Pregnancy Skincare: Body Changes & How To Handle It


pregnancy skincareSource: Jamie McCarthy /Getty Images

Pregnancy is a magical and monumental experience – you’re literally growing another human being inside of your body, which is pretty insane. And while it’s undoubtedly a wonderful experience, there are so many changes occurring in your body that it can be a confusing time, which is why it’s so important to be knowledgeable about what’s really going on. While you may have heard about the more typical pregnancy side effects like cravings, stretch marks, the famous pregnancy glow, and obvious weight gain, there’re also a lot of changes that people don’t mention, especially when it comes to skincare. So, if you’re a first-time mom, it can be a bit overwhelming at times.

With many celebs taking to social media over the past couple of months to dispel pregnancy and mommy myths in favor of discussing the real realities of pregnancy and post-pregnancy, we felt there was no better time to discuss prenatal skincare. After all, it doesn’t always look as glam as Beyonce at the Grammys…

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So, we spoke with Rebecca Booth, M.D OBGYN & Co-Founder of VENeffect Anti-Aging Skin Care, and N.Y. board-certified dermatologist Dr. Doris Day (also a mother herself). They covered everything from the skin changes that occur, the products you can use, and the things you need to avoid.

But before we get into the details, it’s important to note that every pregnancy is different and therefore it’s always best to consult your OBGYN and dermatologist before making any changes.

Changes That Occur During Pregnancy

Dr. Day begins by explaining that “When you’re thinking about skin changes during pregnancy, it helps to think in terms of trimesters since there are specific events that occur in each for both mom and baby.” There are three trimesters, with each trimester lasting three months. During the varying trimesters, your hormone fluctuations will alter the state of your skin considerably, therefore, you may need to revise your beauty regime accordingly.

Here’s everything you need to know…

Early Signs Of Pregnancy

Changes in the body like a missed period is the most common indication that you might be pregnant. However, Dr. Day adds that “One of the earliest signs of pregnancy, even before weight change, is changes in the nipples and breasts.”

Your nipples swell due to “Hormonal changes of increased progesterone and HCG that prepare your body to carry and sustain a new life. However, these can wreak havoc on your skin! The breasts can become engorged and start to enlarge as early as in the first trimester. The glands around the nipples often also become enlarged as early as in the first 8 weeks, and can chafe from bras that are now a little tighter, and from clothing.”

Trimester 1 (1-12 weeks /1-3 months)

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“The first trimester is when the fertilized embryo develops all its organs and structures. For this reason, it’s the time we are most concerned about medications and products that may be absorbed and cross the blood-placenta barrier that the baby relies on for all its needs,” Dr. Day explains.

Products and medications can also impact your ability to conceive. Dr. Day says, “There are some products you should avoid even if you’re trying to get pregnant, these were called category X products (before the FDA eliminated pregnancy categories of products). A type of medication for the skin used for acne called tazarotene (tazorac) is in that category as is Accutane (Roaccutane). Those medications should be avoided for at least one month prior to becoming pregnant in order to avoid devastating and catastrophic birth defects.”

Trimester 2 (13-26 weeks/ 3-6 months)

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Dr. Day reassures us, “The second trimester is often the easiest. Morning sickness passes, your energy level increases and there’s a sense of relief that you’re truly pregnant. The baby is now developed physically but is “maturing” in other ways in that the nervous system and other organs further develop. They also start to increase in size, and you start to gain weight along with them as your blood volume and hormonal balance changes.”

The Third Trimester (26-40 weeks/6-9 months)

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Now onto the home stretch… The third trimester! “The third trimester is when you really start to “pop” and grow, often leading to at least a few stretch marks.” Says Dr. Doris Day.

“Unfortunately stretch marks are mostly genetic so it’s hard to completely avoid them if you are prone to them. However, it helps a lot to avoid excess weight gain and to gain at a regular rate rather than a lot at once. This is not easy since the baby does most of the growth in the third trimester and we can’t and shouldn’t control that” Dr. Day says.

