“Pregnancy beauty” is a polarizing topic. I’ve been on mom-centric Facebook® group pages and watched as wars erupted over whether expecting mamas should switch to completely non-toxic, organic beauty routines. The alternative option: stick to a “business as usual” regimen (minus a handful of doctor-banned ingredients, like salicylic acid and retinol).
After a pregnancy test gave me the green light that, yes, there was a blueberry-sized human growing in my belly, I had to decide where I’d fall on that spectrum. What would I toss, try, and buy? I’m a pretty holistic, ingredient-conscious person by nature, which is why I shocked myself when I ended up not changing my routine too much at all. My expectations had always been that when I got pregnant, my maternal hormones would kick in and ignite me to throw out every product I own without an organic certification on it. But that simply wasn’t the case, and that was OK.
“We don’t think developing fetuses are affected by [many] beauty products used during pregnancy. Sticking to a routine that’s tried and true makes sense,” my dermatologist Amy Wechsler, MD told me (she happens to be a mom herself). “Too many other things are changing, and skin doesn’t often change too much other than sometimes breaking out and sometimes being more sensitive than usual.”
I had also heard fragrance (like the Chanel® N°5 L'eau® I mist myself with daily) could be potentially harmful to the fetus. Dr. Wechsler weighed in, “Fragrances are interesting, but I think it’s more about how the pregnant woman feels and about her underlying stress level that could potentially affect a fetus. Some fragrances are calming to the woman and others are irritating. Also, some fragrances can cause skin to become sensitive, rashy, and itchy.”
When it came to my own testing lab, I genuinely tried to cleanse, exfoliate, and moisturize with a “cleaner” roster. And, in some cases, I was quite successful. But two factors got in the way. The first: I experienced intense morning sickness (let’s reword that to all-day sickness) for about 19 weeks. It seemed as if I had the discerning nose of a dog. Whether it was dryer sheets on my husband’s shirts, roasted chicken wafting through our windows from the restaurant below my apartment, or the essential oil-packed, natural serum I slathered on my face, I could not tolerate sensorial experiences. Out went some of the botanical-saturated products and in came the fragrance-free or “scent-tolerable” picks.
My second issue was how crazy my hormonal skin acted. Envision that strange time between seasons, when one day it’s hot, then it’s freezing, followed by extreme humidity, and finally, it’s perfectly cool (maybe this is just in New York). Well, that’s what the temperature of my skin seemed like. In my first trimester, I was plagued by hormonal acne in unexpected places, like my temples. In trimesters two and three, my skin became dehydrated and flaky, no matter how much water I guzzled. Even my hair needed less washing (not a bad side effect), because my scalp was drier. To address all these concerns, I sought after highly-effective products with noticeable benefits in lieu of picking the jar with the fewest ingredients on the label.
That said, I always read what was in my products. And, of course, I did my research on what the “hard nos” are. In the end, I relied on old staples (think of it like “comfort foods”), picks that would not aggravate my sense of smell or sensitive skin, and formulas that deliver results. Some choices are from the cleanest brands on the market, while others are somewhere in the middle. And, maybe, this will reflect my “new mom” attitude: a focus on being balanced.
Still, I felt a bit guilty about my choices (mom guilt!) until I spoke to Dr. Wechsler. “There is zero regulation of ‘all-natural’ or ‘organic’ skincare,” she explained. “Those terms really don’t mean anything, which is way different than food labels! I often say, ‘poison ivy is all-natural and organic, yet it’s [one of] the most irritating [substances] known!’”
Dr. Wechsler went on to explain that the skin is a barrier — keeping the “good things” in and the bad ones out. “Therefore, [all] products applied to the skin do not simply seep into [blood] circulation,” she adds. “[However], I have seen a lot of rashes from products.”
