While it makes sense that the hormonal changes of pregnancy can affect a woman’s skin, many women are surprised by how drastic those can be, and how much they can shift from month to month. Because pregnancy hormones vary from woman to woman, it’s difficult to find actionable advice and product recommendations that actually work.
So what is out there for pregnant women dealing with new, changing and ever-evolving skin? To answer this, we talked to three board-certified dermatologists.
There’s a laundry list of “routine” skin-related issues many women experience during pregnancy, including hormonal acne and melasma. Surprisingly, pregnancy can also exacerbate current pre-pregnancy skin issues or reignite long-dormant ones.
“Some pregnancies bring forth skin issues that the expectant mother did not know she had, like psoriasis, but many pregnant women also endure routine issues like stretch marks, varicose veins and cellulite, all of which are worsened during pregnancy,” dermatologist Harold Lancer told HuffPost.
Pregnancy can also cause changes in existing conditions like moles and spider veins, which is why it is important to consult your dermatologist and get a skin check during pregnancy if you notice any changes in mole size, color or shape.
Below are four common skin care issues pregnant women face, along with tips from dermatologists.
1. Why is my skin exceptionally dry during pregnancy?
Water is vital to many of the processes that occur in your body during pregnancy, such as helping to form the placenta and maintaining amniotic fluid. But since you’re now sharing your body with another human, it can be harder than ever to provide adequate hydration to your skin’s largest organ ― your skin.
To help combat dryness in both your face and body, dermatologist Sandra Lee, founder of SLMD Skincare, recommends creams over lotions. “Remember the best time to moisturize is when you’re still damp from the shower or bath, as this helps to diminish the evaporation of water from your freshly washed skin,” she said.
Purvisha Patel, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare, agrees: “Bellies especially tend to get itchy as the skin is stretching. Moisturizing after bathing is important as is using products formulated to prevent stretch marks and eczema on both mommy and baby.”
But what if you want a more lasting approach than using a moisturizing cream? “In terms of treatments, red light oxygen procedures and hydrating sesame oil lymphatic drainage procedures are best for this skin concern,” Lancer suggested. “Red light therapy works to increase collagen and elastic tissue production, and both procedures aim to restore and rejuvenate skin.”
2. How do I cure melasma during pregnancy?
Many pregnant women experience melasma, a condition that results in dark, discolored patches on the skin. There is no “cure” for pregnancy-related melasma (which is actually known as chloasma during pregnancy), but this skin condition usually resolves itself post-birth. Unfortunately, hydroquinone is one of the most commonly prescribed over-the-counter medications used to lighten melasma, but it is not safe for expecting mothers. Instead, Patel recommends safer alternatives: “Kojic acid, licorice, azelaic acid and niacinamide lighten discolored skin slowly but safely.”
The good news is that even without the use of hydroquinone, there are things expecting mothers can do to mitigate symptoms and prevent melasma from worsening.
“When it comes to melasma, sunscreen is your best ammunition,” Lee advised. “It’s also important to avoid heat, as this is a precipitating factor.” Lee suggests using a physical sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide instead of a chemical one. “Chemical sunscreens (like oxybenzone) are protective, but they convert sun rays to heat, which you do not want if you have melasma.”
3. How do I treat hormonal breakouts during pregnancy?
Many acne-fighting ingredients such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and retinol are not safe to use in excess during pregnancy. Fortunately, there are gentler organic alternatives and even some in-office treatments that are safe to use during pregnancy.
“Hormonal breakouts during pregnancy can be helped with the use of blue light therapy, infrared laser treatments and gentle extractions with steam and some light exfoliation,” Lancer revealed. “Blue light therapy in particular helps to kill certain acne-inducing bacteria on the skin’s surface.”
“Changes in your hormones estrogen and progesterone are unavoidable during pregnancy. Most women discover during pregnancy that their acne improves or worsens,” Lee explained. “If it worsens, it’s difficult to find an over-the-counter acne medication that is approved during pregnancy. If you’re having problems with acne during your pregnancy, it’s best to seek the guidance of a board-certified dermatologist.”
4. Which skin treatments are safe during pregnancy?
The short answer: Always ask your doctor.
Even if you don’t experience any dramatic changes to your skin, there are still many routine skin treatments from which pregnant women need to abstain throughout pregnancy including Botox, laser procedures and chemical peels.
“Not much is allowed when pregnant, not necessarily because they are known to be dangerous but because we don’t know if there is a danger to the developing fetus,” Lee explained. “Sunscreen is the most important thing you can do.”
Pregnant women who want to maintain their skin care regimen shouldn’t assume everything is off the table, however, as many may be surprised which treatments are still considered safe during this time.
“Botox and neurotoxins are contraindicated in pregnancy, but fillers, however, are not,” Patel clarified. “Although some chemical peels are OK, consulting with your dermatologist as to what in-office procedures you can do for upkeep is recommended.”
For those who still want to look and feel their best during pregnancy, the best solution is the simplest: consistency.
“I tell all of my patients how incredibly important it is to establish a consistent skin care program that is performed daily,” Lancer said. “Consistency is key to the prevention of damage to the skin and is much easier to accomplish than reparation.”
For those more concerned about chemicals and reactions to sensitive skin, sticking to “clean” beauty and skin care during this time is the best idea, as well as researching products and skin care developed with pregnant and nursing mothers in mind.
Lancer summed it up best: “Expecting mothers really only need two things to maintain that healthy pregnancy glow: safe treatments and diligent at-home care.”