Brace yourself for a whole roller coaster of skin changes during pregnancy.
Ah, the glorious wonders of pregnancy. As soon as you see that plus sign on your pregnancy test, you're in for one of the most exciting and transformative events you will ever experience.
While your new little human grows, your belly isn’t the only thing changing during those nine long months. As your hormones fluctuate, your skin goes through a transitional period of ups and downs, too. We spoke with Ted Lain, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and chief medical officer at Sanova Dermatology in Austin, Texas, to pinpoint some of the biggest changes that may occur in your skin during pregnancy, as well as what you can do to make some of those unwanted changes less noticeable.
The first trimester
According to Dr. Lain, low levels of estrogen and progesterone in the first trimester often mean your oil glands work in overdrive, which can lead to frequent flushing and acne breakouts.
You may also find yourself suffering from the infamous “mask of pregnancy,” also dubbed melasma or chloasma. According to Dr. Lain, this refers to dark, pigmented splotches that can crop up on various parts of the face, especially the forehead and cheeks. “As estrogen levels rise, so does the pigment content in the skin, leading to dark patches commonly seen during pregnancy. Unfortunately these are very difficult to prevent and hard to fade even after the baby comes out,” he says.
But don’t worry—there are ways to help offset the negative effects. Sun exposure increases your chances of these dark spots, so you should always wear a good sunscreen whenever you plan on being outside. Since your skin is more sensitive than usual, you might want to hike up your SPF level to a more powerful one. You can pair this with moisturizers that contain vitamin E and alpha-hydroxy acids, which helps prevent pigmentation by stimulating the skin's natural shedding process.
For those pesky pimples, Dr. Lain recommends topical OTC products containing benzoyl peroxide or glycolic acid. Try to avoid any acne medicated astringents; they may contain acne medicine that is dangerous for pregnant women. (Be sure to talk to your doctor before using any topical or oral medications during pregnancy or when breastfeeding.)
The second and third trimester
"Wow, you're glowing!” is probably one of the most common compliments that pregnant women receive. Well, there is a medical explanation behind the term, and this stage is when your skin really starts to benefit from that growing baby. As the pregnancy progresses to the second and third trimester, your estrogen and progesterone levels rise, as does blood flow, which leads to plumping of the small blood vessels in the skin, says Dr. Lain. This can reap positive skin effects, like plumper skin, a rosy flush, and increased hydration.
This doesn’t mean that you can completely forgo your beauty restrictions. For one, absolutely avoid any product with retinol or tretinoin, as well as hydroquinone—these can cause potential birth defects. Dr. Lain also advises avoiding any essential oils, as these can be toxic and irritating to compromised skin.
However, you should use an oil-free cleanser and moisturizer to avoid an overly shiny face, and of course, a solid SPF. Products with niacinamide, like the InstaNatural Niacinamide Serum ($16; amazon.com), are a great option for both soothing irritated skin and lightening dark patches. Keep an eye out for brands that cater specifically to new mothers, like Mama Mio and The Honest Company, that sell facial and body skincare products formulated for pregnant skin.
After you're done with delivery and breastfeeding, you can use lightening products with licorice, vitamin C, kojic acid, soy, or retinol to help with any pigmentation that has stuck around. If your melasma spots still don’t budge after a few months, ask your dermatologist about a stronger prescription cream, or in-office treatments like laser therapy and microneedling.
“It’s important that you consult with a board-certified dermatologist before jumping into any extreme treatments yourself,” says Dr. Lain. “They can help best customize the post-pregnancy skincare routine you need.”