Is Glycolic Acid Safe During Pregnancy?

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Glycolic acid is an active compound in several over-the-counter skincare products. However, you might be wondering if it is safe to use glycolic acid during pregnancy.

Pregnant women are prone to acne, dark spots, and melasma (brown or blue-gray patches around the cheeks, forehead, nose, and chin) due to hormonal changes in their bodies. In such cases, you may want to try medicated topical treatments or a chemical peel to help your skin. But, not all products are safe to use while pregnant.

In this post, we address several frequently asked questions about the use of glycolic acid in pregnancy and other natural acne treatment options.

What Is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is a naturally occurring alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that is found in sugarcane (1). Due to its skin-penetration properties, glycolic acid is used in skin care products and chemical peels to treat wrinkles, acne scars, and hyperpigmentation (2).

How Does Glycolic Acid Work In Treating Acne?

Acne usually occurs when the skin pores are clogged with dead skin cells. Upon application, glycolic acid reacts with the upper layers of the skin and dissolves the lipids that bind the dead skin cells together, thus clearing the pores and reducing acne.

It also inhibits tyrosinase, which can suppress the production of melanin, leading to the lightening of skin for women who have melasma (2).

Is Glycolic Acid Safe During Pregnancy?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) approves the use of over-the-counter topical creams containing glycolic acid (3). It is deemed safe as a minimal amount of glycolic acid is likely to be absorbed into the bloodstream (4).

Studies on rats showed some adverse effects on the fetus when exposed to 300-600mg of glycolic acid daily (which is a much higher dosage than used in humans) (5). There are no well-controlled studies in pregnant women to quantify the safety of glycolic acid during pregnancy. Therefore, consult your doctor before using products containing glycolic acid.

Are Glycolic Acid Peels Safe During Pregnancy?

Glycolic acid peels are contraindicated during pregnancy (6). The concentration of glycolic acid in the products used for chemical peels may be high and could have adverse effects. It is best to avoid chemical peels in general during pregnancy (6).

What Are The Side Effects of Glycolic Acid During Pregnancy?

There are no studies to evaluate the effect of glycolic acid on the developing fetus. However, lower doses of glycolic acid (1 and 3mg /cm2) caused erythema (reddening of the skin) and eschar (a dark swab of dead skin), whereas higher doses (5 and 7mg/cm2) caused redness, edema, and necrotic ulceration, according to one study on humans (7).

Glycolic acid chemical peels may cause irritation, stinging, burning, and itching. Also, some studies demonstrated that the damage caused by glycolic acid could increase by the dosage and the duration of exposure. It also enhances the UVB-induced skin damage (6).

When Should You Consult A Dermatologist?

Normal to moderate acne and hyperpigmentation are common during pregnancy, and they subside once your hormones come to a normal range after the pregnancy. But if you have a high degree of acne or hyperpigmentation, then visit your dermatologist and discuss the course of treatment.

Creams containing glycolic acid are usually well-tolerated, but if you are experiencing redness and itching, then stop using the cream and tell your dermatologist about it.

What Are The Alternatives Ways To Deal With Acne During Pregnancy?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends these safer alternatives to treat acne during pregnancy (3).

  • Use a mild cleanser and lukewarm water to wash your face twice daily.
  • Sometimes, the sebum in the hair can also cause acne. If you have an oily scalp, shampoo every day and try to keep your hair away from your face.
  • Do not pick, squeeze, or tweeze the pimples as it could result in acne scars.
  • Avoid oil-based cosmetics and moisturizers.

Hormonal alterations in pregnancy could pose a risk of skin problems such as acne, pigmentation, and dark spots. Acne might cause pain and irritation while pregnant, and you may want to consider using skin products with glycolic acid during pregnancy. However, you must consult a doctor or skin specialist before using any over-the-counter medications. Also, overuse of any chemical products such as glycolic acid is not advisable during pregnancy. Moreover, skin issues such as acne are temporary in pregnancy or right after pregnancy and may resolve spontaneously after some days.

This post is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for a doctor’s consultation. Do not use any medication without talking to your doctor.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Erica C. Davis, and Valerie D. Callender; Postinflammatory Hyperpigmentation
2. Glycolic Acid; PubChem; US National Library of Medicine
3. Skin Conditions During Pregnancy; The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
4. Pina Bozzo, Angela Chua-Gocheco M.D, and Adrienne Einarson, RN; Safety of skin care products during pregnancy; NCBI(2011)
5. Jonette E. Keri, M.D., Ph D; Treatment of Acne in the Pregnant Patient;  American Association of Dermatology
6. Gabriella Fabbrocini, Maria Pia De Padova, and Antonella Tosto; Glycolic Acid; LSM University
7. David E Castillo, and Jonette E Keri; Chemical peels in the treatment of acne: patient selection and perspectives; NCBI(2018)
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shreeja pillai

Shreeja holds a postgraduate degree in Chemistry and diploma in Drug Regulatory Affairs from the University of Mumbai. Before joining MomJunction, she worked as a research analyst with a leading multinational pharmaceutical company. Her interest in the field of medical research has developed her passion for writing research-based articles. As a writer, she aims at providing informative articles on health... more

Rebecca Hughes

Rebecca Hughes is a Functional Medicine Naturopath with special interests in skin conditions, women’s and children’s health, and digestive health. She specializes in treating health issues such as chronic IBS, acne, eczema, hormonal imbalances such as PCOS, giving people a new lease of life where they’d previously lost hope. Since graduating from Southern Cross University in 2003 with a Bachelor... more