Is it just our Instagram feeds, or is everyone knocked up right now? Friends, family, coworkers, influencers... Bumps are popping out all over the place! Blame the cabin fever or a trick of the eye, but don't shoot the messenger (that's us) for the friendly reminder that in addition to all the beautifully joyful changes pregnancy brings, there's also breakouts, melasma, and stretch marks. Baby's health always comes before skincare, but it can still be disarming when the complexion you've worked so hard to care for pulls a bait-and-switch. Aesthetician and mom of soon-to-be-two Sofie Pavitt knows all about it. Below, her answers to all the biggest questions in pregnancy skincare, from the products she loves and what she'd never recommend. Sofie, take it away!
Pregnancy Skin Is Real
The key word to all the major changes to skin during pregnancy is hormones—they can have a significant impact on the skin. If you’re usually super dry, you may find your skin feels really plump and glowy. Or, if you’re usually oily and acne-prone you might get monster breakouts. Melasma, a form of hyperpigmentation that’s sometimes called the ‘mask of pregnancy’ can be a huge problem when pregnant. Your hormones are still crazy when nursing, so it’s best to continue your pregnancy skincare routine while nursing too. I won’t perform major treatments on clients while they’re nursing—the risk of pigmentation and adverse reactions is still too strong.
You'll Want To Avoid These Ingredients
The big one to avoid is retinoids, or retinol in any shape or form. Retinoids are what we call a teratogenic medication, which means they can cause malformation within fetal development. In other words, they’re known to cause birth defects. There’s some debate around whether the body absorbs topical retinoids enough to cause problems, but who wants to risk it? Just avoid them. That goes for oral isotretinoin, or Accutane, too, which is extremely dangerous to use during pregnancy—so much so that you need to do a pregnancy test before getting a prescription for it. Other things to avoid are hydroquinone bleaching agents, which are systemically absorbed, and arbutin can break down into hydroquinone so my opinion is to avoid it too. Also, when your skin is extra sensitive, some chemical sunscreens can feel irritating.
But You Don't Have To Throw Away All Of Your Acne Products
A lot of pregnant clients switch to an all-natural product line because they think it might be safer. You should always ask your doctor, but since you asked me I don’t believe that it’s necessary to avoid drugstore or active ingredients while pregnant. First of all, natural products can be highly comedogenic, and if you’re already acne-prone and breaking out due to excessive hormones, that can cause problems. Plus, products containing benzoyl peroxide, AHAs, and sulphur can be hugely beneficial in the fight against pregnancy-related breakouts. Salicylic acid falls in a gray area of pregnancy safety, but most of the studies about it were done in the 70s and tested oral salicylic acid, which is Aspirin. Personally, I’m very comfortable using 2-percent salicylic acid topicals once or twice a week during pregnancy. iS Clinical's Cleansing Complex contains willow bark, a super gentle, natural form of salicylic acid, and is great for a deep clean when you’re feeling oily or congested. Another super gentle exfoliator is Tatcha’s Dewy Serum, which uses lactic acid. For something a little stronger I love Dr. Loretta’s glycolic peel pads. A scrub here and there also feels great—I use the ZO Skin Health Exfoliating Polish.
It's Easier To Prevent Melasma Than To Treat It
I am a huge fan of Brightalive Skin Brightener by ZO Skin Health to help protect against hyperpigmentation. Tranexamic acid, niacinamide and peptides make this gentle but super active—I slather it on every morning. Vitamin C serums will help protect too. My favorite at the moment is the Allies of Skin serum in a silicone base. SPF is a non negotiable. In the morning I go straight for a dewy-finish SPF, because I feel like if you layer a moisturizer and then a sunscreen it can be easy to go too light on the SPF. I love iS Clinical’s Extreme Protect, RéVive Soleil Superieur, and Dr. Jart’s Every Sun Day Mineral SPF. And if I’m going to be spending a lot of time outdoors a hat is a must. When I was pregnant with my first, I spent a day in the sun tie-dyeing and the glare from my white T-shirt gave me hyperpigmentation! If something like that happens, you can get rid of it by using a hydroquinone after you’re finished nursing, which is what I did.
Ditto With Stretch Marks
Let’s go there. It’s absolutely normal to get stretch marks, but they’re still a big concern for most of my pregnant clients. Hydration is key for prevention and skin strength—make sure you’re drinking lots of water as well as moisturizing your bump daily. My hands-down favorite body butter, pregnant or not, is Mutha’s. I just started using Perricone MD’s Cold Plasma Body Treatment and I am super impressed with it. I’ve also used the Evereden Soothing Belly Masks a couple of times too—a sheet mask for your bump! Very fun and really hydrating. You should also know that some people are just more predisposed to stretch marks, which is fine.
When Your Skin Changes, Your Moisturizer Should Too
I use a Canopy humidifier while I sleep which definitely helps, and I take additional fish oil for my skin. Dr. Loretta’s Hydrating Cleanser is a go-to—it’s super gentle, pregnancy-safe, and the only active in it is peptides. At night I might add a cleansing balm from Eve Lom or Augustinus Bader beforehand if my skin feels particularly dry. Furtuna Skin Balm, Shiffa Healing Balm, and iS Clinical’s Reparative Moisture Emulsion are some of favorite moisturizers for my dry skin. But as a mom of an 18-month-old who’s also 6 months pregnant and running a skincare business, there are some nights where I have exactly 30 seconds between bathing my kid, getting him to bed, and passing out myself to rub a little something on my face. I love to use First Aid Beauty’s Ultra Repair Cream, which is super gentle and has colloidal oatmeal in it, or Avène’s Cicalfate Cream on both me and Nico to save time. I just make sure I’m ultra moisturized before bed.
Lean Into The Strangeness
My belly button popped out like the plastic ‘done’ button on a turkey the day I went into labor with Nico. Another weird pregnancy phenomenon I experienced was that, after giving birth the first time, my feet were so dry! I’d recommend investing in a good foot cream. I used O'Keeffe's Healthy Feet, which is extremely unsexy but I’ve yet to find anything that works better. Please send suggestions my way if you have them!
Photo via the author