It’s all about “the glow”—or is it?
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear a woman is pregnant? I had heard so much about the “pregnancy glow” before I actually got pregnant that I basically expected to walk around for ten months with a permanent Instagram filter on my face. And then…there was reality. Dryness, itchiness, breakouts, melasma, stretch marks, skin tags—every possible skin issue you can associate with pregnancy, I had. And to make matters more complicated, I had to set aside all my usual skincare warriors. Retinol was retired, along with salicylic acid. Anything that wasn’t clean and paraben-free was banished to the back of the shelves, as doctors advise pregnant and breastfeeding women to avoid certain ingredients that can be potentially harmful to the baby. Chemical sunscreens, potentially irritating essential oils, hydroquinone…the list seemed never-ending. And thanks to my intense morning sickness that stretched to 24 hours a day, my nutrition wasn’t exactly skin-friendly (at one point, I truly believed I was going to give birth to buttered toast since it was all I had eaten in weeks).
You’re already watching your body change every day into something unfamiliar, wondrous, and challenging. But then to also not quite recognize the face that’s looking back at you in the mirror can feel like one step too far. There must be a way to be totally safe for your growing baby but also take care of your skin, right? I asked Gary Goldenberg, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and dermatologist at NYC’s Goldenberg Dermatology, how to tackle the most common skincare issues that pregnant women face (often through postpartum). First off is recognizing help is available. “Everyone should work with their dermatologist to figure out the best and safest skin regimen for them [during pregnancy],” says Dr. Goldenberg. “It's not just about the best. It's also about the safest. That's really, really important, obviously, because you want to keep moms safe, but you also want to keep baby safe.” Melasma, stretch marks and breakouts are the most common pregnancy-related skin conditions, explains Dr. Goldenberg; for him, finding the right skincare, including a physical sunscreen, is the key.
“It's not just about the best. It's also about the safest. That's really, really important, obviously, because you want to keep moms safe, but you also want to keep baby safe.” - Dr. Goldenberg
Stretch marks and itching
Stretch marks are the skin issue most commonly associated with pregnancy. No matter what size you are to start with or how much weight you gain, you can be a target for lines zigzagging across your tummy, thighs, arms, breasts. Skin also becomes generally dehydrated when you’re pregnant, which for me meant near-constant itching. Keeping your skin as moisturized as possible is your first line of defense against both stretch marks and itching during pregnancy. Try using Pipette Belly Oil right when you get out of the shower—it’s made with calendula and plant-derived skin calmers to target those feelings of itchiness—and slather on super-nourishing Pipette Belly Butter throughout the day. Moisturizing constantly and drinking way more water than I knew my kidneys could process in a day were my best combatants. And while I did end up with a few stretch marks in the end, I try to see them as commemorating the heroic deeds my body did in service of becoming a mom. For those who find stretch marks annoying and unsightly, know that they will get less noticeable with time, and can fade more quickly at the dermatologist’s office.
Melasma is a skin condition that causes darkened skin patches on sun-exposed areas. In pregnancy, it’s related to your shifting hormones, and is often called the “pregnancy mask” due to its typical appearance on cheeks and forehead. The best and most effective way to prevent it from forming is—you guessed it—by limiting sun exposure. While I didn’t get it on my face, thanks to my obsessively wearing hats and sunscreen every time I walked out the front door, I did get it on my chest after a bathing suit mishap on my babymoon. Once melasma appears, there’s very little you can do to get rid of it during pregnancy. While mine went away on its own after I had my son, Dr. Goldenberg advises that there are a variety of ways to help fade it once you’re no longer pregnant. “After pregnancy, there are several treatments that can be done for melasma, including topicals like vitamin C and retinol,” he says. Dr. Goldenberg also treats patients with in-office procedures like micro-needling and laser resurfacing.
In the end, there is some truth behind the wives’ tales of “the glow:” you do have 50% more blood in your body when you’re pregnant, and the increase in circulation and blood flow might make your face look a little brighter.
And then there’s the hormonal acne. Some days it was cystic acne, some days it was teenage breakout-style pimples, all caused by a surge in androgens which stimulate the over-production of sebum. Dr. Goldenberg assured me I wasn’t alone. “Most women get some breakouts during or after,” he says, “And it's very difficult to treat because most of the treatments that we’d use you can't do while you're pregnant or nursing.” No benzoyl peroxide, no salicylic acid, no retinoids. So what’s a girl to do? I personally visited a wonderful facialist who was a mom herself and just cleaned out all my gunked-up pores. I also whined about it a lot, used organic face masks, and bought a lot of different concealers. Dr. Goldenberg suggests that lasers and other light-based devices can work on hormonal acne during pregnancy without affecting the baby. But for most of us, it’s about finding a gentle cleanser and clean, safe moisturizer that our skin will tolerate, and breathing through the breakouts (it’s good practice for labor, anyway).
Pregnancy skin isn’t entirely bad news. In the end, there is some truth behind the wives’ tales of “the glow:” you do have 50% more blood in your body when you’re pregnant, and the increase in circulation and blood flow might make your face look a little brighter. On top of that, your hormones make you run warmer, so you’re often a little bit dewy.
Now that I have a seven-month old, can I say my skin is back to normal? Not exactly. I don’t think anything about me is exactly what it was before I had a child. I still have some hormonal breakouts, some sensitivity to sun, and drier skin than before. Oh, and a few extra lines around my eyes from sleepless nights. But I will say when I see photos of me with my son, my smile does give me a certain glow that wasn’t there before.
The information provided by Pipette is intended solely for educational purposes. The information is not to be used for medical diagnostic purposes and is not intended to serve as a recommendation for treatment and/or management of any medical/surgical condition. Most of all, this information should not be used in place of a physician or other qualified health provider. If you believe you or your child have a medical condition, please contact your physician immediately.