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Pregnant women may have that healthy glow, but there are plenty of skin issues that can also accompany motherhood. From hormonal acne to stretch marks and everything in between, it helps to know the ins and outs of pregnancy skin care. With each kid I learned a little more about which products were best to use (and avoid!) and which foods to eat to help my skin cope with the
challenges miracle of pregnancy.
Is Pregnancy Skin Care Different?
The answer to this is yes and no. It’s always a good idea to give our skin the care and attention it needs, especially during pregnancy when the body goes through so many changes. The key is to choose safe, nourishing ingredients that are healthy for both mom and baby.
Skincare Products to Avoid During Pregnancy
There are certain ingredients that always make it onto my NO list, whether I’m pregnant or not. Simple and natural are best in my book. There are a few ingredients that even conventional experts say to avoid during pregnancy though.
Retinol (Vitamin A)
This synthetic form of vitamin A is applied topically to the skin, usually to fight wrinkles and aging. According to experts like the National Institutes of Health, synthetic vitamin A supplements are known to cause birth defects. The risks mean it should also be avoided topically when pregnant.
Retinol also gets a bad rap from the EWG (Environmental Working Group) Skindeep Database, which rates it as a 9 out of 10 for toxicity. This one can be tricky since it is often found in natural skincare products.
Hormone changes during pregnancy can cause adult acne. Salicylic acid is used to dry up acne, though personally it didn’t work for my teen breakouts. When ingested it can cause miscarriage or birth defects, so it’s recommended to avoid using it topically for acne during pregnancy.
While the two above are only something to watch out for during pregnancy, there are a number of problematic ingredients in conventional skin care products (and why I make many of my own). According to the Environmental Working Group, some of the ingredients to look out for on labels and avoid are:
- “Fragrance” (often contains phatalates, hormone-disrupting plasticizers which the company is not required to disclose)
- DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidzaolidinyl urea, and quaternium-15 (formaldehyde releasers)
- Propyl-, isopropyl-, butyl-, and isobutyl-parabens (mimics estrogen in the body)
- Methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone (preservatives)
See “Top Tips for Safer Products from the EWG” for the complete list.
Pregnancy Skin Care: Common Problems & Remedies
Taking care of our skin is always important, but pregnancy presents its own challenges. This next section covers the top pregnancy skin complaints and how to solve them naturally.
Stretch Mark Prevention and Treatment
After six pregnancies I’ve earned my tiger stripes, but that doesn’t mean I want to keep them. Stretch marks are thought to be genetic, however they can be diminished or even eliminated. The key to avoiding them or getting rid of stretch marks is a healthy diet and proper skin care.
Here are some natural pregnancy skincare tips for avoiding or fading stretch marks:
- Consume healthy fats to give skin the fat-soluble vitamins it needs for suppleness.
- Drink bone broth, eat pastured meats, and work pure, grass-fed collagen supplements into smoothies or soups to help repair damaged skin.
- Consume lots of vitamin C, which is necessary for collagen production in the body. (Interesting fact: Bell peppers have significantly higher amounts than oranges).
- Apply calendula-infused oil liberally to the stomach to diminish stretch marks and C-section scars.
- This homemade pregnancy stretch mark salve (along with diet) helped me get rid of mine.
- Spend regular time in the sun, as the natural vitamin D can help the skin heal and repair.
Many women find that changing hormones during pregnancy also cause blemishes and acne. The key to getting rid of pregnancy acne is to balance the hormones, ideally before conception.
Ironically, pregnancy hormones helped improve my bad acne that I had since high school.
Here are some other skincare tips to keep pimples at bay:
- Taking a high-quality probiotic and addressing gut health is key.
- Use a raw honey face wash. The anti-microbial, nourishing, and moisturizing honey helps keep skin clear and clean.
- Add a drop or two of tea tree essential oil to 1 tablespoon full-fat yogurt or honey and apply to the face. Rinse off after 10 minutes.
- Use a natural konjac sponge for gentle exfoliation.