That’s not to say you should return your latest beloved beauty haul from Credo®. The bottom line is you should do what’s right for you — regardless of whether you’re in camp non-toxic or non-concerned. And, no matter what, it is always recommended that pregnant women consult with their doctors about their regimens during those nine months. In addition to that, if you’re curious about what this beauty editor chose, here, I’ve rounded up the top products and services I used for everything from my extra-lush hair to my swollen, pedicured toes.
What: Savor Beauty® Cherry Collagen Peel ($80)
Scent: Cherry with a hint of licorice
Texture: Cooling gel
Thoughts: I first tried this peel at Savor Beauty’s Upper West Side spa in NYC. The experience was absolutely delightful — the peel felt refreshing (instead of stinging my sensitive skin), and I left with what can only be described as an authentic “pregnancy glow.” Perhaps I was a little more well-rested, thanks to a facial massage that put me to sleep. Obviously, I went home with a jar of the peel in my bag!
Benefits: The Korean beauty-inspired, plant-based line is handmade in NYC in small batches, using certified organic ingredients. It lets you exfoliate off dead skin with fruit enzymes like cherry, pineapple, and papaya. It also has bearberry and mulberry extract to help with brightening, as well as 22 amino acids to help collagen renewal.
Hot Tip: My esthetician told me to apply the peel a few minutes before a shower, because the steam helps to activate the ingredients.
What: Nelly DevuystTM SPF 30 Mineral ($69)
Scent: Cherry almond
Texture: Smooth, creamy, and translucent Thoughts: Perhaps the most-important product in your skincare lineup during pregnancy is sunscreen — because hormone-induced melasma is no joke. The day after I took a pregnancy test and it was positive, I committed to wearing SPF every single day. I tested many iterations, and this one checked all of my boxes: mineral and organic with UVA/UVB protection. (Read more about how to decode the label of a sunscreen bottle here.) It also didn’t leave my face chalky and matte, like other sunscreens with similar benefits. That said, it does have a slight cherry almond scent (which I enjoy!), so beware if you’re in the first trimester and need something fragrance-free.
Benefits: In addition to titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, it has antioxidant-boosting rooibos extract and detoxifying bentonite clay.
Hot Tip: Decant some SPF into a contact lens holder, and toss it in your bag. Use your “sample-size” to reapply sunscreen midday to make sure you’re protected.
What: Tata HarperTM Beautifying Face Oil ($98)
Scent: Jasmine floral
Texture: Lightweight oil
Thoughts: Before pregnancy, this was my all-time favorite face oil, and it remained a front-runner throughout. It was especially helpful when my skin started peeling from dryness during the second trimester. No matter what is happening with my complexion, this oil consistently leaves my face looking instantly radiant and glossy. And, while it does have a floral-jasmine scent, it’s one I love.
Benefits: The oil is packed with glow-inducing ingredients, such as vitamin B, olive oil, argan oil, jojoba esters, camellia seed oil . . . the list goes on. Tata Harper’s made-in-Vermont products are a leader in the non-toxic space, and the ingredients are made via organic farming.
Hot Tip: Grab your gua sha or jade roller to massage the oil in. It can help depuff any bloating in your face and jawline.
If you take blood thinners, talk to your doctor before using a gua sha or rolling tool
What: Renée Rouleau® Ulta Gentle Smoothing Serum ($48)
Thoughts: During my second trimester, I was blessed with the opportunity to lie on Renée Rouleau’s esthetician’s table, where she worked her magic hands on me. During the treatment, she prescribed products for my dehydrated, splotchy skin. Since I had to forgo most chemical exfoliants, she helped me identify this gentle serum as one I could actually use. For me, it has less “sting” than stronger chemical exfoliants and is totally fragrance-free. After using it just a few times a week, I noticed immediate results.
Benefits: It contains two AHAs — seven percent lactic acid (AHA) and three percent glycolic acid — to help skin cells turnover faster. The results deliver smoother, exfoliated, brighter skin. The formula is balanced with soothing, calming ingredients like aloe vera leaf juice and allantoin. What it does not have: parabens, synthetic fragrances and dyes, and phthalates.
