Some aspects of pregnancy contain such time-honoured clichés that we don’t even know how or where they started (rom-coms, we’re looking at you). Insane-sounding Lamaze breathing? Let’s just say it’s not taught in labour classes. Over-the-top cravings? Well, maybe. The same holds true for “pregnancy glow.” Between the chin zits, stretch marks, brown spots and varicose veins, we can’t figure how those two words got lumped together to describe how we look and feel during pregnancy.
OK, can you break down what is going on with our skin? Why do women tend to break out during pregnancy?
Progesterone levels increase during pregnancy and these hormones act directly on the sebaceous glands to increase sebum (oil) production, which leads to clogging pores and acne.
With so many traditionally-used acne products on the no-no list, what can pregnant women do to fight breakouts? Which topicals can they can involve in?
Safe ingredients are azelaic acid (which is prescription and over the counter), clindamycin (a prescription antibiotic that comes in gel, lotion, solution and towelette versions). Tea tree, witch hazel, willow bark and glycolic acid are all controversial – there aren’t studies done to deem them safe but also there’s nothing to prove they’re unsafe. Therefore, many dermatologists would OK these for spot treatments or in face washes (to avoid any possibility of absorption). Blue light, which is visible light, is an awesome option for pregnant women and is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory but has to be used at least 2-3 times a week. There are over-the-counter weaker blue light devices and medical grade versions you can find in dermatology offices. Microdermabrasion provides superficial exfoliation, which is also safe during pregnancy.
What’s a good pregnancy-safe regimen for pregnant women every night or morning? We still want our vitamin-c serums and face oils!
A good sample regimen for a pregnant woman would include a good quality vitamin C serum such as Isdin’s Flavo-C Ultraglican serum topped with a non-nano zinc-based facial sunscreen or makeup (for example, Oxygenetix makeup or EltaMD). I don’t recommend washing your face twice a day in general and specifically for pregnant women who tend to be more sensitive and dry. At night, wash with a gentle cleanser followed by a calming antioxidant moisturizer . Rose Hip oil is also generally considered safe but there are some essential oils that have been associated with premature contractions – cinnamon, sage and rosemary to name a few. Natural or organic doesn’t guarantee safety.
What are some other skin issues pregnant women need to watch out for and how do you treat them?
Other pregnancy issues include sensitive skin, itchy skin, broken capillaries, melasma (mask of pregnancy) and varicose veins.
For sensitive skin: use less harsh soaps, switch to cream cleanser or try a non-alcohol based micellar solution instead of soap to cleanse. You can also switch sunscreen to physical blockers (no chemicals, which is safer anyway and recommended in pregnancy).
For itchy skin: use a thicker body moisturizer, such as Eucerin Intensive Repair Lotion and hydrocortisone as needed.
For broken capillaries: these can be treated safely postpartum with a laser, so reassurance is best while pregnant that we can zap them away later!
For melasma/chloasma: wear a wide-brimmed hat for sun avoidance, use sunscreen with zinc, vitamin C serum and peels. Then get laser treatments postpartum.
For varicose veins: wear compression socks and elevate your legs for best practice preventatively.
What are some preventative tactics women can do when they find out their pregnant to avoid breaking out in the first place?
Avoid pore clogging products such as cocoa butter, lanolin, shea butter, coconut oil and olive oil. Try to buy products that are labelled non-comedogenic (not pore clogging). Wash your face every day before bedtime with lukewarm water and a gentle facial cleanser. Change out of sweaty clothes post workout as soon as possible and take a quick shower if possible. Sitting in tight sweaty exercise clothing is a sure way to worsen body acne. Getting in to see a dermatologist when you first start breaking out is best to get some prescriptions and prevent long term scarring.
What else do we need to know to maintain safety in our products and treatments?
As much as I want to fix every pregnant patient’s skin, some treatments are not ok during pregnancy. Any laser or treatment that causes substantial trauma to the skin can lead to the creation of waste products in the bloodstream that are filtered partially by the placenta. Vanity sometimes must wait a few months! There’s a ton of controversy surrounding the safety of ingredients in over-the-counter products. Finding an organic or natural product doesn’t ensure safety. EWG is a helpful tool although the website ranks products partially on other factors besides safety (for example allergenicity). Pregnant women should also be wary of the products used during a facial since spa staff may not be aware of restrictions during pregnancy.