Not all pregnant women are blessed with the so-called “glow of pregnancy.” In fact, many women who’ve been pregnant laugh with scorn at that radiant description.
The sudden surge in hormone levels can lead to painful acne, excess hair growth and even skin discolorations known as the mask of pregnancy. Here’s a quick cheat-sheet of ingredients, treatments and procedures you and your doctor can put on temporary hold—along with the wine, sushi and soft cheeses. Cheer up, it’s for a good cause!
Retinoids (Vitamin A derivatives), Salicylic Acid, Benzoyl Peroxide: Long considered the real “fountain of youth,” topical and oral vitamin A derivatives have been scientifically proven to smooth wrinkles, erase dark spots, stimulate collagen production, shrink pores, and prevent breakouts. Sadly, this entire skincare family, which includes popular Rx brand names like Accutane (oral), Retin-A, and Retin-A Micro (which include the active ingredient tretinoin), or Differin (adapaelene) and Tazorac (tazarotene), is strictly off-limits during pregnancy. “Vitamin A is the biggest no-no because it’s a fat-soluble vitamin that can be absorbed into the bloodstream and stored up in fat,” says NYC dermatologist Francesca Fusco, M.D. “It could have toxic effects on a fetus, and you wouldn’t want to risk exposure.”
OTC retinoids (which contain lower dosages), high percentage benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are also discouraged, since studies have not been conducted to show their safety. To combat wrinkles and breakouts, your dermatologist can safely prescribe topical Erythromycin (an antibacterial) or Finacea (an anti-inflammatory azelaic acid not harmful to an unborn baby but possibly harmful during breast-feeding), or opt for an alpha hydroxyl acid, like glycolic acid, in a pad or toner form (steer clear of in-office peels). For a major blemish, your dermatologist can also administer a cortisone shot, since the injection stays on site.
At home, try fruit acid-derived products two to three times a week to help remove oil-clogging cells, and natural antioxidants (such as green tea extract and coffeeberry extract) to prevent the appearance of wrinkles. We like Origins Brighter By Nature High-Potency Brightening Peel with Fruit Acids, $38, and Dr. Brandt Lineless Cream Age-Inhibitor Complex, $100.
Hydroquinone: A controversial ingredient whether or not you’re expecting, this phenol compound inhibits the production of melanin, so it's often found in skin lighteners to treat hyper-pigmentation. Marina Peredo, M.D., a dermatologist in Long Island, NY, recommends staying away from this ingredient until we know more about its carcinogenic potential. Rapid changes in hormones during pregnancy can make the complexion more susceptible to hyperpigmentation, so the best thing to do, according to Peredo, is to focus your attention on prevention. “A sunblock with physical ingredients like zinc and titanium dioxide can keep dark spots from developing in the first place,” Peredo says.
If you already have existing spots, try natural botanical lightening agents like Elure (a product line available at medi-spas), or kojic or lactic acid, which have been shown to effectively brighten skin. (We like Reviva Labs Brown Spot Night Gel, $9). Vitamin C masks and serums can also improve skin’s radiance and tone.
Once baby arrives, and after breastfeeding, your hormones will stabilize and hyperpigmentation may even improve on its own. “If not, you can always be more aggressive with chemical peels and prescription strength lighteners after pregnancy,” Peredo says.
Botox and Dysport: “At this point, we just don’t know enough about these injectables because there are no real studies. No one is willing to take the risk,” says Victoria Karlinsky, M.D., a NYC cosmetic surgeon. “Since we don’t know the potential effects, we don't allow this treatment for pregnant women.”
To boost radiance and diminish fine lines during pregnancy, try microdermabrasion (after getting a green light from your physician) or monthly facials, and use peptide-rich night creams (We like Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Deep Wrinkle Night Cream, $110). “All you need to do is get through the nine months,” Karlinsky says. “After that, Botox, here you come!”
Lasers, et al.: While not recommended during pregnancy (“These are medical devices, and you don't want to take that chance,” Fusco says), laser treatments can improve a host of pregnancy-related skin flaws after baby has arrived. Fraxel, for example, can effectively diminish the appearance of stretchmarks, “But only when they are still pinkish or purplish in color,” Fusco says. “If they’ve already become silver or white, they are less responsive.”
Skin tags, the tiny, fleshy growths that commonly sprout all over the body during pregnancy, can be quickly snipped off or removed with laser surgery. “It’s a strategy I call search and destroy,” Fusco says. And visible veins in the legs that develop from increased blood flow during pregnancy can also be dissolved with sclerotherapy, in which a solution is injected into the area to break up the vessels. “After your last baby, a vascular surgeon could also use a laser to remove them,” Fusco says.
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