Ingredients to Avoid When Pregnant, According to a Dermatologist

Moms-to-be know that cutting out unhealthy food and certain activities contribute to a healthy pregnancy journey. The same applies to skincare. What we put on our skin is absorbed into our bodies, therefore affecting the baby’s development one way or another. For detailed explanations about this topic, we reached out to board-certified dermatologist and internationally-trained dermatopathologist, Dr. Mara Padilla Evangelista-Huber.

But first, the skin changes

This time around, you might be hating your hormones. We can’t blame you; pregnancy-related skin changes aren’t the same for everyone. “During pregnancy, there are a lot of hormonal changes in the body that cause changes in our hair, skin, and nails,” Dr. Mara explains. “For some women, pregnancy brings glowing skin, rosy cheeks, and shiny hair. But not all of us are blessed like that!” For women whose skin is acting up, acne, pigmentation, stretch marks, and varicose veins may occur. 

The reason behind these skin concerns

As someone who experienced these skin troubles first-hand, Dr. Evangelista-Huber gives a brief explanation as to why these take place on a pregnant woman’s skin.

Acne

“The primary cause of acne when you’re pregnant is the increased hormone levels, which can lead to an increase in your skin’s oil production and increase the tendency for clogged pores. Not all pregnant women develop this, but you will likely have a higher risk if you have a previous history of acne or have acne flares at the start of your menstrual cycle.”

Melasma and other types of pigmentation

“During pregnancy, melanin, the substance that gives the natural color to our skin and hair, increases. In most cases, the skin typically returns to its normal color over a period of several months. However, for some, dark patches might take longer to disappear or never go away. It’s very important during pregnancy to use sunscreen to prevent pigmentation or at least stop it from progressing. Sunscreens are safe to use during pregnancy.”

Dry, itchy, and sensitive skin

“The skin can also become dry, itchy, and more sensitive during pregnancy. Everything you eat and drink contributes to your baby’s development, your body will require more fluids and nutrients to cope with the demand, and a lot of this will go to your baby, so you can become dehydrated and it may show up in your skin as dry scaly patches. Dry skin is itchy skin. The increased blood flow to the skin and hormonal fluctuations also contribute to this. Additionally, there are some skin diseases that can worsen during pregnancy, like skin asthma, and there are also some skin diseases that are specific to pregnancy (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy [PUPPP], and atopic eruption of pregnancy, etc).”

Stretch marks

“Stretch marks happen when your body grows faster than your skin can keep up with. This causes the elastic fibers just under the surface of the skin to break, resulting in stretch marks. These marks often start out reddish or purple, but they gradually fade to white or gray. About 90% of women will get them, and if you have a family member with stretch marks, then you’re more likely to have them too since genetics play a role.” 

Contrary to popular belief, Dr. Mara says that there’s no way to prevent this. But, there’s a temporary cure to it. “You may be able to treat stretch marks when they are still reddish or purple. It’s much harder to treat when it’s already white,” Dr. Mara states. “A moisturizer can improve the appearance of stretch marks and reduce itchiness, but it won’t get rid of it.”

Spider or varicose veins

“Hormonal changes and the higher amounts of blood in your body during pregnancy can cause tiny red veins, known as spider veins, to appear on your face, neck, and arms. You can also get varicose veins or enlarged veins on your legs because of the weight and pressure of your uterus.”

Ingredients to avoid

Retinoids

Commonly used to combat acne and aging. Although these (tretinoin, adapalene, tazarotene, retinol) belong in the vitamin A family tree, it’s time to temporarily bid this ingredient goodbye. According to Dr. Evangelista-Huber, “The amount of retinoids absorbed by topical products is likely low, but birth defects have been linked to high doses found in oral products. To be safe, avoidance is advised.”

Oral intake of high-dose salicylic acid

A favorite amongst oily-acne prone fellas. But unfortunately, pregnant women should ban oral intake of this to prevent any defects. “High doses of this product in oral form have been shown to cause pregnancy complications and birth defects. Small doses in a topical treatment can be considered safe,” Dr. Mara advises.

Hydroquinone

This is usually a prescribed brightening agent. Resist the temptation to use this even if you experience pigmentation as 25% to 45% of the ingredient is ingested by the body. 

Minoxidil

According to the expert, this is a no-go “because of a few case reports demonstrating birth defects, we do not recommend usage during pregnancy.” Make sure to stay clear of this often overlooked ingredient.

(Potentially) arbutin

During pregnancy, we can’t afford to take risks. “Potentially, arbutin, because it’s a derivative of hydroquinone,” Dr. Mara suggests. “But some experts say it’s alright. Best to consult a dermatologist for advice.”

Ingredient recommendations by concern

Now that we’ve gone over what to avoid, here are the ingredients you can opt for a healthy complexion.

Acne

According to Dr. Evangelista-Huber, ingredients such as AHAs (e.g. glycolic, lactic acid), azelaic acid, benzoyl peroxide, clindamycin, niacinamide, as well as salicylic acid in limited amounts (<2% e.g. spot treatment, cleanser) are your BFFs when it comes to acne. 

The The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution may be the one for you. Along with ginseng extracts and aloe vera, this product helps diminish existing acne as well as prevent new ones from forming. If you’re looking for a more gentle alternative, check out the By Wishtrend Mandelic Acid 5% Skin Prep Water. Mandelic acid is a kind of AHA that’s less sensitizing than other kinds due to its larger molecular size.

Hyperpigmentation

Most ingredients mentioned above—sans benzoyl peroxide and clindamycin— also benefit hyperpigmented skin. Add a vitamin C serum and sunscreen to the list and you’re sure to see visible fading after consistent use.

Cult-favorite By Wishtrend Pure Vitamin C 21.5 Advanced Serum is a no-brainer when fading pigmentation. It’s fast-acting, mainly the reason why we just can’t get enough of it! For skincare beginners or those who have sensitive skin, the By Wishtrend Pure Vitamin C15% with Ferulic Acid is a good pick, hitting the sweet spot between high-potency and low irritation. 

FURTHER READING: This Pinay Managed to Fade Her Acne Marks in 2 Weeks 

Dry, itchy skin

Non-medicated moisturizers should be a staple when you experience dryness. Dr. Mara recommends colloidal oatmeal, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, ceramides, and shea butter to get rid of such concern.

Rich in moisturizing ingredients, the I’m from Rice Cream helps soothe dryness. Restore your skin’s moisture balance in no time with this product.

FURTHER READING: Ingredient Spotlight: Ceramides

Conclusion

Entering the world of motherhood is exciting yet full of changes. Aside from tweaking your diet and exercise to take care of the growing human inside you, pay attention to what you’re using in your skincare routine as well. Remember to read product labels and consult experts to keep your precious baby safe.

About the contributor

Dr. Mara Padilla Evangelista-Huber is a board-certified dermatologist based in Manila, Philippines. She is also a dermatopathologist trained in the University of California San Francisco, with a Masters in Clinical Trials from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She is also a first time mommy to her toddler, Zoe Quinn. You may find her on instagram as @dermomtology and @drmtpehuber. Her Facebook page is Dermomtology

Note: Products mentioned above are recommendations by KbeautyCafe and are in no way affiliated with Dr. Mara Padilla Evangelista-Huber.

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