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Getting that Glow: An Expectant Mother's Guide to Safe Skin Care

We've all heard about the pregnancy glow, that ethereal brightness moms-to-be exude. In many cases, it's true that a mommy-to-be's skin will benefit from the unique mix of hormones and prenatal vitamins that change the basic chemistry of the body.

Unfortunately, this luminous complexion isn't a guarantee. In fact, many women find themselves spending their 40 weeks of pregnancy battling a myriad of skin conditions (including those that they may never have faced before). Acne and melasma (also known as the mask of pregnancy) are two of the most common, but bumps, rashes and general discolorations can also pop up.

Many proven beauty solutions are strictly forbidden once a baby is on board, making the situation even more complicated. Everything you apply or come in contact with poses the risk of being absorbed by the skin into the body and could affect your unborn child's health.

Although combating skin woes during pregnancy may seem daunting, it doesn't have to be.

By slightly tweaking your beauty regimen and avoiding a handful of harmful ingredients, your skin will be radiant.

Clean Out Your Medicine Cabinet

During pregnancy, it is sensible to avoid the most powerful products that you used pre-pregnancy. Additionally, there are some skin care ingredients that are absolutely forbidden while you're with child. Review the ingredient panel on every product that you use, and toss anything that contains the following ingredients:

  • Retinoids

    • Adapelene (sold under the brand name Differin)

    • Tretinoin (known as Retin-A, Renova)

    • Isotretinoin (the oral acne medication known as Accutane)

    • Retinoic acid

    • Retinol

    • Retinyl Linoleate

    • Retinyl Palmitate

    • Tazorac and Avage (known as Tazarotene)

    • Tretinoin

  • Benzoyl Peroxide

  • Beta Hydroxy Acid (also known as BHA)

  • Salicylic Acid

Banishing Acne During Pregnancy

Pregnancy acne is one of the most common skin care concerns that women report. Contrary to urban legend, it doesn't necessarily indicate that you're having a girl! The hormonal surges that accompany pregnancy causes enlarged pores and increases sebum production. Bacteria thrive in the resulting blocked pores, causing acne that varies in severity and length.

Given that two of the most popular anti-acne ingredients (benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid) are forbidden during pregnancy, your best option is to explore natural alternatives - starting with your diet. For some, drinking more water and consuming more leafy greens will help combat the problem. Others find that cutting down on dairy, unhealthy fats, refined sugar and artificial sweeteners helps minimize acne.

Replacing your existing makeup with oil-free or mineral-based powder options can also help to dramatically minimize acne. Oil-free and mineral-based formulations help to absorb excess oil and sebum.

Natural products can help nourish the skin while simultaneously helping to combat acne naturally. Many natural vegetable and essential oils (including coconut oil and tea tree oil) make efficacious anti-acne ingredients. At-home topical treatments, like mud masks, can help unblock pores and clean up excess oiliness.

The Mask of Pregnancy and Other Discoloration

One of the most well-known side effects of pregnancy is melasma, also known as the 'mask of pregnancy.' Occurring most often in women with dark hair and dark eyes, this condition is characterized by patches of dark, pigmented skin that appear on the face.

Hyperpigmentation isn't limited to the face; many pregnant women struggle with discoloration around the nipples and on the upper thighs. The 'line of pregnancy,' or linea nigra, is also a common complaint.

This stubborn problem is widespread but notoriously difficult to trea. Actresses Courtney Cox and Brooke Burke have famously spoken out about their experiences with melasma, raising awareness of the condition.

The safety of traditional skin lightening creams and treatments (such as dermatologist-administered peels and IPL) is still unproven, so it's best to avoid these options while pregnant. While Vitamin C creams can help suppress pigment in the skin, the best 'cure' for discoloration is prevention: avoid the sun whenever possible to avoid darkening the areas of pigmentation, and wear a high SPF whenever you can't avoid being outdoors. If all else fails, invest in a high quality, full coverage mineral concealer.

One last note: while soy-based products are a popular option right now, soy can actually make hyperpigmentation worse. The same is true of Bergamot Essential Oil that is not bergaptene free. For best results, avoid products that include these ingredients:

  • Lethicin

  • Phosphatidylcholine

  • Soy

  • Textured vegetable protein (TVP)

  • Bergamot (that is not Bergapten Free)

Itches, Rashes and PUPPP

The hormonal fluctuations of pregnancy combined with the stretching of the skin often result in uncomfortable skin sensations and irritation. These range in severity from general itchiness to PUPPP (short for "pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy"), a skin condition similar to hives. It often clears up on its own after delivery.

Many of these uncomfortable symptoms can be treated by applying a cool washcloth soaked in whole milk (or cream) to the skin. The dairy fat helps soothe the irritation. If that doesn't work, try an oatmeal bath soak (or even a handful of oatmeal) in a warm bath. Follow this by applying a nourishing oatmeal- or shea butter-based moisturizer.

If you develop these symptoms, alert your doctor. It's rare, but there is a possibility that the itchiness you're feeling is a symptom of a liver condition known as cholestasis. It carries the risk of premature labor and may cause fetal distress.

Similarly, if you have an itchy rash with fluid-filled blisters, it is wise to notify your doctor immediately. These symptoms can be indicative of the autoimmune reaction pemphigoid gestationis (also known as herpesgestationis). This situation can also increase the risk of premature birth and can have far-reaching effects on your baby's health.

Stretch Marks

Studies suggest that the occurrence of stretch marks is genetic. Although there is no guarantee that stretch marks can be minimized or completely eliminated, there is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that suggests that natural moisturizers rich in vegetable betters like cocoa butter and shea butters can help to keep the skin supple and nourished so that the skin is more elastic and resilient to the intensive stretching that can occur during pregnancy. The key is to continuously moisturize the skin.

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