Hot Tip: If you use this, do not skip the SPF. Chemical exfoliants can make skin more sensitive to sun exposure. Hence, I prefer to apply it at night.
What: Indeed® Laboratories Bakuchiol RefaceTM Pads ($20)
Texture: Single-use, serum-soaked pads
Thoughts: With bakuchiol being such a hot retinol alternative this season, I had to try it. The plant-based ingredient is an antioxidant that acts similar to retinol, but it’s much gentler and considered pregnancy-friendly. In addition to the aforementioned serum, I used these pads as a gentle way to exfoliate. Unlike the serum, the formula doesn’t sting or tingle at all, so I could use them more often (once in the morning and at night when I didn’t use the serum).
Benefits: The bakuchiol-soaked pads help with skin cell turnover, boosting collagen production, minimizing breakouts, and improving overall skin texture.
Hot Tip: If you have extra foundation still on your skin after cleansing, I found the pads easily wiped it off.
What: Renée Rouleau Moisture InfusionTM Toner ($43)
Texture: Fluid toner
Thoughts: I was never an “essence person,” until Rouleau suggested I give hers a try to help create a hydrated barrier for my dry skin. Now, I can’t imagine a regimen without it. I use it every time I get out of the shower or wash my face — and I feel like my skin craves it. The silky, serum-like lotion provides an instantly gratifying dose of nourishment. I find I can use less products and layers on top of it, since it’s so effective.
Benefits: It contains a hybrid of hard-working ingredients (like vitamins B3 and C), as well as black raspberry and blackberry seed oil to sooth and lock in moisture. The vegan, cruelty-free formula is also made without parabens, synthetic fragrances and dyes, and phthalates.
Hot Tip: Rouleau suggests pouring it into a spray bottle to use as a setting mist or makeup primer.
What: Tatcha® Violet-CTM Brightening Serum ($88)
Thoughts: Like many pregnant women before me, that lovely surge of hormones negatively affected my skin tone. My once even complexion became dotted with acne scars and melasma blotches. So, I made sure to use a vitamin C serum every morning to help brighten things up, and this one was my savior. The fact that it absorbs quickly and has zero fragrance made it an easy choice since trimester number one. (No surprise it’s top-rated by Sephora® shoppers.)
Benefits: The vegan formula contains a blend of 20 percent vitamin C and 10 percent fruit AHAs. This all helps with cell turnover, brightening, and protecting skin from UV damage. Always (always!) follow with sunscreen.
Hot Tip: This product is part of the “Clean at SephoraTM” set, meaning it’s formulated without a list of over 50 “bad” ingredients — like sulfates, parabens, phthalates . . . you get the gist.
What: Dr. Barbara Sturm® Hydrating Face Mist ($95)
Scent: Unscented (in my opinion, though some of my coworkers detected a floral-aloe fragrance)
Texture: Fine mist
Thoughts: Cooking a human in your belly is a physically hot time — no matter the season. That means a cooling mist is a must. Anything eucalyptus- or lavender-scented did not agree with me for the first four months, so when Dr. Barbara Sturm launched this one, I was delighted that it appealed to both my face and my nose. It sprays on super fine, so you don’t have to worry about it ruining your makeup or leaving you damp. I like it so much, I keep one at home and another in the office.
Hot tip: Store it in the fridge — or better yet, a mini skincare fridge — for an even cooler experience. (I plan to use my skincare fridge as an extra place for milk storage during the postpartum period.)
Scent: Subtle rose
Thoughts: Usually, whenever I needed a heavier eye cream, I had been relying on favorites from Kiehl’s® and Tatcha; but, around the third trimester (when my sleep became quite disrupted), this brightening stick saved the day. It feels cooling on the skin and leaves a gorgeous rose-gold sheen.
Benefits: You may cut out your coffee during pregnancy, but you can still use it in skincare. This balm contains the energizing bean to “wake-up” undereyes. It’s also comprised of rosehip oil, vitamin C, and plant-based retinol alternatives to hydrate the area and tackle fine lines.
