Is Glycolic Acid Safe During Pregnancy?

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Hormone fluctuations during pregnancy might sometimes result in acne, dark spots, and melasma (brown patches on the face around the cheeks, nose, and forehead).

If you’re experiencing any of these, you might want to try medicated topical creams or go for a chemical peel to ease your skin condition. Many such over-the-counter topical creams contain glycolic acid as one of the active ingredients. But is glycolic acid safe during pregnancy?

In this post, MomJunction answers various questions on the use of glycolic acid during pregnancy and shares some natural ways to manage acne.

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 (6).

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.

Acne could be painful but do not overuse any products with chemical compounds such as glycolic acid. Also, consult a doctor even before you use any over-the-counter medication. Also, acne during pregnancy or immediately after pregnancy is often driven by transient hormonal change and will generally resolve without treatment.

Did you use glycolic acid during pregnancy? Share your experience with us in the comments section below.

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 health articles are written after analyzing various scientific reports and assertions from expert authors and institutions. Our references (citations) 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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