The Special Effects of Pregnancy on Beauty

Sometimes it’s not so pretty!
woman taking a selfie with her baby
© Can Stock Photo / dolgachov

What does pregnancy look like in today’s world of perfectly-staged Instagram feeds of cappuccino hearts and photoshopped selfies? Marketing and media has, without doubt, had a profound impact on the way we view our bodies … and our choices. Add pregnancy to an already difficult road to navigate, and a new layer of challenge is added, whether it be physical or emotional, profound or manageable. Regardless of the clean, well-posed, and oh-so-cute #babybump pictures on social media, the majority of us will probably experience something a little less picture-perfect as we go through pregnancy. It’s necessary to keep in mind that much of what we believe to be imperfections are actual normal matters that simply aren't openly discussed, as they are far less glamorous than those perfectly-posed photos let on.

Discard the advertised ideals

Attempting to live up to advertised ideals, whether pregnant or not, creates pressure to be something that is, in reality, unattainable. This leads to a poor attachment to our own story—and development as a person—and robs us of an incredibly special and intimate experience. As your body changes and settles into pregnancy, try to be present with your experience in whatever shape it takes. This is the single most important piece of advice that will help you to embrace the joyful, navigate your fluctuating hormones, separate yourself from the unreality of celebrity #mommybounceback social media feeds, and love (at least a little) those less-than-exciting body changes.

How do we come to terms with our morphing bodies and these magical, hormonal concoctions of chemicals? While the changes to our bodies may be alarming or disappointing, the majority of these transformations will improve or change again after childbirth. Remember: all these alterations and marks are warrior scars of a battle well-fought!

You don't have struggle through those changes alone! Check out these common skin and beauty complaints: help is on the way!

Hormonal glow or greasy woe?

The sudden wave of hormones that comes with pregnancy can create the glow we often associate with pregnancy, but it may also cause too much oil to be produced, triggering acne. During pregnancy, some women who normally suffer from acne find their skin becomes blemish-free, while others, who had never complained of acne before, experience preteen, high-school-skin woes. With the wide variety of skin care options available, it's tempting to grab an over-the-counter treatment and dab away.

However, Christine Bigelow, a Holistic Health Practitioner with extra training in pregnancy and early childhood nutrition, warns that products we may be tempted to use, such as acne cream or oral medications, might be harmful to your unborn child. Not enough is known about the possible effects of using salicylic acid (also called beta hydroxy acid) and benzoyl peroxide during pregnancy. You should also steer clear of retinoids and retinols (vitamin A derivatives), such as Retin-A, and oral acne medications, such as tetracycline and Accutane, as they can cause birth defects.

If much of what's on drugstore shelves can be dangerous for baby, what can you use to combat that pregnancy acne? Although there are no definitive medical studies on the effectiveness of apple cider vinegar and witch hazel extracts in the treatment of acne, decades of anecdotal evidence suggest that these natural alternatives do work for some, and are definitely worth a shot. The antiseptic properties of apple cider vinegar and witch hazel have a disinfectant and tonifying action on the skin. Both work well to shrink pore size, reduce the amount of dead skin cells, and erase those pore-cloggers: bacteria and sebum. The mild antiseptic effect can also help stop the growth of acne-causing bacteria, thus reducing the number of whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples already on the skin, and those threatening to erupt.

Acne tip

Try a mixture of 1 tablespoon powdered oatmeal (ground in a coffee grinder), 1 tablespoon raw honey, and 1 teaspoon witch hazel for an excellent exfoliant and facial mask to reduce oils and clogged pores. Apply by massaging it onto your face in upward circles, leave on for a few minutes, then wash off with warm water.

My pregnancy mask is not beaming: it's blotchy!

The increase in hormones also causes your melanin cells to produce more pigment in your skin. The production of melanin has many positive functions, including the absorption of UV light, which diminishes the risk of skin cancer, and provides protection against photoaging. Melanin in overdrive isn't harmful, but will cause already dark areas like freckles, areolas, and the line that runs down your belly, called the linea nigra, to darken. Totally normal.

You also may find that when outside, in place of a sun-kissed glow, you see blotchiness, browning, and spots forming on your cheeks, chin, or forehead. This is called melasma, also known as the mask of pregnancy. The two biggest triggers are hormonal changes and sunshine, along with genetics and skin type. According to the National Institute of Health, about 6 million women in the United States are estimated to struggle with melasma. This will often fade on its own after pregnancy with the reduction in hormones.

The greatest prevention strategy for melasma is protection: protect your skin from sunlight when outside, keep exposure to a minimum, and wear sunscreen. Keep your skin care regimen simple and soft. Harsh toners and cleansers can irritate the skin, exacerbating hyperpigmentation.

Melasma tip

Aloe vera can be used safely while pregnant to treat brown spots. You can buy it in gel form or use the gel from the plant itself! Aloe vera contains mucilaginous polysaccharides that can lighten the skin and help to eliminate the brown spots. Massage the spots with a small amount and leave it on overnight, washing it off in the morning.

