Mamma and Baby Skin

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Mamma and Baby Skin

I remember those early days of being pregnant. The morning after the two lines appeared on the test when I stood in the shower looking down at my still empty-looking stomach, hands hugging the space where my baby had just started to grow, wondering what changes were ahead of me and whether I was ready. I wondered if I would I recognise 'me' in a few months, when baby's growth had really kicked in. I wondered if I would I ever look like me again, would I cope, and could my body really fit a baby inside? I let all of the emotions come and go freely as I stood there that morning comforted by the rhythm and warmth of the water raining down on my skin. That morning, in the shower in the tiny bathroom of our first house all those years ago is when I realised that life would never be the same again and by the time I'd finished my shower I was ready to accept that.

Pregnancy is a time of dramatic changes both physically and emotionally for new mothers-to-be and this is felt especially deeply when it is your first baby. The desire to provide your growing bub with the very best nutrition and environment possible is understandable and can trigger a change in habits and lifestyle for mum but this desire can fast become overwhelming as reality sinks in that there is so much 'out there' that is beyond our control. Over time many of us, with the help of our families and wider health-worker communities come to terms with the fact that motherhood is a journey of trust, a journey of letting go and we settle for focusing on the things that we can affect and influence, the things that will make our journey a little more comfortable and what could be more comforting than healthy, vibrant skin.

What happens to your skin during pregnancy?

Everybody copes differently with the changes that pregnancy brings to the body and for some people the skin can change dramatically. There are a number of dermatological conditions that can occur during pregnancy, some of which require professional management but most of which can be managed personally with good skincare and hygiene. In a very small amount of cases changes to how the skin looks and feels can be a signal that something is really not right with the pregnancy or the mother's health. Excessive itching can be one such sign although mild itching is relatively common with up to 17% of pregnant women reporting this. In any case it is always important to discuss any changes to the skin noted with a health care professional, so they can pinpoint the underlying cause and give you the re-assurance and/or ongoing care required to see you through the pregnancy.

The text book pregnancy - skin, hair and nails.

Even if things are progressing nicely you will no doubt notice some changes around your appearance outside of the obvious growing belly!

  • Change in nail strength with nails becoming more brittle and slower to grow.
  • Change in skin vascularity with an increased likelihood of spider veins/ varacous veins.
  • Stretch Marks (Striae gravidarum)
  • Mild itching (Puritus gravidarum)
  • Hyperpigmentation (Melasma)
  • Thickening of the hair
  • Acne
  • Sensitive Skin

It can feel really demoralising when, after looking forward to turning into this beautifully glowing pregnant goddess you find the opposite is true. Pregnancy can be cruel that way and while some women do glow, their acne clears up, their hair becomes thick and luscious and their skin sparkes thanks to all that extra blood flow and energy other women find the whole experience tough, blotchy and irritating. While how your skin looks during pregnancy is somewhat trivial compared to the complex and transformative changes that are going on within the body, it is important that women feel some degree of control and comfort during this time, not least for their own mental health and sanity. So what can and what should be done?

Skin Care During Pregnancy.

One of the most common questions we get asked by pregnant women or people wanting to make a range for pregnancy is 'but is it safe' meaning the ingredients and/or product and/or treatment. This question can be more complex and difficult to answer than you might first think.

Objects, situations and habits or routines are rarely completely safe or completely dangerous, most sit on a continuum that has to be judged in context of the situation. For example, holding a knife always comes with the potential risk of cutting yourself or others but the risks and chance of harm differ depending on who is holding the knife, the environment of that person, the size of the knife and its sharpness. This is an important concept to keep in mind given that testing on pregnant women is unethical and as such much of the evidence we have about safety is anecdotal rather than from large scale trials. Anecdotal evidence (personal stories/ individual doctor's notes/ observations) is useful and very valuable but it comes with more uncontrolled variables than data collected via organised trials and because of that, especially in the area of skincare we can generally only say that ingredients, products or treatments are not expected to cause a problem or are of low potential risk rather giving absolute guarantees. Again, this is an important distinction to make, especially for brand owners looking for ways to communicate with their public. Because of the variation of experiences in pregnant women it is also common to advise women to 'check with their health care professional' before changing their skincare routine or using different treatments. This often is so that the health care professional has a better insight into what you are doing in case of irritation or minor concern rather than it being anything more sinister but there are some things that the pregnant woman should avoid.

Cosmetic Ingredients to Be Cautious of During Pregnancy.