Hot tip: Apply it under your eyes and over lids for a subtle, pretty sheen. It can also be used midday for over-makeup touch-ups.
What: Savor Beauty Coconut-Jasmine Pre-Cleanse Oil ($32)
Scent: Jasmine with a hint of coconut
Thoughts: If you’re seeking a completely clean oil, don’t overlook this pick. The 100-percent plant-based formula is the perfect first step in a double-cleaning routine. It takes off makeup with a soft, soothing quality. Plus, as a jasmine lover, I was pleased to find the fragrance relaxed me (and transported me back to my honeymoon in Thailand), instead of stressing my senses.
Benefits: The medley of oils work in tandem, with coconut melting away makeup, lavender helping to clear out pores, and jasmine leaving skin with a dewy texture.
Hot Tip: You can also use it as a makeup remover and eyelash conditioner.
Texture: Rich cream
Thoughts: This clean pick feels like a cloud of nourishment the second it touches skin. When my face started to flake, I immediately switched over to this and was quite happy with the results. It’s also super easy to use, thanks to a pull-off top cap and pump distributor. On those nights when I was truly exhausted, it was the fastest night cream to access.
Benefits: While the cream doesn’t feel oily in the slightest, it does contain six rare African oils blended together for ultra hydration. In addition, ceramides keep skin balanced, while an ingredient (dubbed sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer) is a warrior against fine lines. Drunk Elephant is known for being a non-toxic brand, so the formula is free of essential oils, silicones, and fragrance.
Hot Tip: Don’t be scared to use it during the day, too (I did!). It blends easily under makeup.
What: Biossance® Squalane + Rose Vegan Lip Balm ($18)
Scent: Subtle rose
Thoughts: If a product is going near your mouth, it means you may accidentally ingest it — so, this is a smart category to lean more natural. This formula feels jelly-like on the lips and keeps chapping at bay. You can also use it as a lip mask to prep your pout for lipstick or sleep (if you can get any with that baby kicking around!).
Benefits: This non-toxic pick is vegan, comes in recycled packaging, and will probably make you feel good about buying it. Key ingredients include rose absolute, as well as my favorite plumper, hyaluronic acid. Wakame algae adds additional plumpness, helping to fill in fine lip lines.
Hot Tip: Add a little extra for a pink gloss effect, or use it on cheeks as a sheer highlighter.
What: Evereden® Nourishing Stretch Mark Cream ($45)
Texture: Creamy lotion
Thoughts: When I discovered this brand during my second trimester, I felt like I hit the baby mama jackpot. I am obsessed with this stretch mark cream for my belly and breasts, but equally as enthralled with the Lifting and Firming Body Lotion (for my legs and arms, $42). Even on the hottest days of summer in NYC, it absorbed easily and didn’t stink at all. Plus, I felt guilt-free about using it, since the formula is non-toxic and the brand has a top rating on EWG’s® Skin Deep® Database. Three dermatologists are behind the formulations and market it with the slogan “For moms, by moms.”
Benefits: A roster of superfoods — including mango seed butter, coconut oil, aloe leaf juice, and more — make up the formula. It helps stimulate collagen to battle those telltale I’ve-carried-a-human stretch marks. You won’t find anything toxic in it, including sulfates, parabens, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, or GMOs.
Hot Tip: The line extends to baby skincare, and it would be hard to find another diaper rash cream with packaging this chic.
What: HatchTM Belly Oil ($34)
Texture: Quick-dry oil (read: not greasy)
Thoughts: Stylish preggo ladies know Hatch for its breezy maternity wear, but the beauty section is not to be missed. Out of every belly oil I’ve tried, this was hands down my favorite due to the subtle scent and how easily it absorbed into my skin. I switched back and forth between this and the Evereden cream regularly.
Benefits: Thanks to calendula flower extract and host of natural oils (grapefruit peel, jojoba, sweet almond, and olive), it works to keep your skin hydrated enough to help combat stretch marks. It’s also free of the “bad” stuff like parabens, phthalates, dyes, and fragrances.
