When you start sharing the news that you’re pregnant, every single mother you know will inevitably bombard you with opinions, stories and advice on what to do during the nine months of constant change. While the well-meaning do really mean well, not every mom-to-be will experience the same concerns. To sort through the stockpile of information, we asked experts to share their tips on how to keep skin happy through each trimester, and what to do when it’s not.
Turns out, the often talked about “pregnancy glow” is real. “Due to excess sebum production from glandular tissue and increased blood volume, skin swells and many women experience what is known as a pregnancy glow,” explains New York gynecologist Dr. Monica Grover. However, many women also experience uncomfortable pregnancy-related skin changes as early as the first trimester, while others don’t until their second or third. “This is why it’s so important to use skin-care products that are clean and clinical because they will support the most common pregnancy-related skin issues and have the highest-quality standards and be made in a sterile environment with the most carefully sourced ingredients,” advises master aesthetician Abigail Zsenai.
Problem: Hormonal Acne
Hormone shifts during pregnancy can cause acne, even for those who didn’t have it as a teen. “Pregnancy acne can be really frustrating for some, and treatment options during this time are limited due to potential toxicities,” says Newport Beach, CA dermatologist Zenovia Gabriel, MD.
“If your doctor OKs it, you can use low-dose benzoyl peroxide safely, but another key ingredient I like is erythromycin, although it does require a prescription,” says Dr. Zenovia. “Always be sure to consult your dermatologist or OBGYN before starting a new skin care regimen.”
Sometimes referred to as “the mask of pregnancy,” melasma is a hard-to-treat form of discoloration that usually shows up in patches on the face. “Increased levels of estrogen and progesterone encourage pigment cells in the body due to an increase in the melanin-stimulating hormone from the anterior pituitary gland, which can result in melasma and other pigment changes,” explains Dr. Zenovia. “The discoloration commonly occurs on the forehead, upper lip and cheeks.”
“Ultraviolet rays can stimulate the melanocytes in your skin, so the sun can make melasma worse,” says Zsenai. “That is why it’s so important to wear a ‘physical’ or mineral sun block with titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide with an SPF 30 consistently in the summer months, and especially while pregnant.”
Problem: Ingredient Safety
When selecting your skin care, anything that can enter into the bloodstream, like retinol, is considered a no-no. “You want to follow the safest guidelines for the health of your baby, and some ingredients can affect the skin in a negative way or be absorbed into the body,” says Zsenai. “Protein-binding retinols can enter the bloodstream and then be stored as retinyl esters, and ultimately get metabolized.” Experts also flag the use of topical benzoyl peroxide, oral tetracyclines, salicylic acid and essential oils.
St. Louis plastic surgeon Michele Koo, MD says it’s important to be specific when it comes to retinol, as there are some pregnancy-safe options. “Historically, retinol has been confused with tretinoin and isotretinoin, and understandably so because they are all in the vitamin A family. As a result, people have assumed that retinol isn’t safe during pregnancy, but that isn’t true. As long as the product contains 8000 IU or less, it’s perfectly safe.”
Weight gain, fluid retention, stretch marks, discoloration, and skin irritation are common once that belly pops and you’re coasting through the second and third trimesters. And though everything settles back to normal eventually, in the moment it can feel like someone else’s body. Here’s what to expect.
Dry, Itchy Skin
One of the most typical issues Santa Monica, CA gynecologist Dr. Sherry Ross hears from her patients is uncomfortable skin. “Dryness and mild itching is a normal symptom of pregnancy,” she says. “You can alleviate it by drinking water to stay hydrated or using virgin coconut oil and warm water to moisturize the flaky skin.”
The Pregnancy Line
“Excess concentrations of estrogen and progesterone can lead to a host of skin changes, including darkening,” says Dr. Grover. “Some of these changes include hyperpigmentation on body parts such as the areolas, neck, under the arms, the genital urinary areas, and a dark line down the belly known as a linea nigra.” This line can last for several months after childbirth, and for some, it may fade, but never fully go away.
“Don’t obsess about the stretch marks,” advises Dr. Ross. “You can thank your mother, your grandmother and your great grandmother for this genetic gift. Determination of who’s going to get stretch marks and who is not is purely genetic.” Two tips from Dr. Grover include losing weight slowly to give skin time to regain its elasticity, and using moisturizing ointments that prevent marks from worsening and soothe the itching associated with skin expansion.
Loose or lax postpartum skin on the stomach is a normal concern among new moms, and how that skin is treated immediately after giving birth can help begin the process of bouncing back. “The degree of looseness depends on the elasticity,” explains Dr. Grover. “How much the belly stretched and how slowly or quickly the post-pregnancy weight is lost will factor in. Rubbing carrier oils, like jojoba oil or coconut oil, along the tummy line can help tighten the skin. Ingredients, like collagen, vitamin C and retinoids—if you are not breastfeeding—might also help skin recover some of its firmness.”