During my first pregnancy, my skin became a wreck. And it wasn’t just my face. My back and chest were covered. Everyone said pregnancy acne was a sign that I would have a girl and in fact, I did have a girl but that didn’t help the acne go away.
What did help me was knowledge and a few awesome pregnancy acne products, some of which will surprise you. Here I’ll outline the cause behind pregnancy acne and some pregnancy-safe products that can help you get that pregnancy acne under control.
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Understanding your skin is key to getting rid of acne during pregnancy
Acne sucks. Trying to clear your skin up can suck even more because it usually results in throwing lots of money and products at the problem. Sadly, most of the time these products that you pay so much for can actually be making the problem worse. My skin became a mess during pregnancy and yet I learned that some really simple solutions were all I needed.
During my PhD in Chemical Engineering, I got to learn first-hand how chemical products interact with the skin. My skin was horrible until I finally understood how to address the underlying issue instead of just treating the symptoms. Even now and again, when I start to see that my skin might be breaking out again, these same basic principles never fail.
The relationship between bacteria and oil on the skin
Oil on your skin is not bad. In fact, produced at the correct quantities, your skin needs the oil. The good bacteria that coat your skin will in fact metabolize the oil and produce moisturizing molecules for your skin. Acne is caused when you disrupt this balance, or you have a bacterial infection on your skin. How do you disrupt this balance?
- Over washing which strips your skin of oil and good bacteria. Your skin will now produce oil in excess leading to clogged pores and less good bacteria to convert the oil into moisturizers.
- Not moisturizing your skin properly after washing your skin leading to dry skin that will overproduce oil.
- Bacterial infection (bad bacteria specifically the group P. acnes) on the skin which will cause blemishes and breakouts. If your skin has plenty of good bacteria, the good bacteria create a barrier so bad bacteria can’t colonize and stay on your skin.
- Inflammation in the gut or on the skin can cause breakouts.
- Acne can be influenced by hormones but this is usually not the only cause.
Companies want you to continuously rely on their product so you keep buying
If you start looking into acne products, you will see that they always include a very drying face wash, sometimes an astringent (extremely drying) and a moisturizer (almost always water based). This trio is perfect for companies because it will “help” clear up your skin but if you stop using it, your skin will get worse. Why? They have made your skin reliant on their system because it is regulating the oil production instead of having your skin naturally regulate it. Your skin will produce oil in excess by using harsh chemicals in the face wash to clean your skin. So you must continue to wash your skin everyday with their products to continually remove those oils. The moisturizer is always water based and is never enough for your skin. So your skin still has to produce the oil it needs in excess because so much of it was removed.
To make matters worse, by over washing your skin, you are washing away the good bacteria that can convert the oil the skin produces into beneficial moisturizers.
Pregnancy Acne Products to Help Clear Your Skin
Your shampoo and conditioners could actually be causing your acne
On the topic of pregnancy acne products, we are so careful about which products we put directly on our skin that sometimes we overlook the other products that come in contact with our skin. The main ones being shampoo and conditioner.
I would break out on my forehead and on my back a lot. I had no idea why specifically I would break out on my back and it wasn’t until random chance I determined the reason. It was my shampoo and conditioner that were made to cleanse and condition my hair but were drying out and then clogging up my pores. A huge game changer was switching to a shampoo and conditioner that didn’t do this. The only one that I know that has made not only a huge difference in my skin but also in every person’s skin I have recommended it to is Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Shampoo and Conditioner.
Not only is this specific shampoo and conditioner fantastic for helping clear up skin, the minute you start to use it, you will be able to smell the essential oils, specifically Tea Tree. Tea Tree is fantastic for the skin and clearing up acne. I have tried other brands that have tea tree and not only can I not smell it when using it, I don’t see the dramatic difference that I do when using Paul Mitchell products.
Easily improve your water quality
Another awesome way to improve your skin and hair in general is to get a shower filter. It is well worth the investment. The chemicals in the water are harsh on your skin and could be one of the reasons your skin is breaking out. These chemicals in water can be very irritating causing inflammation and/or very drying. Hard water is especially awful for your skin and hair.
Invest in Quality Make-up
Again, make-up, specifically foundation, is something that most women use. It is filled with a lot of ingredients and some of these aren’t so good for your skin. Quality goes a long way. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on your make-up, I would prioritize your foundation. Foundation covers the most skin, making it the most important. Ensure your foundation has an SPF in it as UV damage will age your skin faster than anything else. My absolute favorite foundation is Bobbi Brown Intensive Skin Foundation. Bobbi Brown Foundation contains a yellow tint which is fantastic for hiding red in the skin and looks best of everyone no matter your color tone or age.
Washing and Moisturizing Your Face
As I discussed in the beginning of this post, we don’t want to enter the vicious cycle of most facial cleaners and moisturizer. To avoid drying out our skin or causing inflammation, the best way to clean and moisturize your skin is using oil. Using oil will NOT cause acne. In fact, it can be one of the best ways to clear acne.
