The mystery surrounding skin changes and conditions during pregnancy is a common challenge for pregnant women around the world. Beyond stretch marks, many pregnant women have no idea about what pregnancy may do to their skin, and what special care is required.
It’s natural to assume that some changes will occur, but the information available to curious mamas is severely lacking. You know to expect some stretch marks, thanks to years of shaming mothers for any traces of previous pregnancy that remain on their bodies, and a recent media shift towards embracing your stretch marks and loving your postpartum body. But stretch marks are not the beginning and the end of the story. When it comes to the changes a pregnant body goes through, dermatologic changes are part and parcel with the experience. Whether you are newly pregnant and curious about the changes to come (and how to take care of your skin throughout them), or you are further along and experiencing a skin condition you haven’t heard about before, you’re bound to have questions.
You might find yourself asking, how will pregnancy really affect my skin?
Thankfully, the answers are fairly simple, and the topic doesn’t need to be elusive as it seems. Taking care of your pregnant and postpartum skin is important, and we have put together this resource to help you understand how.
Skin Changes During Pregnancy
There's a whole list of skin changes you may notice during pregnancy that are completely normal. Understanding these changes will help you prepare for them, and help you understand how to treat them, if necessary.
Stretch Marks - Stretch marks are a natural part of growing a baby, and they are downright beautiful. As your belly grows and your skin stretches, you may notice red or white scar-like lines across your stomach, thighs, breasts and buttocks. The prevalence of stretch marks will vary from woman to woman, and also from pregnancy to pregnancy.
Pigmentation Changes - An increase in hormones, and an increase in melanin may cause some dark spots on your breasts, nipples, inner thighs or your stomach (which is commonly known as the “mask of pregnancy”). More specifically, brown spots on your face are known as Melasma. These usually fade after birth, but there is always the chance that they stick around. Staying in the shade and wearing hats is a good way to minimize these changes.
Acne - If you are someone who already struggles with day-to-day acne, know that it’s not uncommon for it to get worse during pregnancy. While developing acne during pregnancy is not a given, by any means, some women with normally clear skin do indicate some breakouts, so just be prepared that this is a possibility.
The “Pregnancy Glow” - We’ve all heard someone tell a pregnant woman they are “glowing” and by now you might be wondering if it’s real or not; just waiting for your glow to set in. The truth is, the pregnancy glow is a combination of excess oils on your face caused by hormonal changes and often, and increased blood flow that causes you to look a little bit flushed. So yes, the pregnancy glow is real. However, not everyone experiences it. Plenty of women do not experience the “glow” and that’s completely normal- they may even experience drier-than- usual skin. Old wives tales state this could be an indicator of gender, but science has yet to prove a definitive link. If you do experience it, there is no set timing for when it may start, but it’s reasonable to expect that it will be the most prominent in the second trimester, when bodily changes are the most abundant. Just remember, while the “glow” might seem like a positive thing, the buildup of excess oils can lead to acne, so be sure to keep up with your face washing routine using pregnancy-safe products.
Skin Conditions During Pregnancy
Skin tags and pregnancy - Changes in hormone levels can unfortunately lead to the development of skin tags. You may find these in more “hidden” areas of your body such as your groin, armpits or on your neck. The good news is, many of these will go away on their own after birth. If they don’t, they will likely shrink which will make them easier for removal. While removal is not absolutely necessary, you should plan to bring this up with your doctor as they will need to be checked regularly for abnormalities.
Linea Nigra- If you’ve ever seen a pregnant belly with a dark line up the middle, then you know what a Linea Nigra is. This line does not appear in all women, but it is quite common- about 75% of women will experience it, starting around week 23 of their pregnancy. Fun Fact: The Linea Nigra is actually just the darkening of a colourless line that already exists called the Linea Alba, thanks to the increase of hormones.
Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy- If you become itchy towards the end of your pregnancy, with no rash, it is definitely worth notifying your doctor- it could be ICP, which is a liver condition that can occur during pregnancy. This specific itching usually starts with your hands and feet but can spread to the rest of your body as the condition progresses. The symptoms may start in your third trimester and disappear after birth, but ICP can increase the risk of a preterm birth, so be sure to push for a diagnosis if necessary- extra monitoring and information never hurt.
Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy (PUPPP) - This mouthful of a diagnosis sounds pretty complicated right? Well the good news is, it’s actually fairly basic. This non-harmful condition consists of unexplained, small patches of hives and will likely go away after birth.
Prurigo of Pregnancy - If you experience itching with a rash, you should ask your doctor about possible causes. While it is likely to be PUPPP, you might have prurigo of pregnancy. The rash will look like several tiny bug bites and will increase in size over time. This is considered an uncommon immune-system response to pregnancy and may not go away after the baby is born.
A Comprehensive Guide to Skincare While Pregnant
How can I help my skin stay healthy during pregnancy?
Developing a good daily skincare routine during pregnancy (and postpartum) is essential for promoting good skin health, and avoiding lasting effects when your body is readjusting after birth.
If you already have a daily skincare routine, you’ll likely only need to make a few small adjustments and add a couple of products here and there to accommodate your pregnancy.
What products should I use in my pregnancy skin care routine?
