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

latin woman washing her face
Credit: Anastasiia Kazakova/Shutterstock

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, prompting it to misbehave. Oily one month, dry and scaly the next – it's impossible to predict what it will do. You may even experience pregnancy-fueled breakouts. Here's how to deal with three common skin issues while pregnant.

Oily Skin

The Cause: 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.

What to Avoid: 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 Game Plan: 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 facial specialist every two weeks for facials, or ask your dermatologist about power peels and microdermabrasion.

  • Use a gentle, non drying 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

The Cause: 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. 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 Game Plan: 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.

  • 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.

Pregnancy Acne

The Cause: An increase in oil production (as noted above) can lead to pregnancy acne.

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 Janee Steinberg, MD, a Florida dermatologist. 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.

Your Game Plan:

  • Use the right cleanser: High levels of estrogen increase sebum production. Wash your face with a cleanser containing rosemary extract or tea tree oil, which keep breakouts at bay by killing bacteria.

  • Moisturize faithfully: Complexion-clearing ingredients can dry and irritate skin; sidestep the re-hydrators and your oil glands will kick into overdrive to compensate. An oil-free lotion or cream with glycerin, shea butter, hyaluronic acid or niacinamide (vitamin B3) softens without clogging your pores or giving you blemishes. Apply it on clean skin before bed.

  • Prevent acne scars: If you've been picking, you might see residual dark spots. To fade or prevent acne scars, apply a serum with antioxidant vitamin C on bare skin every morning. Choose a product in an airtight bottle with a pump— vitamin C could lose its potency if exposed to air and light.

  • RELATED: How to Treat Baby Acne

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