Use coconut oil as your facial cleaner and moisturizer. Simply take approximately a tablespoon of extra virgin coconut oil and apply it all over the face, avoid getting it in your eyes. Next, run water until it’s hot and then soak a wash cloth. Wring the wash cloth out and then place it on your face to “steam” up the oil. For this, you might want to find somewhere comfortable like your bed or a chair. Once the washcloth is cold, use it to wipe the excess coconut oil off your face. You can repeat the “steam” facial as many times as you want. I usually do it twice. Your skin should feel soft and moisturized after. If you aren’t a fan of coconut oil, you can also use olive oil. I also sometimes use rose hip oils afterwards as an extra layer of moisture. I have found coconut oil works the best therefore I recommend you start out with it.
Note: You might want to first use a smear of coconut oil or lotion (if you are not finding coconut oil to work) on a tissue and wipe off most of your make-up depending on how much makeup you wear.
If you really want to use a cleaner. I recommend black soap, it is extremely moisturizing and does not contain harsh chemicals (which are essential to avoid during pregnancy). It also provides antibacterial properties, which can help if you are fighting a bacteria infection on the skin from P. acnes. After washing with black soap, I still recommend oils as moisturizers.
Note: If you don’t want to use a heavy moisturizer (like oil) in the morning, I recommend Hyaluronic acid paired with vitamin B5. It is an awesome lightweight moisturizer. Don’t pay an arm and leg for it though, you must check out the company: The Ordinary. It is part of The Abnormal Beauty Company and its goal is to sell beauty products at honest prices.
Another awesome way to reduce inflammation in the skin is zinc oxide. It creates a protective barrier on the skin and allows it to repair itself. It is also antibacterial as well as being anti-inflammatory. You can seriously just buy diaper rash cream, which contains zinc oxide at high concentrations and use it as an overnight mask or spot treat before bed.
How do probiotics affect acne during pregnancy?
Something that is very trendy right now is doing probiotic face masks (1 Tablespoon of organic plain yogurt and 1 capsule of probiotics) because acne shows up when your skin is lacking in good bacteria as I talked about in the beginning of this post. While this might help, you are better off taking a probiotic supplement and eating lots of fermented and probiotic rich foods. Acne can become a lot worse if your body is dealing with inflammation, especially in the gut. Lower the inflammation in your gut and you’ll see improvements in your skin for not only acne but also most skin problems.
My favorite probiotic rich foods:
- Sauerkraut (made the traditional way)
- Pickles (made the traditional way with probiotics)
- Miso Soup
Bonus is that probiotic rich foods aren’t just good for you, they are also good for your growing baby. Keep up eating probiotic foods once baby is born because breastmilk is full of good bacteria, antibodies and so much more liquid gold. When my baby was born, we couldn’t figure out why she was colic and eventually we learned it was because she had a dairy intolerance. It was so important for me to eat probiotic food during postpartum to help my baby reduce inflammation in her system.
How to treat a blemish
Essential oils such as tea tree and zinc oxide (see section above) really do wonders. Most blemish chemicals are extremely drying and as you now know, is very problematic to the skin’s health overall. If you are pregnant, you really want to avoid harsh chemicals here. Of course, talk to your physician but when I was pregnant, and my skin broke out like crazy, I was able to get it back under control by using zinc oxide. After I was able to get my skin back under control, I didn’t need to continue using it and could rely on just my normal routine again. Of course, if you have blemishes, you should NOT stop using oils as both a cleaner and moisturizer.
Use Natural Products in Pregnancy but don’t fall for the sales pitch of natural ingredients
Natural ingredients are a great way to have a healthy natural pregnancy. However, you should only spend your money on products that will work. A lot of products that have natural ingredients don’t work because the quantity of those ingredients is too low or because it isn’t on your skin for long enough.
I have a PhD in Chemical Engineering and worked specifically on using natural essential oils incorporated into materials that would be applied to skin in order to kill bacteria. First, essential oils are amazing at killing bacteria, even bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Second, what you don’t want to buy is a face wash that says it contains botanicals because almost all botanicals (plant ingredients) have to be on the skin for hours upon hours to be able to work. If it’s in a face wash, you won’t get the benefits that those specific ingredients can give.
To be honest, most of the time when these ingredients are in a lotion, they aren’t at high enough concentrations to be useful. You also have no idea if they are stable and how long they will be stable. For example, if you buy products that have Vitamin C, most of the time, the Vitamin C isn’t stable anymore and won’t be effective.
What to do? Buy the botanicals instead of products that include them. Essential oils are a fantastic way to start and you can purchase them and add a few drops to coconut or olive oil as an awesome moisturizer.
Remember to Take Care of Yourself
It is so easy to let self-care slip because you are busy and otherwise consumed by your life and pregnancy. Take the time to start a good skin care routine today. Your skin will thank you when your baby finally arrives, and you won’t have as much time for TLC. Pair that routine with hydration and a nutritious diet and you are going to look and feel so much better.
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Dr. Trina Fitzpatrick is a wife, mom, blogger, and a breastfeeding advocate. She is the co-author of the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook. She attributes her success at breastfeeding her own children into toddlerhood with working with lactation consultants in the hospital in the early stages and on a weekly basis afterwards. By writing at MomSmartNotHard, she educates mamas-to-be on all things pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Read more about Trina.