How to Alter Your Skincare Regime When You’re Pregnant

Dr. Day insists that your first point of call once you find out you’re pregnant is to “See your obstetrician and dermatologist to review all your skincare products and to have them guide you as to what is safe in pregnancy for skin and for rashes too.”

However, in general, Dr. Day says that during pregnancy you should “Look for creams with shea butter, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid. Also, try to wear white cotton bras when possible. You should also try to avoid irritants such as physical exfoliators or glycolic and salicylic acid.” Dr. Booth adds that “Pregnancy increases sun sensitivity, so products containing SPF are essential. If skin irritation or acne should develop, spot treatment with anti-blemish solutions (such as those with calamine) are helpful.”

What to Include in Your Pregnancy Skincare Routine

During pregnancy, it’s best to keep your skincare regime simple and use gentle, hydrating products. In general, try not to overwhelm your skin with an overcomplicated routine and avoid trying any new harsh products as your skin is more sensitive at this time. Dr. Booth suggests “A gentle cleansing regimen that contains natural precursors of BHAs (such as willow bark), followed by an excellent moisturization product with SPF protection is the best plan.” Dr. Booth also adds that “Periodic (at least twice a week) gentle physical exfoliation will help the skin adapt to the rapid changes caused by the influx of hormones. The VENeffect Pore Minimizing Cleanser with willow bark and pomegranate enzymes gently whisks away everyday impurities while infusing skin with phytonutrients and essential hydration.”

What Ingredients to Avoid When You’re Pregnant

Dr. Booth begins by explaining that the skin is extremely sensitive during pregnancy, which is why “what many women may tolerate in the nonpregnant state or even postpartum would not be wise during pregnancy.” Here are a few things you should try to avoid:

AHAs and BHAs: “While topical AHAs and BHAs are safe, they may cause more irritation than usual, and I generally do not recommend these during pregnancy,” Dr Booth explains.

Retinol: “Retinol is a vitamin A derivative and high doses of vitamin A have been shown to be potentially harmful to the developing baby. While topical formulations are felt to be safe there are many alternatives, and it is prudent to avoid retinal and retinoids during pregnancy.” says Dr. Booth. Although, Dr. Day does add “Don’t panic if you’re using it and find out you’re pregnant. I usually tell my patients to stop using it once they know they are pregnant.”

Harsh products: “Pregnant women should avoid products with fragrance and harsh chemicals due to the increased skin sensitivity.” For this reason, Dr. Booth also says that “Pregnant women should not sunbathe and should avoid overheating as it may also trigger hives and rashes such as PUPP [pruritic urticarial papules],” which appear in the skin as red, raised patches.

How to Soothe And Calm Pregnancy Breakouts

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“The hormonal changes in pregnancy, especially early on can also have a big impact in those who have acne. Some women find that their acne clears up and they have perfect skin while others notice a worsening of acne during pregnancy.” Explains Dr. Day. Unfortunately, she does add that “We’re somewhat limited in the treatments during pregnancy because no one does clinical trials on pregnant women so exact safety of most medications and products is not exactly known.”

Dr. Booth and Dr. Day’s tips for treating pregnancy breakouts:

Use anti-blemish solution: Dr. Booth says “For pregnancy breakouts, spot treatments with anti-blemish solutions (such as those with calamine) are helpful, and topical formulations with benzoyl peroxide are felt to be safe but may cause more irritation than usual due to increased skin sensitivity.” Dr. Day adds, “In general, azelaic acid is considered safe.”

Cleanse and exfoliate: “Daily cleansing with an enzymatic system and willow bark as well as periodic exfoliation with a physical exfoliant (2-3 times a week) will help the clearing of blemishes.” says Dr. Booth.

