pregnancy and skin care

Babying Your Skin

By Beth Bialko

Pregnancy is an exciting journey, but it brings its own set of skin challenges and concerns.

Every part of the body goes through changes during pregnancy, and the skin is no exception. Skin changes occur in about 90 percent of pregnant women, in one form or another, due to the surge of hormones.Pregnancy glow is not a myth. A pregnant woman’s blood volume increases by almost 50 percent and this glow is produced by the blood vessels just below the skin’s surface, causing the cheeks to take on a blush-like appearance. In addition to redness, sebaceous glands may produce increased secretions, giving the skin an oily sheen or shine.

There are varying opinions and few medical studies when it comes to the safety of ingredients on pregnant women, as testing is controversial. As a mom-to-be, how do you keep your skin looking its best while ensuring your baby’s safety? Here are a few safe and simple guidelines.

Consult a doctor. Talk to your doctor prior to skin care treatment and product use if you are currently pregnant, nursing, or considering pregnancy in the near future.

Talk to a professional skin therapist. Professional skin therapists are trained and ready to adjust a client’s skin care and treatments according to pregnancy precautions and contraindications (like avoiding electrical modalities). By performing a thorough consultation and skin analysis, they can properly re-evaluate your current skin care regimen and help you safely achieve your skin care goals.

Use caution in the first trimester. Be cautious with products and treatments if you are in your first trimester and/or have experienced complications with your pregnancy or previous pregnancies.

Here are some of the more common skin changes along with a short list of ingredients considered safe and others to be avoided.

The Mask of Pregnancy

Melasma, or the mask of pregnancy, is the most common change associated with pregnancy. It is characterized by irregularly shaped light or dark brown patches of hyperpigmentation. According to studies, melasma (chloasma) affects nearly 70 percent of pregnant women.1 The hormonal combination of estrogen, progesterone, and the melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH) can cause the discoloration and darkening usually found on the chin, upper lip, cheeks, and forehead.

Do Try. Melasma cannot be prevented, but intensity can be minimized using brightening serums, proper exfoliation, and limiting exposure to ultraviolet light. For targeting those stubborn brown spots, reach for vitamin C, oligopeptides 34 and 51 and, niacinamide. For safe exfoliation, use lactic acid to resurface and brighten the skin. Daily use of an SPF 30+ is a must. Physical sunscreens like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide tend to be preferred choices, as they reflect heat away from the skin, which is perfect for the pregnancy-flushed face.

Don’t Apply. Avoid using hydroquinone during pregnancy. Studies have shown its topical use on humans is systemically absorbed.2 Although there is no current research regarding its actual use on pregnant women, due to its substantial absorption rate, the risk of cellular toxicity is too great with this chemical whitener.

Psoriasis, Eczema or Rosacea

Pregnancy can put the body under stress, which can be a trigger for pregnant women predisposed to psoriasis, eczema or rosacea. Symptoms can worsen for some, while conditions can improve for others during pregnancy. Reasons for this are unclear and it depends on the individual. One theory is that the immune system and cellular responses have now switched focus onto maintaining a healthy baby, leaving the mother more susceptible to flare-ups. Be aware of rashes, dry skin and general itchiness coming and going during pregnancy; however, if it becomes severe, seek advice from your doctor.

Do Try. Be kind to your skin during pregnancy and follow a gentle skin care routine. Good choices are mild gel/cream cleansers and products containing calming and soothing ingredients like panthenol, bisabolol, and red hogweed. Barrier-building ingredients such as oat kernel (avena sativa), sunflower seed extract, and borage seed oil reduce irritation. Opt for redness-relieving primers with conditioning silicones and a green tint to neutralize skin sensitivity.

Don’t Apply. Avoid abrasive exfoliation or harsh scrubs. Both heat and friction may instigate inflammatory responses. Skip the hot showers, and if having a professional treatment, keep steam and heat (from towels) to a minimum. Stay away from products containing artificial fragrances, which can further aggravate sensitized skin.


The influx of the hormones progesterone, estrogen, and other androgens during pregnancy can stimulate the sebaceous glands and the sweat glands, resulting in more perspiration and breakouts. With an increase in sebum, the skin becomes more oily, follicles are blocked, and acne may appear on the face and occasionally the chest and Young girl with skin problemback. While some pregnant women celebrate their acne clearing up during pregnancy, others may experience an increase in the frequency and number of lesions, especially if they have had acne before. Studies show hormone levels spike during the earliest stages of pregnancy and often again in the third trimester, which may explain the initial onset of hormonal breakouts and then another surge of acne until the baby is born.

Do Try. Keep skin clear and shine-free by opting for oil-absorbing clays such as bentonite and kaolin and sebum-regulating niacinamide. Banish breakout-causing bacteria with lactobacillus ferment, zinc gluconate and spirea ulmaria extract. If pustules and papules are the challenge, some doctors approve low concentrations of benzoyl peroxide as a spot treatment. Lactic acid is a great alternative to salicylic acid to increase cellular turnover along with additional hydrating and brightening benefits. And if you are trying to fight the signs of aging, peptides can be safely used to stimulate collagen synthesis and firm the skin, while antioxidants fight free radical damage.

Don’t Apply. High levels of salicylic acid are definitely a no-no. Even though studies have not been conducted on its effects topically with pregnant women, doctors anecdotally recommend that pregnant women should avoid using high concentrations of salicylic acid. However, using small amounts of salicylic acid in a spot treatment or a wash-off product once or twice a day is typically considered safe. Steer clear of products covering more areas or that sit for longer periods of time on the skin. Remember, more product equals a higher likelihood of absorption.

Lastly, retinoids are one of the skin care ingredients expectant moms should also avoid. These powerful substances help reduce wrinkles and improve skin tone, but some studies have shown high doses of vitamin A during pregnancy can be harmful to an unborn child. Avoid prescription retinoids and oral retinoids, which are known to cause birth defects and should not be taken. If you have been using a skin care product containing retinol, don’t panic, but immediately discontinue use of the product until after delivery and breastfeeding are complete.

Ask a Professional

Becoming a new mother is challenging enough without having to navigate through a confusing maze of skin care ingredients and treatments. Skin care professionals are prepared and educated to help make skin care during pregnancy a safe, comfortable, and joyful experience.

Beth Bialko is the Associate Director of Global Curriculum for the corporate office of The International Dermal Institute (IDI), the skin care industry’s “gold standard” for post-graduate education, and Dermalogica. Bialko is responsible for researching, leading and developing the brand’s award-winning education curriculum for US and international markets, and integrating new research into the brand’s menu. With 17 years of experience in the skin care industry, Beth’s expertise has led her to be featured in industry magazines such as Dermascope, American Spa, and Skin, Inc.

 *Reprint from our Fall 2017 Issue

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