You might expect morning sickness, sore boobs, and fatigue. But did you know that skin changes are also common while expecting? Some pregnant people notice acne, hyperpigmentation, or a "pregnancy mask" (the darkening of pigmentation around the mouth, cheeks, and forehead also known as melasma). Exhaustion and water retention may lead to under-eye pouches, while increased blood flow can cause spider veins across the face.
Skin changes during pregnancy are perfectly common, and people shouldn't feel the need to treat them at all. But if you find these changes bothersome, you can try some over-the-counter products and in-office medical treatments, which we outlined below. Keep in mind that people should not have any cosmetic procedures done while pregnant or breastfeeding, says Leslie Baumann, M.D., a Miami dermatologist and author of The Skin Type Solution—and be sure to consult a dermatologist before pursuing any of the treatments listed here.
Elevated levels of estrogen and progesterone trigger melanocytes, causing dark spots to appear on the skin.
Harold Lancer, M.D., the go-to derm for West Coast celebrity moms Denise Richards and Lisa Rinna, believes the key to minimizing melasma after childbirth is micropolishing the skin. "The type of micropolishing that I perform, the Lancer Glow, is like removing tarnish from silver," says Dr. Lancer. "It polishes, buffs, and tones the skin on the face, neck, and chest with micro-fine crystals at a high speed to slough off the top layer of skin and promote high cell turnover." Like almost all cosmetic, noninvasive surgeries, this treatment is not covered by insurance.
Chicago-based dermatologist Charles Zugerman, M.D., tackles melasma with a postpartum series of Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatments. Light energy, also known as photorejuvenation, delivers a series of gentle, noninvasive pulses to the skin. "IPL absorbs at the same wavelength as pigmentation," Dr. Zugerman says. "It's far gentler than laser and highly effective at treating skin conditions that arise with pregnancy." One week after IPL he performs microdermabrasion, an exfoliating treatment, to remove dead skin.
Lisa Airan, M.D., the Manhattan-based skin guru known for her cutting edge approach to pregnancy-induced skin problems, advises new parents who have finished breastfeeding to use TriLuma, a prescription-grade triple-action steroid cream containing the bleaching agent hydroquinone, a potent ingredient that decreases the formation of melanin and will reduce or eliminate dark patches within eight weeks.
To prevent melasma, people should avoid the sun while pregnant and after giving birth. "Exposure—even driving in a car or sitting with an open shade on an airplane—can darken existing freckles or stimulate hyperpigmentation," explains Dr. Airan. The sun's ultraviolet rays cause melanocytes to produce the pigment melanin, which can cause melasma to develop. Wiping with sunscreen pads is a simple and convenient way to protect against ultraviolet rays. They provide both UVA and UVB protection and are nourishing to sensitive skin.
For busy new parents who can't get to the dermatologist right after giving birth, there are gentle at-home scrubs and polishing kits designed to rejuvenate damaged skin. Mass-market products with bleaching agents aim to reduce the appearance of dark areas, but parents must wait until they are done breastfeeding before using them.
Changes in hormones can induce red, flaky patches on the face.
To combat dermatitis, Dr. Lancer favors a treatment called TMT (Transcutaneous Mesodermic Transport) Oxygen Therapy. "It uses an electrical current to transfer soothing vitamins, including A, C, and D, as well as elastin and collagen, through the skin's surface," he explains. "I then seal the skin with a mist of an oxygen and deionized water blend. The water needs to be deionized because it reduces the amount of electricity on the skin's surface, allowing more nutrients to transfer through." He recommends doing the treatment twice a week for five weeks and then once a week as needed.
Dr. Lancer suggests ultra-soothing, anti-inflammatory products suited to sensitive skin. Fragrance-free, noncomedogenic (won't clog pores) cleansing lotions are the least irritating and most hydrating. Dr. Zugerman is a big fan of Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser. For either spot treatment or preventing flaky, raw areas, try an emollient-rich cream like Dermalogica Super Rich Repair. It's packed with natural lipids like shea butter, evening primrose oil, and jojoba seed oil, all of which help to reinforce the skin's barrier layer.
"Products formulated to treat rosacea can also be effective at healing nonspecific dermatitis because they help to regulate excessive blood flow," says Dr. Lancer. For daily use, choose a moisturizer with sun protection to help reduce further damage. Eucerin Redness Relief Daily Perfecting Lotion not only includes an SPF of 15 but also has a sheer green tint to conceal red blotches, as well as licorice root extract to heal them. For more intense flare-ups, try an anti-inflammatory treatment like B. Kamins Chemist Booster Blue Rosacea Treatment, a topical cream that visibly reduces redness almost immediately.
Due to hormonal changes and possibly weight gain, pressure in the veins increases, causing blood vessels in the face to enlarge, leaving a red, spider-like mark.
It's possible for swollen vessels to improve three to six months after delivery, but for stubborn spider veins that stay put, Dr. Airan uses the Lyra Laser. The 1,064-nanometer wavelength laser beam passes through skin to heat, coagulate, and zap targeted blood vessels, getting rid of them in seconds. Dr. Zugerman uses IPL after childbirth for smaller blood vessels, and for larger ones, he uses a 532- or 940-diode laser.
There are no topical creams to eliminate spider veins on the face, so the best bet is a full-coverage concealer. Applying concealers with a brush results in a more even, natural-looking finish.
Elevated progesterone levels produced by the body to maintain a healthy uterine lining during pregnancy can cause increased secretion from oil glands, sebum buildup, and clogged pores.
An aesthetician renowned for treating acne and irritated skin with her line of plant-based products, Sonya Dakar is considered Hollywood's "Fairy Skin Mother" by A-list parents like Gwyneth Paltrow, Debra Messing, and Marcia Gay Harden. "To treat the common skin problems of pregnancy—like acne and hypersensitivity—people must use calming products with plant-based ingredients such as chamomile and lavender," Dakar says. She also offers a pore-clearing facial called the Triple Peel, which involves three separate exfoliating treatments: a pumpkin-based enzyme peel to slough off dead cells, a customized green tea peel to break up bacteria and brighten the skin, and a diamond peel, which is a resurfacing treatment.
Mild facial cleansers are an effective tool for treating acne in people who have sensitive skin or are still nursing. Look for products that include sulfur, a natural ingredient that has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities to promote healing.
Once parents are done nursing, they can use more potent ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide to fight acne. At-home peels and topical ointments can take care of stubborn pimples and remaining scars.
Exhaustion and poor circulation can lead to dark circles and bags under the eyes.
Using an eye cream or serum with nourishing ingredients like peptides and aloe vera will help hydrate the eye area and reduce swelling. If dark under-eye circles are the problem, try a brightening cream. Results may not be immediate after applying eye creams, so follow with a concealer designed specifically for this problem area.