Finding out that you’re pregnant can come with a cacophony of emotions: fear, excitement, trepidation, joy, etc. And if you’re a beauty editor, you might feel complete and utter panic when you find out about all of the potentially damaging chemicals you’ve been happily slapping onto your face up until the moment that second line made an appearance on your pregnancy test.
Yes, although this will be my first baby, writing about skincare day in and day out meant that I was already very much aware that certain skincare ingredients are a major no-no during pregnancy. And guess what? I was using all of them.
After a hasty cancellation of a pretty intense acid peel that I had booked the following week under the guise of a stomach bug (my standard first-trimester excuse for getting out of any and all plans), researching what I should and shouldn’t be using on my skin was one of the first tick points on my pregnancy to-do list.
Luckily, the rise in clean beauty and natural skincare means that there are plenty of hardworking options out there right now if you want to be more ingredient-conscious about the formulas you use during pregnancy—and in everyday life. Thankfully, there are plenty of ingredients that are still safe for use if you do prefer slightly more robust formulations like me.
In fact, the key to a successful pregnancy skincare routine might be more about the amount of products you use than the type.
“Layering products can be great for the skin, but sometimes we are so overwhelmed with the amount of options available that we think they will all be beneficial. This can cause disruption and breakouts,” explained Nichola Joss, Foreo‘s celebrity facialist. “While your skin is fluctuating [during pregnancy] and potentially more sensitive, try adopting a less is more approach. It is also important to avoid some ingredients that may have been part of your skincare regime before. Things like retinol and certain essential oils should be avoided.”
Now that I’m 21 weeks into my pregnancy, I’m feeling pretty confident about the changes that I’ve made to my skincare routine. Now, I think my insights and product switches might prove useful to anyone out there who is currently feeling utterly bemused about the amount of contradictory pregnancy advice available.
While I can’t lie and say that I had any signs of that rumoured pregnancy glow for the first half of my pregnancy (a steady diet of potato waffles and plain pasta for the first trimester saw that there was no chance of that), I have definitely turned a complexion corner as I enter the second half of pregnancy. In fact, as someone that has dealt with acne since my early teenage years, I’d go as far as to say that my skin is looking pretty damn good right now.
Keep scrolling for the five changes that I made to my skincare routine after I found out I was pregnant.
While there are plenty of mixed messages out there about the use of things like salicylic and glycolic acids during pregnancy, skincare experts are unanimous on the fact that you definitely shouldn’t be using retinol when you’re expecting. “Skincare products formulated with retinol derivatives are not recommended,” confirmed Tiina Meder, dermatologist, cardiologist and founder of Meder Beauty Science. “There is no definitive proof of any negative effects yet. However, it has been suggested that retinol derivatives may pose a risk of harm—however minor—to the embryo.”
Sadly, for me, I’d recently got on board with a £20 retinol that was doing wonders for my acne scarring and skin tone. so I was pretty devastated that I’d have to wave goodbye to it for nine months.
However, the very same brand that created my favourite retinol serum are also the creators of some pretty nifty bakuchiol pads—a natural alternative to retinol that works just as well at combating pigmentation, fine lines and improving your skin’s elasticity. It’s plant-derived, 100% natural and totally safe to use in pregnancy, so for me, this was an obvious switch to make.
Finding a retinol alternative might have been pretty straightforward, but there was another beloved ingredient in my regular skincare arsenal that I wasn’t sure I could part with so easily: salicylic acid. Ask anyone that deals with regular breakouts what their favourite skincare ingredient is, and it’s likely to be this. A beta-hydroxy acid (or BHA) salicylic acid not only works on the skin’s surface to gently exfoliate but also penetrates pores to remove impurities.
“Salicylic acid is also safe to use during pregnancy and won’t harm the fetus. However, like hydroquinone, salicylic acid is not recommended either for the same reason [that] skin can become more sensitive during pregnancy,” said Meder.
“When used in high concentrations for professional peels, [salicylic acid] is considered a risk when you are pregnant,” a representative for Paula’s Choice explained. “However, the small percentages used in skincare (2% or lower) are considered safe.”
Thankfully, my skin has never been particularly sensitive, and this has remained the case during pregnancy so far. Most salicylic acid products display their percentage prominently on the outer packaging, so I have been able to disregard anything with a high concentration of the ingredient and continue happily using anything with a dosage of 2% or less—including my favourite liquid exfoliator from Paula’s Choice.
During this pregnancy so far, I’ve bought and moved into a new house, attended two weddings and celebrated my 30th birthday with a 2 a.m. karaoke session when I was still keeping the news under wraps. Alongside holding down a full-time job, attending press launches and events and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life, it’s been a pretty stressful few weeks, and of course, one of the first places that my stress reveals itself is on my face.
While there are the obvious skin indicators like stress breakouts and sallow skin from late nights, one of the key places that I hold stress in my face is in my jaw—and let’s just say, my pregnancy jaw has been majorly stiff.
“It’s really important to massage your skin while pregnant, as this practice removes tension and stress from the muscle tissue,” explained Joss. “It also relaxes the face, drains puffiness and fluids, improves the texture and tone of the skin, increases circulation and stimulates the lymphatic system.”
If you have the patience, you can use just your hands to give yourself a really effective facial massage. Suqqu’s legendary Gankin massage is even used backstage on models—it’s that good. I, however, have been opting for a regular rotation of facial tools to not only ease any uncomfortable knots in my jaw but also as a calming ritual at the end of the day.
Stretch marks weren’t even a part of my beauty vocabulary before getting pregnant. Now, they’re the one skin issue that I’m asked most about by expectant friends seeking product recommendations.
Admittedly, I’ve always been pretty hot on moisturising my body after a shower, although I tended to reserve most of the care for my arms and legs. After all, I’m rarely walking around with my stomach exposed, so why would I care how soft and silky the skin there looks? Now, though, I am all about keeping up the hydration levels on my rapidly protruding bump.
For me, I’ve gravitated most towards body oils during my pregnancy. Firstly, I’ve found it easier to find clean oil formulations than I have lotions and secondly, I don’t enjoy the way that some lotions “drag” across your skin when you’re massaging them in. However, I have recently found one lotion that I’d recommend if you’re not a fan of oils.
I spend a couple of minutes massaging in the product after my evening shower when my skin is still a little bit damp and really concentrate on the sides of my bumps, my hips and (let’s be real) my ever-expanding boobs. I’ll get back to you once the baby is born to let you know if any of this has been worthwhile but for now, at least, I’m stretch mark–free.
The use of essential oils during pregnancy is a total minefield. The NHS website offers the rather confusing advice that “few complementary or alternative medicines are known to be safe during pregnancy,” followed swiftly by the fact that “there is some evidence to support the use of massage and aromatherapy for treating anxiety.” Generally, research around the topic is limited, which is why most women choose to avoid essential oils entirely during their first trimester and many for the remainder of their pregnancy too.
“Although natural, there are several essential oils that should be used with caution during pregnancy,” explained Meder. “The agents they contain have small molecular weight and high volatility, so they may affect the body as a whole. Camphor, peppermint extract and mint oil are also not recommended during pregnancy—especially for those late in pregnancy or those with an increased risk of miscarriage.”
Whilst there’s nothing I love more than a bath drenched in Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax Bath Oil (£49), while there’s such mixed messaging on the topic I have decided to steer clear of bathing in any essential oils entirely during my pregnancy. Instead, I have found some alternatives to aid relaxation at the end of the day.