Just like sushi and deli meat, some skincare treatments might be totally safe for mom, but pose a potential risk for a developing baby. Ingredients like prescription tretinoin and salicylic acid can be dangerous if they enter the mother’s bloodstream and reach the fetus, explains Anna Guanche, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of the Bella Skin Institute℠ in Calabasas, California. “Although a minimal amount is absorbed when these products are applied topically, it should not be risked during pregnancy,” says Dr. Guanche. Similarly, some high-tech devices we normally consider no big deal might be too risky to use during pregnancy. “Lasers, by definition, have far-reaching light waves that penetrate layers of tissue and could possibly reach a developing fetus,” explains Dr. Guanche. For that reason, lasers have not been studied for safety during pregnancy and are best avoided.
Retinol shouldn't be used by women who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.
While this may sound like nine months of bad news for your pores, don’t panic — you don’t have to abandon your entire skincare regimen, nor do you have to breakup with your dermatologist during pregnancy (phew!). Instead, you can continue to tackle common skin concerns like acne, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and more with these five treatments you can still do while pregnant. Keep reading to learn what they are and how to incorporate them into your skincare routine.
The concern: Dark spots and hyperpigmentation
The typical treatment: Hydroquinone bleaching creams, IPL treatments
The pregnancy-friendly treatment: Vitamin C serums
The why: Since laser and intense pulsed light treatments are not safe during pregnancy (ditto for hydroquinone, a common over-the-counter spot-lightening ingredient), many dermatologists recommend one simple way to tackle dark spots and hyperpigmentation: vitamin C. “Vitamin C serums help to brighten the skin,” says Dr. Guanche. While the results won’t be as dramatic as zapping brown spots with IPL, vitamin C inhibits melanin production, thereby keeping any new freckles or melasma (that common pregnancy “mask” of extra pigmentation) at bay, says Dr. Guanche.
Hydroquinone has not been FDA-approved. Talk to your doctor before starting any treatment with it.
Bonus: It’s also a potent antioxidant, so it can repair damaged skin cells, as well as stimulate collagen and elastin for firmer skin. Ask your dermatologist to recommend a favorite vitamin C serum that’s pregnancy-safe, and use it nightly (or as tolerated) to help keep your skin bright and even. We’re fans of Ole Henriksen® Truth Serum® ($74), which is loaded with the powerhouse ingredient, plus collagen, soothing aloe, and green tea extracts.
The concern: Acne
The typical treatment: Salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide
The pregnancy-friendly treatment: Glycolic acid
The why: Acne presents a catch-22, because many women find their skin breaks out more due to the extra hormones produced during pregnancy, yet most of the typical treatments you’d reach for are off-limits. Along with salicylic acid, “benzoyl peroxide is often avoided during pregnancy because of its inflammatory properties and its potential to irritate the skin’s surface,” explains Los Angeles-based board-certified dermatologist Howard Lancer, MD. The safety of the latter also hasn’t been well-established. What’s the alternative? “Usually during pregnancy, acne treatment consists of using an alpha hydroxy acid as an exfoliant,” says Dr. Lancer. “Glycolic acid is an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial exfoliating agent. This fruit acid helps re-establish the skin barrier function,” he explains. During pregnancy, you can visit your dermatologist for a mild glycolic acid peel in order to speed healing on current breakouts and help prevent new ones. Learn more about managing acne during pregnancy here.
The concern: Wrinkles
The typical treatment: Tretinoin, retinol
The pregnancy-friendly treatment: Glycolic acid
The why: As we mentioned earlier, forms of vitamin A like tretinoin and retinol are all off-limits during pregnancy, as they could potentially cause birth defects in a developing fetus. So, what can you do to keep those creases at bay for nine months? “Glycolic acid is an exfoliating agent that can be used to peel crepe-y skin with fine textural changes,” says Dr. Lancer. “The sloughing of these cells will lead to the skin renewing itself, causing the appearance of wrinkles to diminish over time.” You can ask your dermatologist to recommend a brand of pregnancy-safe pre-soaked glycolic acid pads, and use nightly for a one-two punch against both acne and wrinkles. We’re particularly fond of Elizabeth Arden® Skin Illuminating Retexturizing Pads ($56), which are formulated with glycolic acid, as well as amino acids to help nourish the skin.
The concern: Large pores
The typical treatment: Tretinoin, microneedling
The pregnancy-friendly treatment: Glycolic acid, microneedling
The why: Here’s yet another instance where glycolic acid comes in handy during pregnancy: “With glycolic use, the new cells that replace the removed cells will appear more youthful — and be composed of pores that appear tighter,” says Dr. Lancer. If you’re looking to switch things up, there’s another treatment that can also help refine the skin’s surface during pregnancy — microneedling.
Sterile, surgical-grade needles briefly penetrate the skin’s surface, so the treatment is superficial: “The mechanical stimulation creates controlled inflammation, which leads to controlled repair of skin cells,” says Dr. Lancer. Basically, the skin reacts to the tiny punctures by producing more collagen and new cells, leading to a smoother surface and smaller pores with lessened wrinkles. One word of caution: “Women who are pregnant and breastfeeding should make sure to be fully guided by a certified dermatologist before beginning use of any of the above treatments or products,” Dr. Lancer warns. A board-certified doctor who knows the precautions to take during pregnancy is the best person to trust.
The concern: Unwanted facial hair
The typical treatment: Laser hair removal
The pregnancy-friendly treatment: Dermaplaning
The why: We mentioned earlier that lasers aren’t recommended during pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean you’re doomed when it comes to nixing unwanted hair. “Waxing, threading, and shaving are safe hair removal options during pregnancy,” says Dr. Guanche. If you were already in the process of laser hair removal before becoming pregnant, or are planning to start after you give birth, you should avoid any method that removes hair by the root, as that’s what the laser needs to target in order to destroy the hair follicles.
“Some pregnant clients like to try dermaplaning while they wait to resume laser sessions,” says Andréa Young, licensed laser specialist and co-owner of Beam Laser Spa® in New York City. This dermatologist- or aesthetician-administered treatment (which involves using a sterile scalpel to gently “shave” away dead skin painlessly, leaving your face smoother and more even) is meant to exfoliate and smooth skin, but it also has the added benefit of removing hair — even the tiniest peach fuzz. “It’s the ideal back-up plan to laser, because it leaves the follicle roots intact,” explains Young. As a bonus, your creams, serums, and makeup will absorb more effectively, and your skin will look temporarily smoother. See our beauty editor Sophie Wirt experience a professional dermaplaning treatment here.
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