Just found out you’re expecting? Congratulations! Along with the excitement of falling pregnant comes a few lifestyle changes – so we asked Dr Hope Dinh, principle dermatologist and director of Hope Dermatology and mum of two, to give us her advice on pregnancy-safe skincare.
Which ingredients do you typically recommend women steer clear of while pregnant, and why?
If you are newly pregnant you may be noticing some big changes in your skin! Changes in hormones can result in an increase in oil, sweat, and increased circulation. If you’re one of the lucky ones, this all results in the “pregnancy glow”. For the rest of us, increased oil and sweat = pimples and breakouts, and improved circulation = splotchy and red! Pregnancy can also wreak havoc with your barrier protection, leading to dry, irritated or sensitive skin.
It’s important during pregnancy to review any prescription creams you may have been prescribed pre-pregnancy and check with your doctor if it is safe to continue their use. As a hard and fast rule, ANY prescription Vitamin A product should preferably be stopped throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. Rest assured though, studies have shown these products are often poorly absorbed through the skin and broken down quickly and have demonstrated no adverse effects to baby with accidental exposure.
Any prescription fading product containing ingredients such as Hydroquinone should also be stopped as these do have a higher rate of absorption through the skin.
Some women think they need to switch to completely natural skincare and body products during their pregnancy, is this true?
Absolutely not. In most cases, you can continue your regular skincare regime and tweak it depending on the changes you experience and your skin’s needs. Dry skin may require more hydration or barrier protection (hyaluronic acid, vitamin B) whilst conversely increased oil production with pregnancy may benefit from the addition of an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid such as lactic or glycolic) or BHA (salicylic acid).
Skin can become more sensitive during pregnancy and many “natural” skincare products contain plant-based ingredients which can feature quite high on the list of skin allergens and can actually irritate the skin further.
What’s the most common myth around pregnancy-safe skincare?
You’ll often hear that you should stop any skincare containing Salicylic acid (BHA, commonly found in acne or brightening serums or washes). The rationale behind this is that regular use of these products can lead to a systemic build-up of salicylates, which can have a toxic metabolic effect. Salicylic acid is chemically related to aspirin which when medically indicated, can be used in low doses. The amount of salicylate that is absorbed through the skin via topical skincare is negligible and risk during pregnancy is low.
Contrary to popular opinion in both the public and medical fields, over-the-counter Vitamin A products (retinol) can be used safely during pregnancy under the guidance of your doctor. We know that oral isotretinoin medication does cause birth defects and so I advise patients using prescriptions topical tretinoin to cease use, however, widely available over-the-counter skincare containing the much less potent forms of Vitamin A such as Retinyl Palmitate, Retinol or Retinaldehyde pose very little risk when used during pregnancy. These forms are significantly weaker, are poorly absorbed through the skin and are usually found in low concentration in skincare.
Care should certainly be taken to avoid skin irritation and I would generally recommend a low dose and titrate up in strength if well tolerated. Always consult your doctor if you have any concerns.
Pigmentation is a common skin concern that can arise during pregnancy, which ingredients are safe to use to help manage pigmentation while pregnant and breastfeeding?
Pigmentation can be such a tricky condition to treat and often requires the full arsenal of home care, prescription therapy and cosmetic procedures. The most important thing you can do for your skin pre-pregnancy, during and post-pregnancy is to incorporate the use of a high quality, daily SPF 50+ into your skincare regime.
Pregnancy-safe products that can help reduce pigmentation include Vitamin B, antioxidants such as Vitamin C, Azelaic acid, and exfoliants like your AHA/BHA products. Some treatments, such as skin needling (without topical anaesthetic!) and lactic peels are safe both during pregnancy and breastfeeding and are an effective way to address both pigment and minor breakouts.
Tell us, what are your own skincare go-to’s when pregnant or breastfeeding?
Sunscreen. Sunscreen. Sunscreen. And an active AHA/BHA serum to target breakouts, with a hydrating, non-occlusive moisturiser at night to prevent sensitivity.
I tend to switch my moisturiser during pregnancy as I find my skin becomes more oily. And I slow down with some of my active skincare (alternate nights) as I find I get slightly more sensitive.
Dr Hope Dinh is the principle dermatologist and director at Hope Dermatology in South Melbourne. She has a 2-year-old and a four-year-old (and her skin breaks out with pregnancy every time!) Find Hope Dermatology on Instagram here.