Pregnancy and skincare

Baby-safe skincare during pregnancy & breastfeeding

8 minute read

We’re here to tell you what we know, but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider about your specific health concerns.

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Let’s talk about what to expect when you’re expecting—when it comes to your skin, that is. Whether you’re trying to conceive, already pregnant, or breastfeeding, the happy occasion of motherhood can raise a thousand and one important questions. But don’t worry, we’ve got your skin covered.

First of all, congratulations! 🥳🎉 This is such an exciting time with many big changes. Obviously, though, some aspects of pregnancy and new parenthood can be, well, less delightful than others. We’re here to help you through both the good and the “could live without, tbh” changes your skin might be going through, both during pregnancy and after your little one’s delivery.

Disclaimer → 

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

Yes, you really are glowing!

The pregnancy glow is neither a miracle nor a myth. Expectant mothers sometimes enjoy glowy, rosy skin due to an increase in circulation because higher estrogen hormone levels (alone 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, plenty also encounter some less exciting changes in their skin. Here are some of the less pleasant skin changes you may experience when pregnant, which can vary throughout the stages of pregnancy. Keep in mind, though, that everyone’s experience is unique—the following skin-related pregnancy symptoms aren’t necessarily going to happen to you.

Melasma, aka the “pregnancy mask”

The hormonal changes that happen when you’re pregnant can lead to darkening of certain areas of your skin: 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, fortunately! Areas of your skin that darkened during pregnancy usually fade gradually after delivery.

Melasma, which normally surfaces as blotchy brown or gray pigmentation appearing symmetrically on both sides of the face, is another common skin change that pregnant women experience. Charmingly nicknamed the “pregnancy mask” or “mask of pregnancy,” up to 75% of pregnant women experience melasma (according to some studies)! Although the development of this condition is not fully understood, increased levels of estrogen and progesterone (among other factors) that occur during pregnancy are thought to be a common culprit. Melasma may improve or fade away after delivery, but the condition is chronic and often recurrent. There are, however, some treatment options that may help.

What to do about melasma—or, how to treat “pregnancy mask”

The first, most important thing to do to try to improve or avoid recurrence of melasma is to wear sunscreen every day. (You know you should be doing that anyway!) Avoid peak sun hours, wear a hat and sunglasses, and find shade whenever possible! The next best thing is to use skincare products with ingredients that help improve hyperpigmentation, like niacinamide and vitamin C. 

Vitamin C serums are generally safe to use during pregnancy. Here are a few that we recommend for trying to help with hyperpigmentation or melasma:

Niacinamide is generally considered safe to continue using during pregnancy too. Although niacinamide hasn’t been formally assigned to a pregnancy category by the FDA, it’s 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.

As always, be sure to double-check with your OB-GYN before starting a new product.

Acne breakouts during pregnancy or breastfeeding

If you’re prone to breakouts, your skin may improve during pregnancy (thanks, baby). However, in some cases, acne can flare up. 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. 

How to treat acne while pregnant or breastfeeding

Which ingredients are safe to use while pregnant? These two common acne-fighting active ingredients are generally thought to be safe:

  • Salicylic acid: According to the FDA, risks during pregnancy associated with salicylic acid cannot be ruled out, but low concentrations and small amounts of salicylic acid found in skincare are generally considered safe. However, we recommend that you ask your OB-GYN before using the Curology salicylic acid acne body wash. 

  • Benzoyl peroxide: There is inadequate human data available for the use of benzoyl peroxide during pregnancy, but the low concentrations and small amounts used in skincare are generally considered safe. That being said, do get your OB-GYN’s approval for this ingredient before adding it to your routine. 

Additionally, sulphur soap and zinc pyrithione are considered safe to use.

Niacinamide and azelaic acid are two acne-fighting, anti-inflammatory ingredients you may be prescribed in your custom Curology cream. Both are also used for their anti-aging benefits. These active ingredients can also generally be used throughout pregnancy—but we always recommend seeking your obstetrician’s approval, just to be on the extra-safe side.

Chemical exfoliation during pregnancy

It’s typically fine to use topical skincare products with low concentrations of glycolic acid, lactic acid, and other alpha hydroxy acids. You can get these over-the-counter at the drugstore or at cosmetic stores like Sephora. 

Body acne during pregnancy or breastfeeding

To deal with body acne while you’re expecting or breastfeeding, you might consider starting with a body wash like the acne body wash by Curology. Our delightfully foamy body wash is dermatologist-designed to treat and help prevent acne while cleaning  your pores of regular dirt and grime. Formulated with 2% salicylic acid, it’s enough to be tough on acne but generally considered to be safe during pregnancy. So you can use this lightly foaming goodness every day. We do, however, recommend that you ask your OB-GYN before using a salicylic acid acne body wash.

For body acne, we also like to recommend a pyrithione zinc soap bar, which is great for getting rid of fungal acne. Zinc pyrithione is generally thought to be safe to use during pregnancy, so you can keep on using that to treat and help reduce body breakouts. (It works for your face too.)

Products and ingredients to avoid while pregnant or breastfeeding

It’s important to carefully choose skincare products when pregnant or breastfeeding, and unfortunately retinoids are off the table.

If you’ve been using retinol or a retinoid, your Curology provider will advise you to stop using it during pregnancy and while 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 (and even when you’re trying to conceive). 

This caution applies to all vitamin A derivatives, actually. 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. There are some potential adverse effects from high doses of oral vitamin A and its derivatives during pregnancy, so most experts recommend steering clear of all prescription retinoids—such as tretinoin (aka Retin-A), adapalene (aka Differin or Epiduo), or tazarotene (aka Tazorac or Avage)—during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

If you’re a Curology member who is trying to conceive, becomes pregnant, or starts nursing 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—as all new parents know, sleep is truly precious. 

Check out our other guides for many more pro tips!

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