The elusive 'glow'. We've all heard of it, and while some women are lucky to have a gorgeously glowing complexion throughout pregnancy, many suffer the reality of developing acne, pigmentation marks, skin tags, spider veins, dry skin, itchy skin, and even sensitivity to products they've used for years (oh, and stretch marks too!). Here are some of the most common complaints and how to tackle them, face on.
Skyrocketing hormonal changes often cause an increase in the skin's natural oil production, resulting in acne that can be anywhere from a very mild case to severe breakouts on your face, back and chest. The oil builds up, mixes with dead skin cells and clogs the pores, allowing bacteria to grow and form a pimple.
And here comes more bad news, many acne treatments are considered not safe for use during pregnancy (or breastfeeding).
Skin experts advise steering clear of a few ingredients that are potentially harmful to a growing baby – always do your research. Salicylic acid or BHA (beta hydroxy acid) should be avoided, especially in high doses. It's often found in a number of pimple-fighting formulas, thanks to its ability to penetrate deep into the skins layers to cleanse the pores, but is also questionable for use when expecting.
The best thing you can do for your skin is to religiously keep it clean by cleansing with a gentle face wash morning and night – and try to keep your fingers away from your face throughout the day.
You may like to consider switching to all-natural or organic products to totally avoid any chemicals entering your bloodstream and reaching baby. These days it's easy to pick up organic cleansers, toners, moisturisers and other goodies at the chemist, shopping centre, and even the supermarket.
You can also consider using mineral makeup if you need to cover blemishes. These products contain ingredients that primarily sit on top of the skin, rather than sinking in. They absorb excess shine and they're formulated with zinc oxide, which is a natural sunblock. Winning!
Have a chat to your health practitioner about what's best, especially if you're considering using acne treatments.
If you thought your skin would be radiant in pregnancy and have since found it's more reptilian, you're not alone. Lots of expectant mums experience dry, scaly skin – exactly the opposite to the aforementioned overly oily complexion. And some women experience both!
It's suggested that hormonal changes and a loss of fluids – which are now travelling to your baby – can have a dehydrating effect on the face and other body parts. But it's always worth mentioning any skin changes to your doctor or midwife.
Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water can help, as can loading up on serums, facial mists, water-based gels, and creamy cleansers without harmful chemicals (steer clear of Retinol or Retin-A which is often found in anti-aging formulas; always check labels).
You could also try using a room humidifier, which will add moisture to the air and therefore your skin. Central heating may play a part in drying out skin too, so try not to crank the temperature dial up. Also avoid taking hot baths and showers – stick to warm water instead, which isn't as drying.
It's not uncommon for mums-to-be to have itchy skin, especially around the growing tummy and breasts as skin stretches and tightens. Increased blood supply to the skin and hormonal changes can also take some of the blame (thanks hormones!), and eczema often worsens during pregnancy (though some women report that their condition actually improves).
Use mild, natural or un-fragranced cleansers and body washes, as some perfumes can irritate, and avoid anything that's loaded with unnecessary chemicals. Try soothing ingredients such as oatmeal or chamomile. Skincare products formulated for sensitive skin might work for you too.
Try putting a cool, wet compress on itchy areas that are driving you mad, and avoid going out in the heat of the day, or over-exposure to the sun, since heat can intensify the itching.
As with any concerns during pregnancy, talk to your caregiver who will be able to evaluate if there are any underlying concerns triggering excessive itchiness, particularly if you develop a rash.
The important thing to remember is that although every pregnancy is unique, many women suffer similar issues when it comes to changes in the skin, so you're not alone – and most of the common concerns such as acne, dry or itchy skin will subside shortly after baby is born.
Always seek advice from your doctor or dermatologist if something doesn't feel right. They may be able to prescribe a suitable treatment for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Above all else, don't stress. Changes to the skin and body are all part of the miracle of life, and once your little bub arrives, it'll have all been worth it.