How Pregnancy Completely Changed My Skin Care Routine

Goodbye, tretinoin.

by Anneke Knot
Anneke Knot
pregnancy skin care routine
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After becoming pregnant, I knew I would have to implement a few lifestyle changes for the next nine months. I immediately cut out deli meats and sushi made with raw fish from my diet, I switched from Moscow Mules to Shirley Temples, and I traded in my denim for pants with stretchy elastic waistbands. However, I didn’t anticipate that I’d have to adopt a full-fledged pregnancy skin care routine, too.

Due to hormone fluctuations, your skin goes through a lot during the length of your pregnancy, explains Dr. Geeta Yadav, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of FACET Dermatology in Toronto, Canada. A few common issues can can arise including hyperpigmentation, acne, and melasma.

Despite everything your skin endures, “your routine should prioritize protection and maintenance,” suggests Dr. Tiffany Libby, M.D., a double board-certified dermatologist and MOHS surgeon at Brown Dermatology in East Providence, RI. She recommends listening to your body and skin as it changes — whether it tends to be on the dry or oily side or is experiencing sensitivity.

Ahead, I spoke to skin care experts about the common concerns that arise during this life milestone. Read on to learn how their advice changed my skin care routine.

The Pregnancy “Glow”

Whenever a pregnant character appears in a television show, the first words out of the supporting cast are always the same: “You’re glowing!” Some attribute this to the honor of bringing new life into the world, but according to Libby, there’s much more to it than that.

“During pregnancy, there are numerous hormonal shifts that result in specific physiologic changes like increased blood vessel growth, and hence, increased circulation leading to a ‘pregnancy glow,’” she explains.

However, this is not the case for everyone. For some, pregnancy can spark an increase in breakouts, hyperpigmentation, and more. “During the first two trimesters, your androgen levels can surge, which increases sebum production. This is responsible for the ‘pregnancy glow’ we've all heard about, but it can also lead to acne,” says Yadav.

These shifting hormone levels can also cause dry skin, which is exacerbated by the dehydration that's commonly associated with pregnancy — we need to consume more water as our baby grows. “This can also negatively affect our skin's elasticity levels, which makes it not only dry, but itchy,” Yadav explains.

During her pregnancies, Lauren Ireland, co-founder of Summer Fridays and mother of three, noticed her skin becoming more dry and prone to hormonal breakouts. Her secret to the elusive pregnancy glow? Hydration, hydration, hydration. “I aim to simplify my routine and remain super consistent with the products I am using — hydration being most important, both on the inside and out,” she says.

My Favorite Glow-Boosting Products

Thankfully, I’ve managed to avoid acne and melasma, but I haven’t managed to escape dryness. The OSEA Hyaluronic Sea Serum uses a combination of hyaluronic acid, seaweed, and snow mushroom to counteract parched skin. I’ve even used a few drops on newfound dry patches on my calves before applying lotion for an added layer of moisture.

Additionally, I keep the Vichy Mineralizing Thermal Water Hydrating Antioxidant Face Mist nearby throughout the day to refresh and rehydrate my thirsty complexion. The mineral rich spray not only hydrates but it also protects the skin from environmental stressors and free radicals.

The Ingredient Audit

Pregnancy can inspire avid skin care users to go through their current routine and start researching whether the ingredients in their favorite products are safe to use. Unfortunately, research with concrete answers on this topic remains limited.

“During pregnancy, what you can use safely topically is extremely limited due to limited and would-be unethical studies being able to be performed to confirm safety of products during pregnancy,” explains Libby.

This leads some to eliminate products with said controversial ingredients, such as common preservatives like parabens and phthalates, out of an abundance of caution. However, there are a few actives healthcare professionals urge pregnant women to avoid.

A 2011 study tested popular skin care ingredients’ absorption abilities. The results concluded that tretinoin and other forms of vitamin A should be avoided. Their absorption capabilities remain unknown, however, four cases have reported increased risk of malformations in fetuses associated with topical vitamin A usage. Additionally, hydroquinone reportedly has a 35% to 45% absorption rate, so it is best to avoid.

Other actives like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, posed less risk when it came to absorption, however, the best course of action is consulting with your doctor if you’re concerned about any of your pre-pregnancy skin care products.