- A purifying mask with bentonite clay and charcoal helps to draw impurities from the skin.
Pregnancy Mask (Melasma)
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can not only bring acne to a head, but they can cause the skin to darken. Light brown splotches may appear on the face and neck. Some women also get a dark line called linea nigra that runs down the center of the stomach.
Instead of using chemical whitening agents on the skin, a safer option is to balance the hormones. This includes eating a real food diet with healthy fats, grass-fed meat, grass-fed dairy (if tolerated) and plenty of healthy veggies. It’s a wise idea to skip out on the sugary foods and enjoy natural sweeteners like raw honey in strict moderation.
- Melasma is irritated by sun exposure, so a safe sunscreen will help. Just be sure to get enough sun! A study from the University of Michigan shows that prenatals don’t supply adequate vitamin D. Fresh air and old-fashioned sunshine is one of the most effective ways to get vitamin D levels up.
- Raw honey can help with dark spots on the skin.
- Lemon juice acts as a natural skin lightener, but should be applied at least 12 hours before sun exposure.
- Balance hormones with a healthy diet, and avoid toxins and endocrine disruptors.
- A 2013 article published in the Indian Online Dermatology Journal points out that adequate vitamin C also reverses skin hyperpigmentation. Bell peppers and camu camu powder are high in this antioxidant vitamin, or see these other ways to supplement vitamin C.
Red or Flushed Skin
Blood volume doubles during pregnancy which can cause some coloration in the skin. A rosy complexion may be why women are said to “glow” in pregnancy, but redness isn’t what we’re after. This won’t likely resolve until after birth and blood volume returns to normal, so until then makeup can help temper the color.
I like to whip up my own makeup though since it’s cheaper and simple.
- Natural concealer – Adding green pigment will help to combat skin redness. (Those with very fair skin though should go easy on the green, or skin may look orange instead.)
- Liquid foundation – I love this foundation recipe, and it’s a cinch to mix up once you have the ingredients on hand (thank you 1-click shopping…)
- Powder foundation – Applying powder foundation last gives extra coverage and a lasting finish.
Dry, Itchy Skin
Skin that’s stretching tighter over a blooming belly is prone to itchiness. Drinking bone broth, taking vitamin C, and adding a grass-fed collagen supplement to the diet will help.
- Use a natural lotion daily after showering to help keep skin supple and itch-free.
- Keep up on fluids and avoid dehydrating or sugary options. Red raspberry leaf tea helps tone the uterus for a shorter labor, and rooibos tea is caffeine-, tannin-, and oxalate-free unlike black or green teas.
- Try eliminating dairy or having only grass-fed dairy (if tolerated).
Varicose and Spider Veins
This is a common complaint after pregnancy and an important part of pregnancy skin care. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the weight of the uterus pressing down causes increased pressure on the leg veins. This pressure can cause veins to bulge or turn dark. The hormone progesterone relaxes the vein walls and the increased blood volume bogs vein function down even further. Standing for long periods of time, crossing legs, or carrying excess weight can worsen varicose veins, so try these things to counter it:
- Elevate the legs as able.
- Wear compression hose.
- Apply witch hazel topically over spider veins.
- Cold water therapy helps to boost circulation and decrease inflammation for improved vein function. A 1992 study published in Phlebology: The Journal of Venous Disease revealed that patients treated with cold water therapy saw significant improvement in varicose veins compared to the control group.
- After pregnancy, drink herbal tea. Rosemary Gladstar has fabulous vein-improving recipes in her book, Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health.
- Dry brushing for a few minutes after a shower helps boost circulation and may fight cellulite too.
Bottom Line: Take Care of Skin in Pregnancy, It Makes a Difference!
Taking time out for self-care doesn’t come easily to most of us, but when your skin is preparing for the workout of its life a little extra pampering is in order. Try a few of these skincare tips for pregnancy and let me know what works well for you!
Do you do anything different to take care of your skin when you’re pregnant? I’d love to know!