Glamour posted "11 Best Pregnancy-Safe Skin Care and Postpartum Beauty Products. The article features Dr. Purvisha Patel and Visha Skincare Mommy Brightener with Illuminotex, a product specially formulated to correct hyperpigmentation and melasma.
Your beauty routine will likely change dramatically during pregnancy and postpartum. We asked dermatologists for their guidance—and their go-to beauty picks.
No one prepared me for the many skin changes during pregnancy. I knew switching to a pregnancy-safe skin care routine would be part of the lifestyle changes I'd be making—no raw sushi, no alcohol, no retinol—but I wasn't expecting the many hormonal and vascular changes that come with pregnancy that create a litany of new skin concerns.
Within weeks my normally combination skin had turned desert-dry and painfully sensitive. Red flaky patches appeared around my chin and mouth, and nothing—I mean nothing—seemed to soothe them.
Skin changes like this are very common during pregnancy, says Michele Farber, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Philadelphia. Acne, melasma and pigment changes, stretch marks, varicose veins, and skin tags are all par for the course during pregnancy. “These are due to a combination of hormonal changes as well as increases in blood volume and swelling, which contribute to dilated veins,” she explains.
Dryness and itchiness are also common due to “hormonal changes and stretching of the skin,” Dr. Farber says; however, “if rashes are persistent or spreading, it is important to discuss with your dermatologist or obstetrician to rule out certain internal causes that require treatment.”
With a lot of trial and error, I finally got my skin barrier under control (shout-out to Paula's Choice Advanced Replenishing Toner and Dr. Jart's Ceramidin Skin Barrier Moisturizing Cream). Still, navigating the best skin care for pregnancy and postpartum skin has been added stress during a time already filled with many changes.
To make navigating all your skin changes during pregnancy easier, we asked top dermatologists to break down everything you need to know about a postpartum and pregnancy-safe skin care routine and for their favorite products to see you through.
What are the most common skin changes during pregnancy?
“Pregnancy hormones temporarily increase the production of melanin, the pigment molecule in the skin,” says Carmen Castilla, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. Not all women will develop these dark patches (typically on the face and made worse with sun exposure), but they can be annoying, commonly appearing during the second or third trimester. “For many women melasma will fade postpartum as hormones normalize,” she says. For some women melasma sticks around. Talk to your dermatologist about treatment options.
Stretch marks are common outside of pregnancy, but up to 90% of women get them during pregnancy. “There is a big genetic component to the development of stretch marks,” says Dr. Castilla. “If your mother had stretch marks, you are more likely to have them too.” You can get them at any point during pregnancy, but they most commonly develop around six or seven months, as your body really starts to stretch. “Stretch marks are a sign the skin is being pulled to accommodate the growing fetus,” she explains. “They are essentially micro-tears in the dermis and a sign of loss of elasticity.” The good news? Most fade over time.
All that stretching can also cause dry itching skin. “As your skin stretches to accommodate the growing fetus, it requires increased hydration,” says Dr. Castilla. Moisturizing religiously is key. If that's not helping, it could be a sign of an underlying issue. “There are pregnancy-related skin conditions besides dry skin that can cause your abdomen to itch,” she says. “Some are benign, but others can be more serious.” Some women deal with hivelike bumps (likely benign), while others report blisters or intense itching that's also present on their palms and feet. If you're dealing with any of these, talk to your doctor.
Linea nigra, “a dark vertical line running down the center of the abdomen, usually extending from the belly button down to the pubic area,” per Dr. Castilla, is also common, though less talked about. Another hormonal change, it typically fades postpartum.
Varicose veins and spider veins
As your growing fetus puts pressure on your veins, you might develop varicose veins, “bluish, bulging veins typically on the lower extremities,” explains Dr. Castilla. Hormonal changes can also cause spider veins, “tiny red veins that can occur anywhere on the body but typically appear on the legs,” she says. The good news is that both usually disappear after pregnancy—a good pair of compression socks can help speed the process.
And of course there's the dreaded pregnancy acne. With so many hormonal changes during pregnancy, this is common for many women. If you find your skin to be excessively oily and prone to breakouts, make sure you're cleansing twice a day, and using a pregnancy-safe acne treatment. (More on that below.)
What is a pregnancy-safe skin care routine?
Along with cutting out certain foods, pregnancy also requires you to cut out certain skin care ingredients, which can be harmful to the baby. “While there are guidelines from the FDA regarding pregnancy safety categories for ingredients, there are still very few studies evaluating the safety of many skin care products—because no one wants to do studies on pregnant humans,” says Dr. Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York. Pregnancy safe skin care advice can vary between doctors, she says, but “most providers believe in a conservative approach to avoid any unnecessary products during pregnancy.”
What skin care ingredients should I avoid while pregnant?
Retinoids (vitamin A)
“High levels of vitamin A can cause retinoid embryopathy, or birth defects, in developing babies,” says Dr. Farber. For this reason, oral retinoids like isotretinoin are banned during pregnancy. The risk of using a topical retinoid is likely much lower, she says, but because the potential effects are so severe, and so little research has been done to understand the topical risks, it's best to err on the side of caution.
Theoretically, topical use of retinoids can lead to a systemic increase in vitamin A, which would be dangerous for the fetus, Dr. Castilla adds. “Bakuchiol is a pregnancy-safe alternative to retinoids,” she says.
Likewise, “salicylic acid has the potential to be absorbed and cause toxicity to the fetus,” says Dr. Farber. “Many experts believe that lower percentages are acceptable, especially in products like washes that have short contact with the skin.” But, again, it's best to swap salicylic acid for something known to be pregnancy-safe, like glycolic acid, lactic acid, or azelaic acid.