Get a good sunscreen (especially for your face) - You should probably be using a daily sunscreen anyway, but if you are trying to avoid melasma, the best way to do so is to use a facial sunscreen every single day. The increase in melanin will cause some darkening, but the sun certainly isn’t going to help. Reducing the UV contact with your skin will do wonders.
Gentle face cleanser - Some of the major ingredients in face washes and acne treatments can be dangerous during pregnancy, as you will see below. Try and find a gentle facial cleanser, or all-natural if that sits you better, so that you can keep up with your normal daily skin care routine. Washing your face will be key for preventing acne during pregnancy.
Good body moisturizer - Especially if you end up with PUPPP, you are going to want something to soothe those itches. Even if you don’t, keeping your body (and belly) well- moisturized will help you to avoid dry skin that can be common during pregnancy.
Prevent stretch marks (if you want to) - There’s nothing to say you need to do anything to reduce the development and appearance of your stretch marks. Especially in this day and age, many women wear them as a badge of honor - as they should. However, if it would be better for your personal self-love journey to prevent stretch marks, here’s what you can do. Many mothers swear by our MTHR Belly Oil and MTHR Belly Cream. The main goal here is to keep them moisturized.
Both the MTHR™ Belly Oil and MTHR™ Belly Cream are non-greasy formulations that visibly hydrates skin, reduces the appearance of dark spots, prevents stretch marks and improves skin elasticity before, during and after pregnancy. Made with natural oils and ingredients, they are 100% fragrance-free, luxurious, smooth, absorbent, essential fatty acids and vegan - trust us, you won't go a day without them! Safe to use on even the most sensitive skins.
The grapeseed oil in MTHR™ Belly Oil is the prime ingredient and it is rich in beta-carotene and containing a generous dose of essential fatty acids. Argan oil is packed with skin elasticity promoting vitamins, E and A which prevents the formation of stretch marks. Calendula extract is a natural oil extracted from marigold flowers used to improve the quality and appearance of the skin, as well as accelerate wound healing. The organic extra virgin olive oil in MTHR™ Belly Oil is also packed with vitamins, and delivers Vitamins A, D, K, and E to your skin.
In the MTHR™ Belly Cream, Coconut Oil is the primary ingredient. It helps to keep skin deeply hydrated, more elastic, reduce itching, less prone to stretch marks and reduce the appearance of existing ones. Cocoa Butter and Shea Butter, both lightweight fats and moisturizing agents are incredibly rich in vitamins A, E, F, stearic acid, linoleic and oleic fatty acids. Excellent for balancing, nourishing and conditioning your skin. The wonder plant, Aloe Vera is also a key ingredient in our formulation which helps to promote collagen synthesis, essential for the healing of scars and wounds.
Postpartum Tip: Breastfeeding mamas will be happy to know that one of the best things you can apply to your postpartum skin is breast milk! Lot’s of women swear this is the best way to get rid of stretch marks and assist in skin tightening after birth.
What are the necessary skincare ingredients to avoid while pregnant?
Now that you know what you should use, you might be wondering what is highest on the no- go list. As with all things pregnancy, there is a long list of ingredients you should cautious with because the scientific community doesn’t always have the research to support the claim that a product is “safe for pregnancy”. After all, the ethics of these studies are complex, involving delicate new life. That being said, there is also a list of common skincare and beauty ingredients that the medical community agrees should definitely be avoided at all costs. Here’s what you need to know about these harmful chemicals:
Vitamin A and All Its Derivatives - Of course, you should expect to consume a healthy amount of Vitamin A for your baby through your diet and prenatal supplements. However, Retin-A, Retinol, Retinyl Palmitate, Azorac and Accutane are all derivatives of vitamin A that are frequently found in beauty products and are associated with serious birth defects. Both are listed as dangerous by the FDA.
Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acids - Both of these compounds are often found in acne- fighting products and medications. While neither are on a full-stop ban list for pregnant woman, they are both widely known as “ingredients to avoid while pregnant” in the medical community. If you must continue the us of a product with one of these chemicals, it’s best to stick with a product that has only one or the other- not both. Of course, consult your doctor if you have concerns. It may not be reasonable to come off of prescribed acne medications, but a little pimple here and there is fine to let slide while you are pregnant- you’re growing a human!
Hydroquinone - While it might be tempting to use a product with hydroquinone in it to help lighten your belly skin, DON’T DO IT. The “mask of pregnancy” and Linea Nigra are both temporary changes, but the negative effects it can have on you, and your baby, are not. This
chemical is known to absorb through the skin at a much higher rate than usual and runs the risk of entering your blood stream- this is not something you want passed on to your baby in the womb.
Formaldehyde - You probably know formaldehyde as the chemical used to preserving species for your high school biology dissections. But did you know it is also used in nail polishes and some hair dyes? Be really cautious of these products and check with your doctor before use.
At the end of the day, how you chose to look after your changing body through pregnancy and postpartum is a personal decision. You will want to find a quality regiment that suits you and your needs, and you shouldn’t pay much attention to the debate online about what products and routines are better than the others.
Now that you are educated about skin changes during pregnancy, possible skin conditions to watch out for and the important chemicals to avoid when building your routine, simply do what works for you.