Change is a natural part of pregnancy. Your body is changing, your family is changing, and your life will change to accommodate the arrival of this new little person.
While newly pregnant women know to visit their OB/GYN right away to prepare for the changes their body and baby will experience, many forget to consult their dermatologist.
As your body adapts, your skin feels the effects. You may develop pregnancy acne, pregnancy stretch marks, or even darks spots on your skin that suddenly demand a need for hyperpigmentation cream.
But pregnancy skincare isn’t limited to avoiding pregnancy stretch marks and acne. See, pregnancy also may require a change in your skin care. The products you apply to your skin can directly affect your little one. Here’s what you need to know about your skincare while pregnant, from what to avoid to what to apply:
Skincare Products To Avoid During Pregnancy
As soon as you find out you’re pregnant, evaluate the products you’re using on your skin for safety.
Make an appointment with your dermatologist where you bring in every skin product you use. If possible, bring the boxes that list ingredients for the products. Your dermatologist will go over each product, looking at the ingredients and determining which are safe to continue to use and which should be put away until after delivery.
Many over-the-counter products are not recommended for use during pregnancy — even if it says natural on the label. Natural doesn’t always equal safe, and your dermatologist will help you make the distinction.
While the trend is to worry about parabens and preservatives, our main concern lies more with active ingredients. Products containing retinol, Retin-A, tretinoin, or other vitamin A derivatives should not be used during pregnancy. Additionally, salicylic acid (a staple ingredient in many skincare products) is not recommended during pregnancy.
We also avoid many treatments during pregnancy. Any treatment using retinoids or vitamin A, Botox treatments, and more intense chemical peels are not recommended during pregnancy.
Skin Problems And Pregnancy
Not only do you need to choose your skincare products carefully, but you’ll also want to work to prevent and treat some skin issues that pop up during pregnancy including stretch marks, hyperpigmentation, and acne.
Pregnancy Stretch Marks
Pregnancy stretch marks are a major concern while you’re expecting, but it’s not always a problem you can avoid. These marks are not necessarily preventable as they have a genetic component. Up to 90% of women see some form of stretch marks during pregnancy. Some marks go away entirely after delivery. Others look red, purple, and otherwise upsetting at first, but may fade with time.
One of our best defenses against pregnancy stretch marks is hydrated skin. Moisturizing skincare containing ceramides and hyaluronic acid helps keep your skin hydrated. Glycolic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin E products are also safe treatments during pregnancy to prevent strength marks.
Melasma, also known as hyperpigmentation or the mask of pregnancy, doesn’t only appear during pregnancy and can present itself in areas other than the face.
Most commonly, we see it presented in symmetric dark patches on the cheeks and forehead or above the upper lip, which women find exceptionally frustrating as it looks similar to a mustache. This is a discoloration of the skin triggered by sun exposure.
The first and most important step in seeing improvement in hyperpigmentation is sun avoidance. Sun and UV radiation is the primary cause of melasma — pregnant or not. To prevent melasma, wear wide-rim hats and mineral-based sunscreen during your time in the sun.
Chemical sunscreens will not help with melasma. Chemical sunscreens protect you from sunburn by converting the rays to heat, which translates to inflammation, which promotes the darkening effects of melasma. Evaluate your sunscreen and make sure you use a mineral sunscreen (with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient), so you don’t unintentionally make your melasma worse.
In terms of treatment, the most helpful remedy comes after pregnancy. Hyperpigmentation creams such as retinoids and hydroquinone are available after delivery and work well to fade the dark patches.
During pregnancy, azelaic acid (branded as Finacea) is a hyperpigmentation cream that lightens the skin (and helps fight acne). Alpha-hydroxy classified products are also safe to use during pregnancy. Alpha-hydroxy products such as glycolic acid can be applied as a topical treatment or a chemical peel.
Acne also changes during pregnancy. Some lucky moms-to-be experience the best skin of their lives — they have the glow we always hear about. Others experience intense hormonal acne while pregnant. While we still have treatments for pregnancy-induced acne, we’re more limited in our options out of concern for the safety of the baby.
Most oral medications for acne, including spironolactone, cannot be taken during pregnancy. If you take these prior to pregnancy, stop taking them when you find out you’re expecting. If you’re using a topical retinoid — whether for anti-aging or acne — this should be stopped as well.
Some treatments for melasma such as azelaic acid and alpha-hydroxy chemical peels are also effective methods for treating pregnancy acne. In very severe cases, we may consider oral antibiotics for acne, but we’d choose different options than for someone who’s not expecting.
Dangerous Skin Conditions During Pregnancy
If you develop a rash with blisters or have severe itching without a rash during pregnancy, seek medical attention. Although these presentations are rare, if left untreated they can indicate a more serious problem. In these cases, a dermatologist can be helpful in diagnosing the condition and preventing future problems.
How To Best Care For Your Skin During Pregnancy
Dealing with all the changes of pregnancy can be overwhelming — and the skin is yet another area where you have to learn to adapt. Whether you’re trying to decide which skincare products you can continue to use, which hyperpigmentation cream will safely minimize your melasma, or how to keep pregnancy stretch marks and acne at bay, talk to your dermatologist. They’ll be able to advise you on the safest and most effective approach to skincare during your pregnancy. There’s no need to navigate the changes to your skin alone.
Dr. Winslow Blankenship is a board-certified dermatologist in Breckenridge and Vail, CO. She is an expert in medical dermatology and finds great reward in the management of acne, psoriasis, and other dermatologic conditions. She particularly enjoys that dermatology allows her to care for both adult and pediatric patients, having completed a significant portion of her residency training at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. In her spare time, Dr. Blankenship enjoys skiing with her husband and children.