Pregnancy is all about change. For your hormones, for your sleeping habits, for your ability to fit into your jeans… and also for your complexion. So how do you achieve that pregnancy glow everyone’s always going on about?
You were feeling quite pleased with yourself and your carefully calibrated skincare regime, weren’t you? But then, bam! You got pregnant and it all went out of the window. Those with previously blemish-free skin find themselves tackling acne, whilst perennially oily types are suddenly as dry as a desert. And what was that about a glow?
“You’re never able to predict how pregnancy will affect your skin. Sometimes you get a natural glow due to increased blood circulation. Hormones also increase sebum in the skin, which can range from giving you a glow to full-on oily leading to acneic breakouts,” says aesthetician and Black Skin Directory founder Dija Ayodele. “If you already suffer from acne, you may find that it worsens during pregnancy. Likewise, skin can go the other end of the scale and become very dry and flaky.”
There’s also the issue of pigmentation, particularly for women of color, which makes wearing an SPF more important than ever. “People of darker skin tones, especially women in the 20 to 45 age group – encompassing prime fertility period – are already more susceptible to the stubborn pigmentation condition called melasma, which appears as darkened, blotchy patches on the face. This can also be brought on by pregnancy or made worse in appearance, even worse for pregnant black women living in sunny climates and not using sunscreen,” she continues. “Typically it reverts a few months after pregnancy but there are a few cases where it can persist.”
Brilliant. The only constant of pregnancy skin, it seems, is its unpredictability and how tricky it is to work out what it wants (your baby, when it arrives, is likely to have the same characteristics, FYI). So how to tackle it?
“When it comes to active ingredients all alpha-hydroxy acids are safe to be used for those with acne-prone skin,” says aesthetic doctor Dr Barbara Kubicka. Think mandelic, glycolic and lactic acid, all of which are great for exfoliating and clarifying. “I would recommend products with a very low content of unnecessary additives. My favorite when it comes to product purity is the Bakel skincare range.”
Ayodele also recommends AHAs for treating acne and points to poly-hydroxy acids for those with particularly sensitive skin. Key, too, is a steady and trusted regime. “My general advice to my patients, who are mainly women of color, is not to start anything new or start experimenting with new combinations as the risk of inflaming the skin is higher when pregnant due to increased sensitivity. Inflammation can result in undesirable hyperpigmentation which is the number-one complaint from women of color.”
There’s also the issue of skincare ingredients to avoid. Advice differs from country to country, from brand to brand and even from doctor to doctor, but the best route is to consult an expert. Pregnant women are – understandably – largely unwilling to take part in clinical trials, making hard-and-fast facts regarding the effects of skincare on pregnancy difficult to come by, but there are some ingredients which many pregnant women prefer to avoid.
Retinoids (vitamin A) are a particularly hot topic. Oral retinoids have been shown to cause harm to the unborn child and therefore should be avoided during pregnancy. The effect of topical retinoids is less clear, but the European Medicines Agency stated in March 2018 that whilst they are “less likely to cause harm” than oral retinoids, “as a precaution, they must not be used during pregnancy and by women planning to have a baby”.
Kubicka also warns against hydroquinone. “It’s a substance used for skin lightening and hyperpigmentation. Arbutin and kojic acid are another two lightening substances that should be avoided during pregnancy,” she tells us. “For those on treatment for acne or rosacea I would recommend checking with their dermatologist as some topical antibiotics are contraindicated as well.”
Other ingredients are thought to be safe in certain concentrations, but should be used with caution. “Bar vitamin A, it’s not so much a case of avoiding ingredients, more a case of ensuring you don’t overuse certain types of ingredients,” says Ayodele. “The main ones being benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. The former is considered safe at 5 per cent concentrations or lower and the latter at 2 per cent or lower and used as a spot treatment rather than all over the face.”
Of course, many women feel more comfortable avoiding these ingredients altogether, as well as essentials oils – on which advice can be confusing. If you want further guidance, speak with your doctor, and consider choosing a maternity-friendly skincare brand. Mama Mio, for example, has a No Nasties promise to ensure any problematic ingredients are avoided.
Ultimately, it’s about finding the products that work for you. Like most things pregnancy-related, there are a lot of opinions out there, and finding the answers you need can mean wading through a great deal of noise. You might alight upon the perfect skincare solution, you might not. But in the months before you welcome a tiny, noisy human who requires feeding all night long? There’s no better time to acquaint yourself with a very, very good concealer.
This article first appeared on Vogue.co.uk