Baby bump or alien invasion?

Many of us, regardless of pregnancy preparedness, aren't ready for what it’s like to grow another being in our bellies. Your belly will grow and move in ways that you didn't believe were possible, and your skin will just keep stretching and stretching (and stretching…). This surreal process can result in lines on the skin, most predominantly on the belly, but also on our breasts and thighs, called stretch marks.

These lines have been linked to increased pregnancy hormones and stretching of the tissue under the skin. Stretch marks take place when the collagen and elastin in the skin stretch to the point of no return, so to speak. Another theory suggests the culprit may be a lack of the essential nutrients for proper collagen and elastin synthesis. Exactly what causes one woman to have stretch marks and not another is still not well understood. It appears, though, that heredity can play a role: if your mom has marks then you probably will too. Although rapid weight gain is considered a contributing factor, some women who gain very little weight still get stretch marks.

Creams and oils on the market promising stretch mark prevention can vary in efficacy. In order to keep your skin at its best, rub body butter high in vitamin E all over your hips, thighs, bum, belly, and breasts. Steer clear of creams that contain parabens, petroleum, fragrance/perfumes and instead look for ones made from natural ingredients, like shea and cocoa butters. Starting this routine early may help reduce the severity of stretch marks and can also ensure the skin is moisturized to reduce itchiness. During pregnancy, as the blood supply to the skin increases, it's very common to experience mild itching. Maintaining a well-moisturized belly is imperative to best support your own comfort, and ever-stretching skin. Often stretch marks will reduce in colour and severity postpartum, and with proper care, can fade until almost negligible.

Stretch mark tip

Try a cold compress applied directly to the belly with a flannel cloth or towel to relieve itchiness. You can also include baking soda or ground oatmeal to the compress for further anti-inflammatory action.

What happened to my face?

Once baby arrives, many of our prenatal discomforts will be alleviated with the plunging levels of progesterone. However, the twists and turns of this hormonal roller coaster aren’t over. Many of us will be surprised by our almost unrecognizable reflection looking back at us in the mirror. Who is this woman, and what did she do with my face?? Our mommy-to-be glow has been replaced with a dull and grey complexion revealing puffy, dark circles, and fine lines seemingly overnight.

Welcome to the club: you have what has been coined 'mom face'!

The reduction in our “mommy glow” progesterone levels that kept skin firmer and thicker now gives way to the tell-tale signs of aging. This plummet in hormones—along with not getting enough sleep, a lack of personal nutrition and care, not to mention the stress of either being a first-time mom or organizing the structure of adding a new baby into the fold of siblings—will most predominantly show up on your face.

Have we been replaced with this imposter forevermore!? Not entirely! But you do have to remember how important it is, even if seemingly an impossible task, to take the time to care for yourself. Whatever tricks you can muster to get in the habit of caring for yourself, is what you need to do. It is imperative not only in reclaiming your “glow” but also to the overall health of your family.

Embrace food and water (no, really!!)

Brighten a tired-looking complexion by getting hydrated! Leaving water containers (non-plastic) by the bed, in the bathroom, the living room, and kitchen can help to remind you to drink water. Dehydration is a big contributor to a dull and dry complexion and should become a habit before baby comes.

When we are in baby care mode, remembering to eat regularly becomes a chore. At the very least, when you pack up baby’s bag for the day, throw in some healthy on-the-go snacks for yourself, like pumpkin seeds. Pumpkins seeds are high in vitamin E and zinc to help in the formation of new skin cells as well as collagen, the compound responsible for maintaining the elasticity of your skin.

A quick facial refresh

Take a few minutes to splash very cold water on your face in the morning and before bed, while using a moisturizer directly after. Not only is this a great morning wake-up, cold water constricts the blood vessels so that less blood goes to the surface of the skin, reducing puffiness around the eyes. If time allows, add a few ice cubes to your cold-water splash by dunking the face directly into a bowl of ice water for 10-30 second intervals. This will tone the face, smoothing and tightening the skin, and diminishing the size of pores by removing debris and excess sebum. Skin icing has also shown to reduce wrinkles and slow the signs of new ones.

How to look put together when you're feeling anything but!

Try this quick 5-minute make-up routine to get you looking your new-mommy best!

Apply a natural concealer under the eyes in a triangular shape, using a latex-free concealer sponge to blend it in. Then, apply a pressed powder with a flathead make-up brush for better blending. Get a fresh look, while lifting the face, with some blush on the upper part of the cheeks. If time permits, dab on a light matte brown to the eyelid, and go brown rather than black for an easy, and forgiving, eyeliner application. Add a little mascara, swipe some gloss on your lips and you are out the door! Well, almost out the door…once you find your keys, the blankie, and baby’s missing bootie.

The key to riding the hormonal roller coaster and moving through the bumps and curves of pregnancy and child birth is to learn how to really love, accept, and acknowledge your body for its magnificent capacity to bring forth life. So, be kind to yourself! As tired, grouchy, and less-than-perfect as you might feel, it's only for a short time and it is so worth it!