When I found out I was pregnant (unexpectedly, yet joyfully) my first thoughts – after the elation, excitement and obligatory ‘oh-my-god-who-let-this-happen-i-don’t-know-how-to-raise-a-CHILD’ freak out – were about my face. Specifically, my pigmentation. It had cropped up on my forehead after a bout of medication which made me hyper-sensitive and was forming itself into an intricate world map of splotches, which would’ve been cool – except it was on my face. I had been treating it, diligently, with laser, active products and a strict ‘no sun’ policy and had started to see some results… but while my heart was bursting with the joy of what was to come, my head was calculating all the money (and diligence) that had just gone down the toilet.
Because, not only was laser and hydroquinone (one of the products I was using to fade my pigmentation) not deemed safe for pregnant women, the crazy hormones that were already pumping through my system would make me more sun sensitive, and almost definitely give me more pigmentation. They say motherhood is all about surrender… and surrendering my beauty routine was the first rude, pigmenty lesson in that.
It’s not that I’m particularly vain – three years of travel has beaten most of that out of me – it’s more that the career in beauty editing had armed me with enough information to know that for the next nine months (or more, if I breastfed… which I still am), I would be throwing out any romantic (read: “delusional”) ideas I might have about looking like I’m in my 20s. That’s because, basically anything that might help me in that department (Botox, retinal) are big, fat no-nos on the pregnancy front. As Dr. Melissa Doft, double-board certified plastic surgeon can attest, “two ingredients which pregnant women should avoid are retinals (used for anti-aging and acne) and hydroquinolone (a skin lightener). There have been four cases in the published literature in which topical retinal use lead to fetal retinoid syndrome (mental and physical birth defects). Hydroquinolone is not recommended because it has a very high absorbency rate, although it has not been linked to congenital malformations, it has not been well studied.” And that, is exactly the problem: there simply haven’t been enough studies on enough ingredients to know what exactly is harmful and what isn’t, because understandably, no one is willing to play guinea pig with a pregnant woman. “Most things we really do not know if they are safe; we just try to avoid what is not absolutely necessary,” says Dr. Doft.
And that is pretty much what I did – just went gently. Yes, Africa and North America joined together on my forehead, but I knew that melasma was pretty much inevitable, and I was too concerned with finding new, creative ways to use pillows so my hips didn’t hurt, and you know, growing a baby to worry.
What became more important, as the months rolled on was making myself feel good. Using beauty as a little self-care ritual so I could feel more like me, and less like a bloated, washed-up jellyfish.
What did that look like for me? In a nutshell: baths and oil. Sometimes, even together when I really wanted to get the party started. Every day of my pregnancy I used the Weleda stretch mark massage oil. I smothered it religiously over my boobs and my tummy post-shower. Now, any self-respecting beauty editor will tell you that stretch mark oils don’t cure or even prevent stretch marks (we can thank genetics for that one), but it does make your skin more supple/elastic so it can actually stretch easier. Really, I just used it because I liked the smell and it felt good, like I was having a moment with my baby each day. Especially as my tummy grew from ‘had a big lunch’ to ‘definitely a baby in there’.
I got a mani once a month and took in my own polish that was at least “7-free” – which, in beauty speak, means it’s free from seven potentially harmful or toxic ingredients (including formaldehyde, Dibutyl Phthalate [DBP], Toluene, Formaldehyde Resin and Camphor, just to name a few). My favorites were a couple of Aussie brands, Paint Nail Lacquer and Kester Black – both of which are actually 10-free. My hands were always in a neutral shade because it would somehow make me feel like I had my life/shit together, yet also hide the inevitable chips I would get (from not having it together). And I’d also get a pedi in a bright color, because even if I couldn’t see my feet, I wanted to know they were having a fiesta down there. I’d do a sheet mask once a week, often in the bath. I would wear a red lipstick (my beloved, well-worn Nars Audacious Lipstick in Lana), especially on days I was feeling crappy. I wore a physical sunscreen every.single.day (I practically have shares in Ultra Violette Clean Screen) so I wouldn’t aggravate the situation on my forehead, but also because it’s the one anti-ageing product you can always rely on (and frankly the only one I had left). I brushed, and often curled, my newly lustrous pregnancy hair (this was a glorious upside to being pregnant – I had the hair I always dreamed of!) I spent time on my brows. And I used a gentle, paraben, and fragrance free body lotion (an Aussie, super-affordable drugstore brand, The Goat Skincare) because it felt good, and also because if my largest organ was going to absorb anything I wanted to make sure that it was safe.
