the risks and side effects associated with taking or using a given ingredient during pregnancy, determining how to weigh the risks versus potential benefits for both mother and baby.

Since absorption of benzoyl peroxide into the bloodstream is limited, there is little risk to the fetus; however, further research needs to be conducted to know for sure. "The difficult part about deeming products safe or not in pregnancy is that there are no clinical trials regarding the use of many acne treatments in pregnant patients," Dr. Fahs notes. "The safety data we use is extrapolated based on evidence we have from observational studies with small sample sizes."

Given the limited research on the use of benzoyl peroxide during pregnancy, it's always smart to consult your obstetrician and your dermatologist before applying it.

Benefits of Using Benzoyl Peroxide During Pregnancy

Benzoyl peroxide can be a helpful step in your skincare routine at any time, but it's especially great for treating some of the issues that come up during pregnancy as your hormones rise.

"In pregnancy, sebaceous glands increase activity, leading to increased oiliness and oftentimes increased acne and breakouts," Dr. Fahs says. "Benzoyl peroxide may be a helpful ingredient to reduce comedonal acne and decrease acne causing bacteria that contribute to breakouts."

Benzoyl peroxide works particularly well for the treatment and prevention of inflammatory acne, like pustules and nodules. It's also helpful for treating cystic acne, which is typically a hard bump below the skin's surface. Benzoyl peroxide treats one of the major causes of cystic acne: P.acne bacteria.

Safety Precautions

While benzoyl peroxide is considered safe to use throughout every stage of pregnancy, there are certain precautions you should take to minimize any possible risk or side effects.

Use sparingly

Benzoyl peroxide, like other acne treatments, can be quite drying on skin, so it's important not to get overzealous when applying it.

"I typically recommend that patients only use it as much as their skin can tolerate it, which means usually as a spot treatment on active acne, or in a face or body wash," Dr. Hartman explains.

The same rules apply to pregnancy. "I advise my pregnant patients to do the same, and if they feel like their skin is more sensitive or drier during pregnancy, [they can] reduce the number of times each week they use benzoyl peroxide; otherwise they can use it like they did prior to pregnancy," Dr. Hartman adds.

Don't use leave-on benzoyl peroxide on the body

Benzoyl peroxide comes in a wide range of formulations, including leave-on treatments. Although these products are fine to use on the face in any concentration, Dr. Fahs says it's smart to avoid using them on the body.

"There are no studies looking at the use of topical benzoyl peroxide in pregnancy but based on observational use, experts say it’s likely safe to use throughout pregnancy in limited amounts," she notes.

Stick to lower concentrations

While further research is needed, we know that when benzoyl peroxide is absorbed through the skin. It then gets converted to benzoic acid (a food additive) and is completely excreted in the urine, which is why the ingredient is considered safe, regardless of concentration.

Even so, since benzoyl peroxide can also be incredibly drying, it's best to stick to a lower concentration to avoid skin irritation during pregnancy.

"Higher percentages of benzoyl peroxide are not proven to be more effective but are usually much more irritating and drying, so best to stick to a lower percentage like 2.5% or up to 5%," Dr. Fahs advises. Look for these numbers when shopping for skincare products.

A Word from Verywell

When trying to figure out which skincare products fall into the "safe to use" category when you're pregnant, you'll be happy to know that benzoyl peroxide is absolutely among them. Use the topical ingredient to help treat acne, be it acne that predates your pregnancy or acne that has only come up during hormonal changes.

Just be sure to take precautions to minimize side effects, and remember to speak to your healthcare provider before adding it to your skincare regimen.

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6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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