Hot Tip: Although this oil comes in a full-sized version, I prefer the mini, since the rollerball applicator is fuss-free. Plus, it’s a less expensive way to try it out.
What: Kiehl’s Crème de CorpsTM ($48)
Scent: Unscented (in my opinion)
Thoughts: This body lotion is akin to a “comfort food” for me — I’ve been using it for years, and it reminds me of my happy place, Equinox® (where it can be found in the locker rooms). It’s super creamy, but absorbs fast; and I never have issues with dry skin when I use it consistently. Kiehl’s has been selling it since the 1980s, and I can see why it’s consistently a bestseller.
Benefits: A trifecta of beta-carotene, cocoa butter, and squalane give the formula it’s absorbent, ultra-hydrating, and antioxidant-rich benefits. Also, cocoa butter is a known stretch mark fighter, so it’s a good ingredient to look for if you’re worried about them.
Hot tip: There’s also a lighter version of the body lotion that I relied on during the hot days of summer! Same idea as the original, just a bit more serum-y.
What: Hatch Nipple and Lip Balm ($28)
Thoughts: Sorry if this is TMI, but I had no idea my nipples would get dry and a bit flaky before the baby arrived. Weird side effect of pregnancy! It happened often during the summer after I went swimming or spent time in a bathing suit. I quickly got it under control using this balm, specifically made for the task. The multitasker is meant to be used during pregnancy and postpartum (to help relieve chapped nips from breastfeeding). Bonus: it can also be used on lips!
Benefits: While the formula has plenty of tropical butters and superfruits, it’s free of lanolin, parabens, phthalates, dyes, and fragrances.
Hot Tip: Rub the tube between your palms to slightly heat it up pre-application.
What: NécessaireTM The Body Wash ($25)
Texture: Gel-oil cleanser
Thoughts: I had heard a lot of hype about this brand from the beauty editor community, and when I was having serious scent aversions during my first trimester, I immediately got my hands on the fragrance-free version. The simple formula and texture (it’s a slightly foamy gel cleanser that truly leaves no fragrance behind) worked well for me, and has continued to be a part of my body-care routine into the third trimester.
Benefits: It hosts a medley of vitamins (A, B³, C, and E), as well as omegas (3, 6, and 9) to thoroughly nourish skin. The sustainable, eco-conscious brand aims to keep formulas “clean.” That means no parabens, phthalates, sulfates, silicones, petro-chemicals, synthetic fragrances, or synthetic dyes.
Hot Tip: There’s also a fragrance-free body lotion that was equally as pleasing to my discerning nose.
What: KaiTM Rose Deodorant ($24)
Scent: Gardenia and rose absolute
Texture: Gel deodorant
Thoughts: OK, I will admit that when there was a July heat wave in NYC, I swapped this deodorant for a true antiperspirant (an unscented one, of course!). But, during the cooler months of spring and fall — and especially overnight (when I would get quite hot) — this natural deodorant was my go-to. Even though I was super sensitive to smell, I found the fresh and light rose fragrance to be appealing.
Benefits: While it keeps your pits stink-free, it also hydrates skin under the arms with vitamin E, chamomile, and other botanical ingredients. And, it’s free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, phosphates, and aluminum.
Hot Tip: If you, too, like the scent, it also comes in a rollerball fragrance, dry body oil, and more.
What: Hatch Down, GirlTM Foot Cream ($42)
Scent: Minty with a hint of ginger
Texture: Gel-Based Cream
Thoughts: Even though my shoe size didn’t change, my feet often just hurt. The added pressure of, say, 20 to 30 pounds put pressure on my toenails, heels, and arches. Every evening, I looked forward to rubbing my feet with this cooling and fast-absorbing cream. It instantly made me feel better and a little less swollen.
Benefits: Like the other Hatch picks, it’s free of parabens, phthalates, dyes, and artificial fragrances. Hero ingredients include hydrating aloe vera, inflammation-fighting chamomile, and energizing ginger.
