Ah, pregnancy. A time when a woman-with-child is purported to radiate some sort of special glow. A time of fuller-than-ever hair, of thick and resilient nails, of abundance and beauty, right? Not quite.
(Record scratch.) I’m not saying pregnancy isn’t beautiful, or that the “preggo glow” isn’t real. But one of the things I remember most about the two times I was pregnant — and the various years I spent trying to conceive my second daughter — was the effect that pregnancy had on my beauty routine.
I’m not quite sure why I was so surprised. After writing about health and beauty for nearly two decades, I certainly knew that there are a range of foods, activities, and topical skincare ingredients you need to avoid during pregnancy. But I was still startled when I found that many of my favorite medical aesthetic treatments and anti-acne products were suddenly on the no-no list.
One of the biggest things women who are pregnant need to stay away from are topical vitamin A derivatives, such as retinoids like tretinoin, as well as the milder retinol ingredients you can find in tons of products. This is a big loss to many regimens, since retinoids and retinol are both proven, effective anti-aging skin ingredients, able to smooth fine lines and improve skin texture. Trouble is: “They have not been studied on pregnant women so they are not deemed safe,” says Dr. Estee Williams, a dermatologist in New York City. Even worse, she notes, available data that is out there (some from animals, and some from humans) has shown oral ingestion of high doses of vitamin A to be linked to birth defects.
Next up on the no-no list, but likely to be on the shelves of any woman who wants to keep breakouts at bay: salicylic acid (also known as beta hydroxy acid). The effect of the ingredient on pregnant women has not been studied, but some animal studies have raised concerns. Many doctors err on the side of caution, suggesting that you should opt for other acne-fighting ingredients. Talk to your doctor to see what may be right for you.
There also are procedures outside of the medicine cabinet that should take a backseat for a while, such as laser hair removal, certain chemical peels, super-hot infrared sauna sessions, and other light or laser-based skin treatments. And similarly, Dr. Yoon-Soo Cindy Bae, a dermatologist with the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York®, adds that injectable wrinkle reducers and fillers are also in the no-fly zone. Again, this is because they have simply not been tested on pregnant women. (The ethical implications of such studies would be too massive to undertake.)
[Editor’s note: Injectable wrinkle reducers temporarily smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face, including the forehead, frown lines, and crow’s feet. They should not be used more frequently than every three months. Injectable filler is a temporary treatment that adds volume to areas of the face such as the lips, cheeks, and laugh lines. Like any medical treatment, both injectable wrinkle reducers and injectable fillers have potential risks and side effects. Talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you. And learn more now by chatting with a trained aesthetic specialist.]
Obviously, it’s only a 40-week timeout — that is, if you don’t include nursing. (During this time, most of the pregnancy no-no’s remain the same because of potential harm to baby via contaminated breast milk.) But for some women, that’s still an unexpected blow. They might feel a bit sheepish to admit it bothers them, especially while doing something as monumental as growing a human life.
One such woman is Ali Levine, 33, a freelance fashion stylist and TV personality in Los Angeles, who has a 10-month-old baby girl. Before pregnancy, she booked injectable wrinkle reducer and filler appointments about once or twice a year. “When I couldn’t do anything, it was hard for me,” she admits.
[Editor’s note: Injectable wrinkle reducers should not be used more frequently than every three months.]
Rachel Jacoby Zoldan, 34, a beauty writer and editor in New York City who is due with twin boys in early June, wasn’t at all surprised about the skincare and treatment restrictions, but was surprised by how much they bugged her. “[The loss of] a lot of [skincare and aesthetics] staples — particularly ones to fight acne and [wrinkles], two things that really stand out when you're pregnant as hell,” really bothered her. Adds Zoldan: “Obviously, the boys' health comes first and this is temporary. But after this summer, it’s on….”
For Levine, her work in front of a camera made these changes extra intense. “I had just been on Bravo®; I was very aware of the lines I was seeing,” she says. “I have friends who stopped nursing to be able to do injectables . . . but my number one priority was my healthy baby and pregnancy. I knew it wasn't an option.”
Personally, I was in my mid-to-late thirties during both pregnancies, and was out of the aesthetics game for years at a time. After finally finding a routine I liked and sticking with it, it was difficult to abandon it.
But this sentiment is one that doctors have heard from their more forthcoming patients. According to Williams, some have shared that between pregnancy and breastfeeding, it feels as if they won’t be able to get injectable wrinkle reducers forever. One of Bae’s patients asked if injectable wrinkle reducers are safe during pregnancy. “I told her no,” Bae explains, “and she said, ‘Well, I guess that means I’m never getting pregnant.’” (Spoiler alert: she actually just had a baby, says Bae, and managed without treatments during her pregnancy.)
Not all patients find it to be such a difficult decision, though. About the baby bump glow: It’s real, says Brooklyn resident Joanna Dosik, a mother of two boys and former attorney. “Pregnancy hormones actually made me feel and look more youthful — shiny hair, glowing skin, and strong nails.”
Dr. Yoon-Soo Cindy Bae is a paid Allergan® consultant.