  1. Retinol and vitamin A containing products. Retinol can affect the growth of the foetus and as such it is always necessary to disclose to your health care professional when you are using retinol or vitamin A containing products so that you don't exceed your daily dose. This is especially true with retinol as it can be absorbed across the skin. It is possible to get a safer vitamin A dose via natural ingredients such as Buriti or Rosehip oil and as these are not readily absorbed through the skin they are safer.
  2. Hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is a powerful skin brightening agent and one that is readily absorbed through the skin when applied. There are many safer, topical solutions for pigmentation and as such it is recommended that hydroquinone be replaced by something like Vitamin C or Licorice extract. Arbutin is a hydroquinone derivative and should be avoided also.
  3. Salicylic Acid. Salycilic acid is currently restricted in cosmetics anyway and is banned for use on children under 3 years old. While it is not banned for pregnancy and some health care professionals are still comfortable with low-dose salicylic it is easy to avoid and in most cases, should be. Salicylic is often used to clear acne prone skin, Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) may be a safer alternative.
  4. Hair Dye Chemicals. Dying of the hair through pregnancy is not strictly taboo and there is no study data available connecting hair dye use during pregnancy with pregnancy specific problems but as the dyes have restrictions around them it is best to take a conservative approach to hair dying during this time, not least because of the additional risk of irritation that pregnancy poses. Hairdressers should avoid coming into direct contact with dyes and those wishing to colour their hair might opt to spread out their dye appointments, only go for a root touch-up or highlights instead of a full head. Henna tattoos would fall under this category too and are wise to avoid.

While the list above is relatively small, there might be many other things that the individual pregnant woman wants to avoid including artificial colours, synthetic chemicals, fragrances and more. Some women will only want to use organic products on their skin while others want to continue on with their regular skincare regimen. The important thing to note is that much of these choices are just that, personal choices and if it makes a woman feel empowered and comfortable to continue with their weekly facial and anti-ageing treatment during pregnancy then it may well be better for her to do so than to forgo that weekly pampering. As always, if in doubt, ask the health care professional.

Getting into a Pregnant Skin Routine.

As we mentioned above, the skin does change during pregnancy and as such many women will want to adjust their skincare regimen to address new found niggles and concerns. In most cases and for most women there should be no problems in introducing a new body butter, massage oil or face cream although it is always a good idea to keep the packaging listing the ingredients handy just in case something causes a reaction.

Why not try these:

  • Stretch Marks are caused by a combination of the skin stretching and underlying hormonal changes. Some people will experience this to a greater degree than others, but all skin can benefit from a good moisturiser. Try massaging a rich moisturising product in whatever form suits you (oil, butter, lotion, cream etc) daily before bed to help keep the skin supple and healthy.
  • Melasma or pigmentation during pregnancy is common and is a result of fluctuating hormones. Because this is hormonally triggered it can be tricky to eliminate completely until the hormones of pregnancy have dissipated but using a good sunscreen or keeping your face out of the sun is recommended. In addition, gentle brighting creams containing Niacinamide, Vitamin C and Licorice extract help to minimise the impact by evening out the skin tone.
  • Mild Itching is relatively common thanks to a combination of the stretching of the skin, increased blood flow raising the temperature and pregnancy hormones. Skin care products targeted at pregnancy are often developed to be mild so they are a good choice. If you can't buy a specially formulated product a simple aqueous cream or unscented moisturiser base should suffice. Perfumes may not irritate everyone but our sense of smell does heighten in pregnancy and in addition, perfume is one of the most likely ingredients to cause irritation anyway so avoiding or at least reducing exposure may help you avoid the itch.
  • Spider Veins can be hard to prevent but a good massage can help keep the blood circulating well.
  • Pregnancy pimples and acne should be treated gently so as to avoid any infection and further irritation and as such ingredients such as bisabolol (soothing active derived from chamomile), Vitamin C (for general skin health), Niacinamide (pimple busting) and allantoin (hydration) are better options than Salicylic, AHA's and Retinol during this time.


Our sense of smell is very powerful and while there are some legitimate reasons why some people will want to avoid aromatic ingredients during their pregnancy, others still wish to enjoy this aspect of their personal care regimen. Again, the question of what is safe (as in completely, unequivocally safe) is almost impossible to answer but there are some guidelines we can use to minimise any potential of risk.

Essential Oils.

The following are generally regarded as relatively safe to continue using with caution when pregnant, especially when used conservatively - this is not a time for splashing essential oils everywhere! It is recommended that all essential oils are diluted into a carrier before use. Here are some of the most commonly recommended oils to use in pregnancy, for more information or advice we recommend referring to Robert Tisserand's book "Essential Oil Safety".

  • Neroli
  • Mandarin, Tangerine, Sweet Orange, Lemon
  • Chamomile
  • Lavender
  • Geranium

Avoid: Basil, Cedarwood, Clary Sage, Fennel, Hyssop, Jasmine, Myrrh, Marjoram, Sage, Thyme, Rose, Juniperberry, Rosemary, Nutmeg.

Synthetic Perfume.

For those that like to use Eau De Parfume or Eau De Toilette, in most cases that can be continued but it is advised that the perfume is sprayed onto clothing and avoiding the facial area rather than directly onto skin. Also spraying in a well-ventilated area will help to avoid ingesting the spray.

The nine Months that changed your life.

Pregnancy is a magical time for the woman and her family and it is important to remember that, however stressful and however uncertain it is still a very natural and beautiful part of life. In most cases there is no reason why women can't continue to enjoy and celebrate their outer beauty during pregnancy and with a few minor adjustments this time of self-care and reflection can help to re-enforce both the bond between the mother and her baby and the internal bond between the woman as a strong individual and the woman as mother.

New Directions have recently launched a mamma and bub range for you to enjoy as part of your amazing journey. The range is available in store and online now.

Amanda Foxon-Hill

12 January 2018

More about: Baby Skincare, Skincare

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