And I took a lot of baths. Almost every day, in fact. I even gave birth in a bath (not my own, but a bath nonetheless) Because they’re my happy place and also because nothing ached when I was in the tub. I’d light a fancy candle, splash in a couple drops of body oil (my absolute all-time is Sodashi Serenity Body Oil) and just bob around for a while. And then I’d emerge, ungraciously and whale-like, but at least my skin would have a silky, smooth, scented glean to it.
Really, I just tried to treat whatever came my way, and nourish myself and my skin in whatever way possible. But, enough about my face, let’s hear about someone else’s… two former beauty directors, mothers and mates of mine. Because, as with everything in pregnancy, what happens to your skin during that time, and what routine you follow, is completely individual.
Leigh Campbell, host of Australia’s biggest beauty podcast, You Beauty, and new mama says: “I’m normally combo/oily but found in pregnancy my skin was really dry. So instead of lightweight gels, mattifying formulas and long wear foundations, I was all about hydration. The products I used pre-pregnancy contained a pregnancy safe version of Vitamin A, so I had intended to keep using it, however my skin was more sensitive so couldn’t handle it.” She’s also a huge advocate for the oils using both the Weleda body oil and body butter for the body and The Jojoba Company jojoba oil for the face – both to keep hydrated. As someone who has used – and shared her experience with – Botox, I asked Leigh what alternatives she used during pregnancy. “Nothing, just suffered. Ha. But seriously, there really isn’t a substitute in my eyes and if there is a topical equivalent I’d be wary of using it when pregnant. But the weight I put on plumped my face nicely and I was happy with my non-Botox-ed face while pregnant.” She also offers this genius tip for those who have a C-section. “Once your surgeon gives you the all clear, usually at six weeks, grab a silicon gel from the chemist to help fade the scar.”
Alexis Teasdale, editor of @thefestiveco and mama of three, shares my love of the tub. Naturally she doesn’t have a whole lot of time, but says, “One thing I do prioritize is having a bath. I love, love, love my bath and having them during pregnancy meant I actually made time for sheet masks too, so my face and body (and mind!) were all benefiting from it. I especially love enzyme masks and the bath is the perfect time with all the steam.” Like Leigh, Alexis’ skin got even drier in pregnancy so she used Avene Tolerance Creme to combat; “An extra thick cream that I used in the day when I felt like my skin was really struggling.” But that’s not all – she also used this hack: “I started taking off my cream cleanser with a Enjo pad. I know they’re supposed to be used without product, but found the slight grip removed any flakiness on my skin and prepped it better for the products to follow.” Her other big tip: Switching to Slip silk pillowcases. “I must admit, I’d had them for years and never really tried them properly, thinking they wouldn’t make that much of a difference. How wrong I was!! I can’t believe the difference this has made. I wake up and my skin doesn’t feel tight. I love that my (extremely frizzy) hair was smooth in the mornings too.”
What about the experts? What advice do they give – and do they follow it? We asked that too. Nadine Abramcyk, co-founder of Tenoverten is one of the pioneers of non-toxic nail care (check out their amazing new polish collab with HATCH here). For nails she says, “There are some potentially harmful airborne ingredients in nail polishes that may become dangerous if you are breathing them in frequently. It’s important to avoid formaldehyde (whether expecting or not) because it is a known carcinogen and is typically hiding in your base coat and used as a preservative and nail hardener.” She also recommends being mindful of the air quality in the salon, sitting next to a clean air source and avoiding acetone-based polish remover (which in very high concentrations can be potentially harmful to the fetus).
Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, dermatologist and founder of Dr Loretta Skincare, advises always speaking to your OB doctor to discuss your routine during pregnancy, however “there are some we know aren’t good, as they’re hormone disruptors: oxybenzone, parabens, phthalates and lavender.” She also adds that some essential oils and fragrances should be avoided, “cinnamon, wintergreen (mint), camphor, basil and parsley have been reported to interfere with pregnancy,” she says, “and almost all women are much more sun sensitive during pregnancy. So, be very cautious about consistent use of SPF!”
And finally, Dr. Doft weighs in with this advice: “Hormonal changes may increase the amount of acne you have, so I suggest washing your face twice daily with a gentle cleanser. Your pores will be more susceptible to clogging so use a lighter moisturizer or consider only using a serum.”
But through all this joy – the potential acne, the sun sensitivity, the hyperpigmentation, the stretch marks, and varicose veins, there is an upside for your face. “During pregnancy your progesterone levels are elevated, which dilate blood vessels boosting your skin’s circulation to give you a pregnant glow. Also estrogen levels are elevated which increase the levels of collagen to make skin stronger and reduce fine lines,” says Dr. Doft. So yes, there might not be Botox or hydroquinone, but there is something better (and free!) that you get for a whole nine months: a bona fide natural glow. Ain’t procreation something?