Skin Care During Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a joyful time, but it can also be a confusing time for moms-to-be because of the many physical changes happening. During pregnancy, many women start to re-evaluate what they put in and on their bodies. There is not a lot of research pointing to what women should avoid and the research that does exist is inconclusive at showing how toxic chemicals can affect the growing fetus. Fear-mongering is not the way to go about educating women, but erring on the side of caution is probably a good idea.
Pregnancy Glow? Or Pregnancy Acne?
Skin, the largest organ in the body can often show the first outward sign of pregnancy. "The glow" often appears early on in the first trimester, but while some women are blessed with glowing and radiant skin, while other complexions may look greasy and shiny.
The glow comes from an increase in blood volume to all organs and the growing fetus. The same rising pregnancy hormones that give a radiant glowing complexion also boost oil production and can sometimes lead to acne and other unwanted skin conditions.
While facial oils can help reduce the overproduction of oil and acne by regulating sebum production, not all oils are created equally. Oils like avocado, almond, coconut, olive and wheat germ are too heavy for the skin and may contribute to breakouts. If looking for a natural oil for use during pregnancy, oils such as watermelon seed, jojoba, hemp, squalane, and rosehip are all better, lighter choices.
Skin can be extra sensitive during pregnancy, so women may find the products that they used before pregnancy may be too harsh and irritating during pregnancy. It's important to avoid products that may exacerbate acne-prone and irritated skin. Essential oils may not be tolerated by everyone, and even products containing oils like tea tree oil, rosemary, lemongrass, and citrus peels can be very irritating to the skin, even if they are touted as having anti-acne properties.
One of the most common skin problems seen in pregnant women is an increase in dark spots or hyperpigmentation. A natural increase in melanin due to surging estrogen levels is responsible for darkened skin, especially on the face, but melanin is also responsible for linea nigra, darkening of the areola, and melasma.
Melasma is also known as “the mask of pregnancy” and causes pigmentation changes to appear on the face, often in the area of the nose and cheeks. This skin change is more common in women with darker complexions. As frustrating as darkening skin changes can be, there is no way to treat darkening spots while pregnant and women are generally advised to wait until after pregnancy to treat hyperpigmentation if it doesn't go away on its own.
Sunlight worsens the condition so sunscreen use is non-negotiable. Skip the chemical sunscreens and go for the physical sunblocks to minimize your skin's absorption of harmful chemicals.
Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant and it is very important for skin health. It helps to minimize skin darkening and pigmentation through decreasing melanin formation. Plant-based products that derive their vitamin C from botanicals such as hibiscus or Kakadu plum can be a source of vitamin C, but research shows that to get the full benefits of vitamin C, a stronger, synthetic form is much more effective in skincare.
There is No Magic Bullet for Stretch Marks
Stretch marks are a very common skin condition affecting about 90% of women during the 6th and 7th months of pregnancy. These pink or red stripes usually happen on the belly, but they can also be found on other areas of rapid growth and stretching of the skin, like breasts, thighs, and buttocks. They are more common in younger women, women with larger babies, and women with higher BMIs. The marks usually fade over time.
The best way to prevent stretch marks is to gain weight slowly and steadily during pregnancy. Plant oils high in fatty acids and vitamin E may help to keep the skin elastic and hydrated. If one is prone to stretch marks (or if you have a family history of stretch marks) preventing them may be difficult and contrary to what some products claim, there is no magic bullet for their prevention!
There are many stretch mark oils and creams available on the market, but something as simple as rosehip oil may help due to its scar lightening and diminishing properties. A few small studies have shown the Indian herb gotu kola (Centella asiatica) can help prevent stretch marks if taken orally or combined in a topical preparation with vitamin e and nourishing botanical oils. Stretch marks will naturally fade over time.
Products to Avoid
There are some skincare products and practices that should be avoided during pregnancy. Retinol and retinyl palmitate must be avoided because excessive amounts of vitamin A causes birth defects in babies. Talk to your doctor or midwife if you have any concerns.
Hydroquinone is a powerful skin lightener, which may be tempting to use for dark spots during pregnancy, should also be avoided due to its high absorption rate. About 35-45% of the chemical is absorbed by the skin.
Avoid over-exfoliation from alpha-hydroxy chemical peels and salicylic acid because the skin can become more sensitive and irritable during pregnancy. If you still want a gentle exfoliating action, products containing glycolic, lactic, and mandelic acids are all good choices.
Avoid hormone disruptors and toxic chemicals found in cosmetics, we have a list of chemicals to avoid here. Pregnancy is a sensitive window of exposure to chemicals. The scientific literature is currently mixed, with some studies showing no effect of endocrine disrupting chemicals on the growing fetus, but epidemiologic studies have shown exposure to these chemicals may be associated with fetal growth restriction and small gestational age babies. That kind of inconclusive verdict is enough to err on the side of caution and reach for safer products.
It's important to note that there is also growing interest in studying the cumulative and synergistic effects of hormone disruptors where previously they have only been studied in isolation. It's important to be aware of the potential risks of exposure to these chemicals through skincare products and make educated decisions that are best for you.