Pregnancy Skin Care Tactics

Skin needs extra care and protection when you're pregnant.

Introduction

With all the mood swings, bodily changes, and food cravings you're dealing with during pregnancy, the last thing you want to worry about is your skin. Unfortunately, the hormonal changes that cause those issues also affect your skin, causing it to misbehave. Oily one month, dry and scaly the next -- it's impossible to predict what it will do next.

The first thing you should know is that pregnancy skin problems are perfectly normal. Pregnancy does all kinds of things to the body, notes Janee Steinberg, MD, a Florida dermatologist. One minute your skin's an oil slick, the next it's a desert. Here's how to deal with both:

Oily Skin

What causes it?

During the first trimester, many women experience an increase in breakouts (especially if you were prone to acne before you became pregnant). With pregnancy comes a massive shift in hormones. It's sort of like nine months of PMS, says Amy Newburger, MD, a dermatologist in Westchester, NY. Your androgen levels (the hormones responsible for male maturation, and the ones that cause premenstrual breakouts) skyrocket during the first trimester, she notes, causing increased oil production, and thus pimples.

What to avoid

You can't treat pregnancy-related breakouts with conventional acne medications, because the main phases of fetal development take place during this time, says Dr. Steinberg. Alert your dermatologist that you're pregnant, and steer clear of any prescription acne medications, including vitamin A derivative lotions such as Accutane, Retin-A, Differin, Tazorac, and over-the-counter creams that contain retinol or antibiotics.

  • During the first trimester, avoid over-the-counter topical cleansers, makeup, and moisturizers that contain chemical exfoliants such as salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and alpha and beta hydroxy acids. If you're still breaking out after the first trimester, the baby is more developed so topical over-the-counter medications won't pose a risk, says Dr. Steinberg. When your obstetrician thinks it's safe to prescribe antibiotics, it's okay to use these medications on your face, she notes.
  • Clear your shelves of anything that doesn't have the words "noncomedogenic" or "nonacnegenic" on its label. Use oil-free moisturizers, sunblock, makeup, and cleansers.

Your best choices

The safest way to clear your pores is through mechanical exfoliants, since they exfoliate by physically (as opposed to chemically) clearing off pore-clogging dead skin cells. Try gentle scrubs that contain tiny particles to remove dead skin cells. You can visit a facialist every two weeks for facials, or ask your dermatologist about powerpeels and microderm abrasion.

Your game plan

  • Use a gentle, nondrying cleanser on your face twice daily. Avoid moisturizing soaps, since they contain emollients that can clog pores in the meantime.
  • Stay out of the sun, and apply an oil-free sunblock every day.
  • Scrub with a mechanical exfoliant three times a week.
  • Use a clarifying mask to gently coax the oil out of your pores once a week.
  • Carry blotting papers on you at all times to soak up excess shine during the day.

Dry Skin

What causes it?

With all the extra blood and body fluid you need to sustain your growing baby, the moisture is virtually sucked from your skin, since every extra drop is needed to help the baby grow. Your body fluid volume increases so much that it's impossible to maintain hydration, especially on extremities like your arms and feet.

What to avoid

Don't use anti-itch ointments that contain cortisone or hydrocortisone. Like the acne medications mentioned earlier, these topical medicines can be absorbed into the skin. While it's not proven that they affect the baby's development, there have been no clinical studies performed to make sure they don't affect your baby, so your best bet is to avoid them.

Your best choices

Good ol' water is your first defense -- drink it constantly. Water hydrates your skin from the inside out (topical creams only act to block the water from evaporating) so the more you drink, the softer your skin will remain.

Your game plan

  • Wash your face twice daily with a gentle cleanser formulated for dry skin.
  • Use a rich, emollient moisturizer and sunblock.
  • If your skin is extra flaky, remove the dead skin cells with a mechanical exfoliant.
  • Use a moisturizing mask once a week.
  • Keep rooms well humidified.
  • Don't bathe too much -- and when you do, take short, lukewarm showers and baths. On your body, use a gentle moisturizing soap, or try a gentle shower gel. Lube up with a rich body moisturizer to trap water in your skin.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your won health or the health of others.

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