The Dos & Dont’s Of Building A Postpartum Skin Care Routine

Simple swaps for new moms.

Skin care routine for new moms

Fact: skin is fickle, point blank, and period. Caring for it means adapting to a rollercoaster of changes, from environmental stressors to hormonal imbalances. While the learning curve can be fun, the importance of crafting a system best suited to your skin's needs becomes even more precious during pregnancy and postpartum. Just like the rest of your body, pregnancy changes your skin, so it’s also necessary to adjust your daily regimen after giving birth, too. “During this time, hormonal fluctuations can affect the body's production levels of skin-loving proteins and compounds,” says Dr. Angela Lamb, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, and advisor to Veracity, a brand that builds personalized skin care routines based on hormone profiles. With that in mind, the best skin care routine for new moms is one that focuses on the complexion’s current needs, along with a healthy dose of personal self-love.

Nursing is at the top of the list of factors that affect what types of products you can use on a daily basis. Many routines include a variety of active ingredients aimed to prevent wrinkles, fine lines, and thin skin. But during the postpartum period — and perhaps even longer if you are still family planning — those powerhouse products should be retired to the back of your beauty cabinet.

However, change is growth, and adjusting your skin care product lineup can be easy with the right knowledge. Ahead, TZR tapped three top dermatologists for insight on post-pregnancy skin, including what ingredients are best suited for your new routine.

How Does Skin Change After Pregnancy?

According to Dr. Carmen Castilla, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at New York Dermatology Group and clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Hospital, skin can become dry or thin due to a significant decrease in estrogen levels. “The hormone is a major driver of hyaluronic acid, meaning lower amounts could cause skin to become dehydrated,” she says. Dr. Castilla also notes that less estrogen also slows the production of collagen and elastin which can affect skin’s plump nature and resilience.

In terms of nursing, breastfeeding requires a large volume of water consumption — which means your skin is receiving less hydration than it’s used to. This on top of decreased amounts of hyaluronic acid often results in skin feeling dry and lackluster. Outside of hydration, sensitivity, be it to particular ingredients or formulations, is also normal for new moms. Dr. Jessica Labadie, M.D., F.A.A.D., a board-certified cosmetic, surgical, and general dermatologist and the director of lasers and cosmetic surgery at the Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai, tells TZR that common skin flareups such as melasma and acne can also become exacerbated due to hormonal variations.

What Products Should Be Avoided Postpartum?

All three dermatologists agree that products containing any active ingredients discouraged during pregnancy should continue to go unused while breastfeeding. “Vitamin A products [such as retinol] and hydroquinone that stay on the skin should be avoided during this time,” states Dr. Lamb. Although these products are used topically, they can be absorbed into the bloodstream and become unsafe. According to a 2022 study, retinoid absorption during pregnancy can cause harmful alterations to the organ systems of newborns. Similarly, high levels of salicylic acid should also be used with caution. Though it is less of a concern during the postpartum period, Dr. Labadie notes that it’s still a good idea to steer clear of the beta hydroxy acid (BHA) as well as other chemical exfoliants known to cause distress to the fetus during pregnancy.

However, if you were taking a break from regularly prescribed skin care medications while pregnant, it’s important to check with your OBGYN, and even your new pediatrician, to determine if they can be reintroduced into your post-pregnancy routine.

What Alternative Active Ingredients Are Safe To Use After Pregnancy?

For many new moms, sleepless nights and shortened personal care routines also a play big role in their skin’s appearance. That said, products with safe ingredients that will help restore suppleness and radiance are highly coveted. For evening out skin tone, Dr. Castilla suggests swapping out retinol for products containing naturally-derived bakuchiol as it is much safer to use. This vegan alternative has retinol-like properties, such as stimulating collagen production as well as calming redness and soothing the skin.

“Azelaic acid and niacinamide are also great options for improving the appearance of dullness and enlarged pores,” says Dr. Lamb. As for fine lines and thin skin, she recommends incorporating a copper peptide complex, which promotes healing and diminishes the appearance of wrinkles, and won't disrupt your hormones.

Building A New Mom Skin Care Routine

As Dr. Labadie notes, your daily and nightly skin care routine shouldn’t change much from your pregnancy days. For a simple regimen, she recommends starting with a gentle cleanser like Cerave or Cetaphil to clean and soothe skin. In the morning, follow up with a vitamin C serum and mineral sunscreen. “With increased sensitivity, sun protection is even more critical and vitamin C is a great antioxidant that will help protect your skin against sun-induced damage,” she says. Additionally, she suggests using a mineral sunscreen that contains zinc and titanium as they are more tender for sensitive skin. Physical sunscreens are also much safer than chemical variations, which can be absorbed into the bloodstream and cause potential damage for women who are lactating.

Nightly routines should also make use of gentle cleansers followed by azelaic acid and moisturizer. However, if you do plan to reintroduce ingredients like retinol, tretinoin, or any exfoliating acids, while you are breastfeeding, it should be done slowly. “It’s best to add one product at a time and give new items a few weeks of consistent use in order to avoid irritation and flareups,” says Dr. Castilla.