How I Switched Up The Ingredients I Use

As tough as it was to part with my tretinoin, using it felt like far too much of a risk. Instead, I’ve opted for the Sunday Riley Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment three times a week to keep my pores clear and my complexion bright.

To treat rouge breakouts, I’ve relied on Starface Hydro-Stars Big Yellow Patches. These 100% hydrocolloid patches help draw out fluid and prevent bacteria from reinfecting the area.

Embrace Skin Care Tools

Just like topical products, in-office treatments pose a risk. And just like the ingredients in these formulas, there aren’t adequate studies on every treatment offered to know if it is completely safe. Dermatologists recommend staying away from Botox injections and lasers, but given the lack of studies on everything else, I’ve elected to avoid all in-office treatments.

Instead, I’ve invested in skin care tools to satisfy my professional treatment fix and combat the pregnancy puff. According to Libby, our bodies produce somewhere between 30% to 50% more blood during pregnancy. That paired with the extra fluids our bodies hold onto, swelling is a natural side effect.

My Go-To Skin Tools

Since getting pregnant, my bedtime has moved up and my motivation to make it through my evening skin care routine has gone down. However, using the PMD Clean Smart Facial Cleansing Device, which vibrates 7,000 times per minute, feels more like a treat than a chore. Plus, it helps remove stubborn longwear complexion products.

I’ve also kept the Jillian Dempsey Gold Bar on my bedside table. After moisturizing, I push the vibrating gold bar upwards against my cheekbones and jawline. In the morning, my face looks more contoured and chiseled.

Sunscreen Is Essential

All the experts I spoke to agreed: sunscreen is paramount when pregnant. Well, technically, it is crucial all year long, but you get the point. As previously mentioned, many common fine line-fighting ingredients, like vitamin A, are not deemed pregnancy safe, but proper sun protection is still on the table. Thankfully, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

“Above all, you need to be applying sunscreen every day, several times a day with no excuses,” Yadav says. “Beyond helping to prevent skin cancer, it fights off free radical damage caused by sun exposure that accelerates skin aging (including fine lines, wrinkles, and skin laxity) as well as helps to combat melasma.”

Translation: SPF 30 or higher is non-negotiable. However, in recent years there has been a rise in concern on the safety of using chemical SPF filters oxybenzone and octinoxate while pregnant. While studies have found these ingredients to be potential endocrine disruptors, experts have concluded more reasearch needs to be done. Still, some choose to switch to mineral sunscreens out of an abundance of caution.

My SPF Routine

I typically prefer chemical formulas for their elegant textures and easy to blend formulas. Thankfully, mineral formulas have come a long way. The Supergoop! Mineral Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 delivers on its name. The lightweight lotion blends seamlessly without leaving a white cast.

When I am looking for a little extra boost in my complexion, I reach for the NakedSundays CabanaGlow SPF 50 Mineral Glow Serum Drops. The tinted formula not only blends seamlessly, it also adds a sheer level of coverage. When I am in a rush, I use this instead of foundation.

Body Care Is Skin Care, Too

The skin from the neck down is often neglected when it comes to our daily routines. During pregnancy, the skin on the body needs extra T.L.C. given the changes that occur. Libby cites pigmentary changes like the linea nigra (the dark line that forms on the abdomen) plus stretch marks and spider veins due to increased pressure in blood vessels, as common concerns that arise.

To help prioritize body care, Ireland turns it into a ritual. “We created the Summer Fridays Babymoon Belly Balm as a result of what I wanted during my first two pregnancies. It’s my dream product that is a true balmy texture — it’s not an oil, but it’s not a lotion, making it the ideal consistency,” she says. She used this on her growing belly and anywhere else that quickly changed.

My New Body Care Lineup

At the start of my pregnancy, a beauty editor friend of mine told me she applied lotion to her belly every night and never had stretch marks. I’ve taken her advice to heart, but it’s worth noting no product can guarantee these results. However, elastic skin stretches easily, so maintaining hydration is the best strategy. Before bed, I slather on the MUTHA Body Butter. This ultra-thick cream uses nourishing butters, vitamin E, antioxidants to moisturize skin.