Phthalates are potential endocrine disruptors, meaning they are thought to interfere with normal hormone function. This is obviously important during pregnancy, and there's evidence that exposure to phthalates “can interfere with the baby's development, especially with male genital development,” says Dr. Farber. In 2022 the National Institutes of Health released a large study on phthalate exposure during pregnancy and found women exposed to multiple sources of the chemicals had an increased risk of preterm birth.
Unfortunately, phthalates are everywhere, from food and plastic packaging to skin and hair products. “We have essentially no ability to completely avoid exposure,” says Dr. Castilla. But you can try to minimize your exposure during pregnancy by switching to phthalate-free beauty products.
What can I expect from my skin postpartum?
Your skin may go through some significant changes after giving birth as well. “As estrogen and progesterone levels drop postpartum, the skin can feel dry, inflamed, and dull,” says Dr. Farber. Lack of sleep and the stress of new parenthood doesn't help. “Skin can be irritated and prone to eczema,” she says. “It's also possible that breakouts worsen.”
Postpartum, you can theoretically go back to your old skin care routine, though you may want to reintroduce harsher ingredients like retinols slowly to avoid extra dryness. “Retinols are likely acceptable even in breastfeeding, but it is best to discuss this with your dermatologist first and start slowly,” Dr. Farber says. “Be careful combining exfoliant acids like glycolic and salicylic, especially if restarting a retinol.” To combat the dryness, reach for gentle hydrators—moisturizers with ceramides, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid are all great, she says.
Ahead, dermatologists share their favorite skin care and beauty products for pregnancy and postpartum.
11 Best Pregnancy-Safe Skin Care and Postpartum Beauty Products
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“Visha is a dermatologist- and mom-founded brand with products formulated with that unique point of view that only a dermatologist and mom can provide,” says Dr. Casey. “I have recommended the Mommy Brightener to countless patients over the years who struggle with melasma or pigmentation during pregnancy,” she says and vouches for the potent formula packed with skin brighteners (like kojic acid), antioxidants (vitamins C & E), and azelaic acid to help reduce inflammation and redness.
La Roche Posay Lipikar AP-M Triple Repair Body Moisturizer
Both Dr. Farber and Dr. Castilla recommend this gentle moisturizer for healing dry pregnancy skin. Formulated with shea butter, an emollient that helps repair damaged skin, and glycerin, a humectant that helps pull moisture into the skin, this one is a slam dunk for itchy skin as your body stretches.
Skinceuticals C E Ferulic
Ask a dermatologist for a pregnancy-safe retinol alternative and many will point you to vitamin C. “Vitamin C is safe in pregnancy and helpful to protect the skin and manage uneven pigment,” says Dr. Farber. “Skinceuticals CE Ferulic is one of my favorites.” Though pricey, this serum has legions of loyal fans thanks to its proven ability to reduce oxidative damage from pollution while also enhancing that pregnancy glow.
Glytone Enhance Brightening Complex
Dr. Farber recommends this lightweight face cream for hyperpigmentation and pregnancy acne. “It has glycolic acid and azelaic acid to help with breakouts and skin tone,” she says. Plus, it's gentle enough to apply morning and night.
Aveeno Eczema Therapy
Both Dr. Farber and Dr. Castilla also recommend this “great moisturizer for sensitive skin.” This drugstore formula is boosted with ceramides, to help keep your skin barrier strong as it stretches, and also contains soothing oat for any pregnancy-related irritation.
Colorscience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield
“It's important not to skip sunscreen,” says Dr. Farber. “While skin care may be minimal during the busy postpartum period, daily sunscreen is important to protect the skin and prevent pigment issues. This is a gentle mineral formulation and also has a tint to double for coverage.”
Isdin Melatonik Overnight Recovery Serum
When it comes to pregnancy-safe retinol alternatives, bakuchiol is at the top of many dermatologists' lists—including Dr. Farber's. This serum oil hybrid also contains vitamin C (hello, extra glow) and melatonin to help ward off pregnancy insomnia.
SkinBetter InterFuse Treatment Cream Face and Neck
If you're looking for a retinol alternative, this cream uses a blend of peptides and olive extract that's calming for sensitive pregnancy skin. “This is a great option with peptides to help stimulate collagen,” says Dr. Farber. Apply it morning and night on your face and décolletage to soothe and firm.
SkinBetter Even Tone Correcting Serum
For pigment issues Dr. Farber recommends ingredients like kojic acid, alpha-arbutin, and tranexamic acid. SkinBetter's serum is one of her favorites, particularly for treating melasma. Apply morning and evening (just be sure to apply sunscreen in the a.m.).
La Roche Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Facial Cleanser
It's not uncommon to find yourself needing a new daily cleanser during pregnancy. For the next nine months, gentle is the name of the game. Formulated with ceramides and niacinamide (beloved by derms for its ability to moisturize, calm redness, and reduce the appearance of dark spots), it's "great for sensitive dry skin and cleanses without disrupting the skin barrier,” says Dr. Farber.
The Ordinary Azelaic Acid 10% Suspension Brightening Cream
“One of the biggest challenges during pregnancy is having to forgo retinoids and retinol, the holy grail of skincare routines,” says board-certified dermatologist, Angela Casey, MD. A reliable alternative is azelaic acid, which Casey says is "a clinically proven, pregnancy-safe ingredient that helps settle redness and inflammation in the skin.” Another reason why experts like Casey love azelaic acid is because it can help decrease pigmentation by inhibiting the tyrosinase enzyme, one of the key mediators in pigment production. “Pregnancy is notorious for revving up our pigment-producing cells, or melanocytes. This can manifest as uneven skin tone or as melasma.” As a final bonus, Casey says azelaic acid also gently exfoliates skin, leaving it brighter and glowier.