In-office treatments: “There are devices such as blue light LED devices you can buy or have as an in-office treatment at your doctor’s office to help treat acne very well and safely in pregnancy. Another in-office treatment I like is the Isolaz. This combines photoneumatic therapy with suction and intense pulsed light to do deep pore-cleansing and kills the bacteria that causes acne without going deeper than the skin, which makes it safe in pregnancy. Another great addition, “I also like hydrafacials, as they do a great job of de-congesting the skin without traumatizing it.”

How to Soothe Prenatal Melasma

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Melasma is a common skin condition that occurs during pregnancy. Dr. Booth explains that it’s caused by “The placenta, which makes a high amount of hormones that stimulate melanocytes causing increased pigmentation especially with sun exposure.” Dr. Day continues saying “We’re now learning that even pollution and certain infrared rays can lead to melasma.” However, Dr. Day says the good news is that “Now newer products are working to protect against these as well.”

To treat melasma Dr. Booth suggests a product that contains phytoestrogens as “Interestingly phytoestrogens (estrogen mimics derived from plants) block the enzyme that stimulates melanin, and topical products with phytoestrogens have been shown to reduce hyperpigmentation.” Her skincare line, VENeffect, was developed with phytoestrogens to safely and effectively brighten skin and restore elasticity and luminosity. It’s also safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding mothers.

Dr. Booth’s top three tips for treating prenatal melasma:

Sun protection: “Sun protection is mandatory and is best achieved with a combination of an SPF product and protective clothing.” We recommend using a mineral sunscreen, as they are more gentle on sensitive skin; check out 5 of our fave mineral sunscreens.

Phytoestrogens: “A moisturizer with phytoestrogens will help reverse and prevent melasma like the VENeffect Intensive Moisturizer, $185.”

Daily cleansing: “Daily cleansing with an enzymatic system and willow bark as well as periodic exfoliation with a physical exfoliant (2-3 times a week) will speed the clearing of hyperpigmentation.”

How to Alter Your Diet During Pregnancy

Eating mindfully is always important but even more so when you’re pregnant so that you can support the health and wellbeing of your baby. Your diet can also impact your skin significantly. Dr. Booth confirms that “Dietary recommendations have both positive effects on the skin as well as the pregnancy. Focusing on healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, and nut butter help steady the consistency of the changing skin. I also recommend oily fish (wild-caught, low mercury) and omega-3’s, all of which have been shown to have positive influences on both the pregnancy and skin. Foods high in prebiotics, such as high fiber fruits and veggies, onions, garlic, leeks, and lentils will support a healthy gut, vaginal, and skin microbiome.”

How To Avoid Stretch Marks

Stretch marks are a part of life and extremely common during pregnancy. While they’re nothing to be worried about (check out these celebs who proudly show off their stretch marks), there are things you can do to prevent them or minimize their appearance.

Dr. Day tells us, “Stretch marks are mostly genetic so it’s hard to completely avoid them if you are prone to them. However, it helps a lot to avoid excess weight gain and to gain at a regular rate rather than a lot at once.” Dr. Booth agrees, “Rapid weight gain can cause the collagen bridges in the skin to break, causing stretch marks in the abdomen and sometimes the thighs and breasts. Most women do not have to gain as much weight as their friends and relatives may encourage them to do. While a healthy, balanced diet is vital, excessive calories can increase insulin production, causing inflammation in the skin, and risking rapid weight gain. Fortunately, stretch marks fade dramatically after pregnancy.”

Dr. Day says the best prevention is “Staying well hydrated by drinking enough water, as this will help the hyaluronic acid naturally present in the skin hold water and have greater elasticity. Applying moisturizer is very important as well. Look for ingredients like ceramides, shea butter, and hyaluronic acid.”

“Coconut, avocado, and olive oil have excellent fatty acids and some antioxidants too, but sometimes the smell can be too strong for pregnant women who are often more sensitive to smell and may not like those odors. There are plenty of excellent options,” Dr. Day says.

Above all, when pregnant it’s always best to check in with your doctor if you have any concerns about the products you’re using or any unexpected changes in your body. Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.