Hot Tip: Apply to legs and achy backs to soothe those areas as well.
What: Maelove® Supreme Shave Cream ($15)
Thoughts: This indie brand leans more non-toxic, and its site claims the formulas are obsessively formulated. I took to this shaving cream because it gave me a much closer shave than what I was previously getting. And, when you can’t see your feet or really access your legs well, cutting down on the number of shaves per week is essential.
Benefits: The lotion offers a conditioning and hydrating effect on skin, instantly softening hairs so they can be nicked off by your razor more easily. It also feels a bit cooling, which I enjoyed, since I was always so darn hot! Expect a formula free of parabens, gluten, synthetic fragrances, and dyes.
Hot Tip: It was fine to use for shaving down there, but know it might feel a bit tingly.
What: Kérastase® Aura BotanicaTM — the entire haircare line! ($28 to $59)
Scent: Nutty with a touch of sweet orange essential oil
Textures: Everything from oil to creamy conditioner
Thoughts: I had been pretty devoted to this 97- to 99-percent natural haircare line before I was carrying a baby, but I relied on it during pregnancy to enhance my voluminous hair. The products can work on all hair types (there’s even an extra-rich shampoo for curlier hair), but it especially agrees with wavy strands, and it is one of the best frizz-fighters I’ve come across. Standout products for me include the original shampoo and conditioner, blow-dry hair milk, hair oil mist, and beach waves spray.
Benefits: The range is based on two key ingredients — Morrocan argan oil and coconut oil — with a bevy of other wonder-workers thrown in, like Mexican aloe vera, Amazonian brazil nut oil, and Thai rice bran oil. It’s also all silicone- and paraben-free.
Hot Tip: The shampoo leaves hair squeaky clean, so don’t skip using conditioner. Although the hair milk is dubbed a heat protector, I also use it to air-dry my strands. The hair oil mist has a tiny bit of hold to it, so you could use it as a setting spray (because true hairspray is pretty toxic). And the beach waves spray is light enough to use on wet or dry hair without worrying about crunchiness.
What: SundaysTM Studio Nail Polish ($18)
Thoughts: When I experienced morning sickness and exhaustion in the first trimester, spending an hour at Sundays Studios in NYC was one of the only self-care activities I could muster. With French jazz playing in the background and a medley of herbal teas to choose from, I enjoyed having my nails buffed and polished each week with the salon’s original 10-free polish. The mani also includes delicate rose petals and lemon water for extra nourishment and detoxification.
In addition to the relaxing spa experience, I’m also a huge fan of the polish itself. The colors are on-trend, and I find the manicure lasts a solid six days. When it comes to shade options, my favorites include: No. 7 (a flattering beige rose), No. 29 (a cool-girl deep lavender), and No. 19 (a classic vampy wine).
Benefits: The formulations are 10-free, non-toxic, cruelty-free, and vegan. To break it down more, there is no TPHP, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, camphor, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, parabens, and tert-butyl hydroperoxide.
Hot Tip: Even if you don’t live in NYC, you can still buy the base coat, top coat, and nail polish to bring this non-toxic mani experience to your local spa.
What: Exhale Spa℠
Thoughts: Many of my expecting friends ask for suggestions on spas that offer prenatal services, and Exhale is one of the best national chains to get facials and massages. The first official pregnancy-safe facial I experienced was in babymoon mecca, Bermuda. It was at the Hamilton Princess Hotel & Beach Club℠, which housed an Exhale spa, and I practically melted into the table. As my esthetician gently massaged my face with non-toxic formulas, I drifted off into a peaceful slumber. The lymphatic drainage was also helpful to contour my puffy face (fluid retention is a side effect of pregnancy).
Hot Tip: If you go to the Hamilton Princess, make sure to try the special, local fish sandwich. The combination of raisin bread, grilled fish, pickles, and coleslaw satisfies those sweet-and-salty cravings.
As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment.