Is the pregnancy glow real?

Pregnancy skincare tips & why you’re glowing when you’re expecting

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Curology Team
Sep 13, 2019 · 6 min read

We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Today we’re talking about skin changes to expect when you’re expecting. We know expecting a little one (especially for the first time) can raise a thousand-and-one important questions, but don’t worry: we’ve got you covered.

If you’re pregnant, first of all, congratulations! 🥳🎉 This is such an exciting time with many changes in your body to come, and we’re more than happy to help prepare you for them. Among your happy questions may be: What causes the pregnancy glow that everyone talks about? We have the science below.

Before we get to the details though, we are a medical practice and so we want to remind you to be particularly aware of your skincare products when pregnant or breastfeeding. If you’re a current Curology member, let your provider know if you learn that you’re pregnant or if you decide to try to conceive. Meanwhile, stop using your Curology cream—not all skincare ingredients are confirmed to be safe to use during pregnancy or breastfeeding, so it’s best to stay on the safe side (and so worth it).

What is pregnancy glow?

The pregnancy glow is neither miracle nor myth. Expectant mothers sometimes enjoy glowy, rosy skin due to an increase in circulation, because higher estrogen hormone levels (along with other factors) cause blood vessels to proliferate. The increase in blood volume that happens during pregnancy also results in more blood flow to the skin. And both estrogen and progesterone hormones contribute to dilated (more opened up) blood vessels. Not only does your complexion look more radiant, but your face may even appear fuller (hello, plump skin). You can thank your baby-to-be for your baby’s-bottom-smooth complexion.

That said, when people say you’re glowing, they also might be trying to say that you look happy and vibrant!

What to expect (from your skin) when you’re expecting

While many women experience the pregnancy glow, many women also encounter some less exciting changes in their skin. Here are some of the less pleasant changes you may experience in your skin when pregnant, which can vary throughout the pregnancy stages. Keep in mind, though, that everyone’s experience is unique — the following skin-related pregnancy symptoms aren’t necessarily going to happen to you.

Hyperpigmentation

The hormonal changes that happen when you’re pregnant can lead to darkening of certain areas of your skin that have more pigmentation to begin with: areas such as the areolae and nipples, genital skin, underarms, and inner thighs. The vertical line at the center of the abdomen called the linea alba — a pale line that runs through your belly button, which is so subtle that it usually goes unnoticed — can also darken during pregnancy. When that line darkens between your belly button and your pelvis, it’s called linea nigra (black line). These changes are temporary — areas of your skin that darkened during pregnancy usually fade gradually after delivery.

Melasma, which appears as symmetrical brown pigmentation on the face, is another common skin change that pregnant women experience (up to 70% of pregnant women experience melasma according to some studies!). The increased levels of estrogen, progesterone, and melanocyte-stimulating hormone levels that occur during pregnancy are thought to be the culprit. If that sounds scary, don’t worry: it’s not permanent. Melasma typically improves or fades away after delivery.

To reduce or avoid hyperpigmentation, wear sunscreen every day (you should be doing that, anyway!) and use skincare products with brightening ingredients like niacinamide and vitamin C.

Pregnancy acne

If you’re prone to adult acne or hormonal acne, pregnancy can actually improve it (thanks, baby). However, in some cases, acne can flare up, especially in the third trimester. Some women even develop acne for the first time during pregnancy!

The tricky thing is, not all acne-fighting ingredients are recommended for use while pregnant. Any product you apply to your skin may be absorbed into the body in small amounts, so it’s important to pay attention to the ingredients before you use any product to treat breakouts. It’s typically fine to use the topical acne treatments with low concentrations of glycolic acid, lactic acid, and other AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids). You can get these over-the-counter — at the drugstore, for example, or at cosmetic stores like Sephora. Low concentrations and small amounts of the common acne-fighting over-the-counter ingredients, benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, are generally considered safe. (It’s not considered safe to take high doses of salicylic acid in its oral form while pregnant, but the 1% to 2% salicylic acid acne wash at your local drugstore should be fine). Of course, always check with your obstetrician if you have any concerns.

For body acne, aka bacne, we like to recommend a pyrithione zinc soap bar — it’s great for treating bacterial and fungal acne (it works for your face, too). Zinc pyrithione is generally thought to be safe to use during pregnancy, so you can keep on using it to treat and help reduce body breakouts. If zinc pyrithione isn’t for you, another option would be a body wash with salicylic acid (like the acne body wash by Curology). Because the FDA hasn’t ruled salicylic acid to be risk-free when it comes to pregnancy, we recommend you check with your OB/GYN before using a product with this ingredient.

Curology Acne Body Wash

Niacinamide and azelaic acid are two acne-fighting, anti-inflammatory ingredients you may be prescribed in your custom Curology cream. Good news: niacinamide is considered safe to continue using during pregnancy.

Good news: niacinamide is considered safe to continue using during pregnancy. Although niacinamide hasn’t been formally assigned to a pregnancy category by the FDA, it is an essential nutrient we normally get from our diet. Besides, only a small amount of it is absorbed into the body when applied topically to the skin.

Azelaic acid also has low absorption into the body. It has been assigned to pregnancy category B by the FDA, and may be used in the second and third trimester, with your obstetrician’s approval.

Play it safe with pregnancy skincare

It’s important to carefully choose skin care products when pregnant or breastfeeding, so here are some skin care ingredients to avoid while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you’ve been using retinol or a retinoid, your Curology provider will advise you to stop using it during pregnancy and breastfeeding. So, if you’ve got a custom Curology cream with tretinoin, for example, you’ll want to let your Curology provider know that you’re pregnant (or even when you’re trying to conceive). This applies to all vitamin A derivatives, in general — it’s not that they’re known to be dangerous when applied topically, but when it comes to pregnancy, it’s always worthwhile to be cautious. Prescription retinoids such as tretinoin (aka Retin-A), adapalene (aka Differin/Epiduo), or tazarotene (aka Tazorac/Avage) have not been tested during pregnancy or breastfeeding, so the FDA can’t officially condone them.

If you’re a Curology member who becomes pregnant during treatment, please be sure to let your dermatology provider know about your good news — depending on its ingredients, your formula may be adjusted. And, if you’re pregnant and not yet a Curology subscriber, hold off until after you have delivered your baby and are not breastfeeding before signing up. Per our policy, we do not accept new patients who are currently pregnant or breastfeeding.

Take the guesswork out of pregnancy-safe skincare

Pregnancy can be a little complicated, but we believe skincare should be simple. A simpler skincare routine means more time for beauty rest — and as all new parents know, sleep is truly precious. Check out our other blog posts and our in-depth skincare guides for many more pro tips.

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