In Ask a Dermatologist, Medical Dermatology, Skin Care

Pregnancy brings many changes to the body. As your baby grows inside the womb and hormone levels change, your skin may also go through changes. The way you approach pregnancy skin care often requires adjustments to your regular skincare routine.  

Some skincare products contain ingredients that are unsafe for moms-to-be. Common over-the-counter and prescription skincare ingredients can harm babies in the womb. You may need to alter your skincare routine and use pregnancy-safe skincare products for a time. 

In this article, our dermatologists discuss common pregnancy-related skin conditions, skincare products to avoid during pregnancy and tips for healthy pregnancy skin.  

Common pregnancy-related skin changes

If you notice your skin beginning to change with pregnancy, don’t worry. You are in good company. 90% of women experience some pregnancy-related skin changes. But why?

When you become pregnant, your whole body begins to change. Your blood volume grows by 30% to 50% to support the baby and contribute to your rosy, pregnancy glow. Your metabolism increases to support your body and the growing baby. Your hormones surge to keep your womb healthy, support your baby’s growth and keep other hormones in check.

All of these factors affect your skin. Some skin becomes clearer, while others may experience more oil, dryness, dark spots, stretch marks, acne, and other changes.    

Common pregnancy skin changes include:

  • Dark spots, hyperpigmentation or melasma – During pregnancy, you may develop dark spots on your skin, face or nails from increased melanin. Melanin gives skin and hair a darker color. Most melasma and spots will fade after giving birth. To prevent melasma, wear a hat outside and at least 30 SPF broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen. 
  • Stretch marks – Your body is undergoing a radical transformation as your baby grows. Many times your body changes faster than your skin can grow causing reddish lines or stretch marks. Stretch marks are common on the abdomen, hips, buttocks, breasts or thighs and will fade over time. You cannot prevent stretch marks, but using a good pregnancy-safe moisturizing cream can help. 
  • Acne – Increased oil production can occur during pregnancy, causing pregnancy acne. Normal acne treatments may harm your baby, so watch out for products with the ingredients listed below. 
  • Linea nigra – Some women develop a dark, vertical line from their naval down to their pubic area during pregnancy. This line normally fades gradually after giving birth.

Beware of unsafe skincare ingredients

Products containing the following ingredients can be harmful for pregnant women to use. Check your skincare products and put products with these ingredients to the side for the time being. 

  • Retinoids – Products with retinoids typically treat acne or offer anti-aging treatments, but they can cause significant birth defects. Avoid any vitamin A derivatives, such as retinol, Retin-A, retinyl palmitate or isotretinoin. Isotretinoin is another name for Accutane. 
  • Hydroquinone – This ingredient helps to lighten the skin and is commonly used in creams for hyperpigmentation, dark spots or melasma. Moms-to-be and their babies absorb hydroquinone at high rates (35% to 45%), which is concerning. While there are no links between hydroquinone and severe birth defects, it is not worth the risk. Avoid hydroquinone while pregnant.
  • Formaldehyde – This ingredient was formerly used in beauty products. It is a known carcinogen and causes infertility and miscarriages. Products can no longer include formaldehyde, but some cosmetics contain formaldehyde releasers, which release formaldehyde as they decompose. Always avoid any products with any of these ingredients: DMDM hydantoin, Bonopol, hydroxymethylglycinate, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea and quaternium-15.
  • Phthalates – Everyone should avoid phthalates. Many cosmetic and personal products contain phthalates, which negatively impact thyroid and sex hormones. Phthalates cause preeclampsia, maternal glucose disorders, preterm birth and birth defects. A common phthalate to watch out for is diethylphthalate (DEP).
  • Salicylic acids – These chemicals are used to exfoliate in chemical peels and other treatments. Salicylic acid treats acne, warts, psoriasis, dandruff, ringworm and more. Pregnant women can use only small amounts of low-dose salicylic acid.
  • Chemical sunscreens – Chemical sunscreens are usually not safe to use during pregnancy. Research has linked oxybenzone and other chemicals in sunscreens to hormone disruption. Choose a mineral-based, broad-spectrum sunscreen that is at least 30 SPF.

Pregnancy-safe skincare ingredients

The good news is that there are skin care products that are safe to use during pregnancy. Most over-the-counter acne products are safe, but check the label for the chemicals listed above. Look for products that contain azelaic acid, glycolic acid or only small amounts of benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. 

Glycolic and azelaic acids have very low absorption levels and can help with breakouts, fine lines and hyperpigmentation. 

Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring substance in the body. It retains water well and keeps the skin flexible. Products with this pregnancy-safe ingredient will help your skin stay moist and reduce wrinkles.

Create your pregnancy-safe skin care routine

Follow these tips to create a skincare routine that will help your skin maintain a healthy glow throughout pregnancy. 

  • Cleanse your face twice a day with a gentle cleanser – Wash your face in the morning and evening. Cleansing twice a day helps prevent breakouts by removing extra oil, makeup and dead skin cells. 
  • Use a moisturizer and mineral sunscreen with at least 30 SPF every day – A daily moisturizer will help to block out dirt and prevent dryness. A mineral sunscreen helps prevent melasma and dark spots. 
  • Use moisturizing creams and stay well-hydrated – A good moisturizing cream will keep skin supple and help to prevent stretch marks.

Healthy pregnancy skin advice in Columbia

Columbia Skin Clinic frequently helps expectant mothers with their skincare needs. We know what to watch for and quality products to recommend to keep both you and your little one safe.

Some women experience more intense skincare issues during pregnancy. Our staff can offer advice, options and potential solutions to fit your situation. To discuss your pregnancy skincare with one of our dermatologists, schedule an appointment here.

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