Safe, Efficacious Skincare That Can Be Used If You’re Pregnant

By Lucy Slight
Lucy Slight unpacks the skincare options for those who are expecting. Photo / Getty Images

Is pregnancy causing breakouts, pigmentation and dull skin? Viva contributor Lucy Slight explains the ingredients that can help bring your skin back to life and shares a line-up of pregnancy-safe New Zealand skincare to splurge or save on.

During pregnancy and while breastfeeding, your skincare routine deserves special attention. You may be enjoying your pregnancy or postpartum journey with a bit of acne or melasma in tow, or maybe there’s no enjoyment to be had whatsoever and you feel like your skin has become nothing more than a husk.

Either way, you’re growing or have grown a real-life human and while the priority will be on caring for this complex wee being, it’s important to take time for yourself by giving your skin the TLC it deserves.

It will not be news to any pregnant woman that there are ingredients to avoid when it comes to skincare. Due to ethical considerations, pregnant women are typically excluded from clinical trials evaluating the safety of medications and skincare ingredients, so much of the advice out there is just to err on the side of caution where potentially toxic ingredients are concerned.

If you’re currently dealing with an increase in fine lines, the onslaught of pigmentation or breakouts galore, we’ve got your ingredient conundrums covered and a list of New Zealand skincare products to add to your shopping list.

Skin concern: Fine lines and wrinkles

Retinol and other forms of vitamin A such as retinal and tretinoin are go-to ingredients for ageing skin, and often used in the treatment of acne too.

However, during pregnancy and breastfeeding, women are advised to avoid excessive intake of vitamin A and its derivatives due to concerns about the potential to cause birth defects and impact fetal development.

In the treatment of fine lines, wrinkles and dull skin, retinols work by stimulating collagen production to provide structural support for the skin and keep it looking firm and plump. Retinols also promote cell turnover by exfoliating the skin, which helps improve the texture and tone, as well as boosting hydration and elasticity by supporting the skin’s natural moisture barrier function.

Hero ingredient alternatives

Vitamin C: This potent antioxidant helps brighten the skin, promotes collagen production, and reduces the appearance of fine lines. Vitamin C also plays a crucial role in supporting the skin’s natural repair processes. It helps accelerate wound healing, soothes inflammation, and promotes the regeneration of damaged skin cells.

Hyaluronic acid: Known for its ability to retain moisture, hyaluronic acid plumps up the skin, diminishing the look of wrinkles and improving overall skin texture.

Bakuchiol: A natural compound derived from the seeds and leaves of the Psoralea corylifolia plant, bakuchiol exhibits retinol-like properties by targeting similar pathways in the skin. Like retinol, bakuchiol enhances collagen production, which helps improve skin firmness and elasticity. It also promotes cell turnover and is generally more well-tolerated than retinol, making it a great alternative for sensitive skin.

Skin concern: Pigmentation

Pregnancy hormones can trigger melanin production leading to hyperpigmentation, also known as melasma or “pregnancy mask.” A common ingredient used to treat melasma and other forms of pigmentation such as sun spots is hydroquinone, known for its skin-lightening properties.

While hydroquinone primarily acts on the skin’s melanocytes (pigment-producing cells), some systemic absorption can occur, particularly when used in high concentrations or over large areas of the body. During pregnancy, there is a heightened sensitivity to potential risks associated with systemic exposure to medications and chemicals.

Hero ingredient alternatives

Vitamin C: Besides its anti-ageing benefits, vitamin C also helps fade dark spots and even out skin tone by inhibiting melanin production.

Azelaic acid: Along with its effective exfoliating benefits, azelaic acid actually works to reduce the formation of melanin, helping to fade dark spots, sun spots, and other forms of hyperpigmentation. For anyone looking to fade stretch marks, azelaic acid may help to reduce the appearance of these, too. If you can’t find a suitable product containing azelaic acid (they are quite hard to come by in New Zealand), glycolic acid is a more widely available alternative.

Skin concern: Acne

Pregnancy hormones can trigger acne flare-ups or exacerbate existing breakouts. Salicylic acid is one of the most common ingredients used in the treatment of acne, and while it is considered safe for topical use during pregnancy in low concentrations (typically up to 2 per cent), there are concerns about its safety when used in higher concentrations or in oral form during pregnancy - again, due to the risk of systemic toxicity.

If you use a salicylic acid product for breakouts but have concerns about the concentration, consult with your GP, midwife or OB for reassurance and peace of mind. And remember, if vitamin A is your acne-clearing ingredient of choice, you’ll need to put it away for the time being, too.

Hero ingredient alternatives

Tea tree oil: With its antimicrobial properties, tea tree oil can help combat acne-causing bacteria and reduce inflammation without posing risks to pregnancy.

Pre- and probiotics: When applied topically, prebiotics promote the growth and activity of these beneficial bacteria, helping to maintain a healthy skin microbiome. On the other hand, probiotics compete with acne-causing bacteria for space and nutrients on the skin’s surface, thereby reducing the proliferation of the bacteria associated with acne and breakouts.

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