I was totally unprepared for the effects of post-pregnancy hormones on my once-glowing complexion. Two months after giving birth to my second bundle of joy, my skin was ravaged by cystic acne, flakes and blotchy veins for the first time in my life, and the mask of pregnancy I’d assumed would disappear was lingering around my eyes like a spit-up stain on my favourite white T-shirt.
Post-pregnancy hormones can rear their ugly heads at the most annoying times, but thankfully, options for minimizing or correcting these post-baby complexion conundrums abound. Here are the safest and most effective treatments and ingredients to treat them.
Note: Always discuss treatments and products with your doctor or dermatologist before making changes to your skincare routine.
1. Melasma after pregnancy
Cause: UV exposure, genetics and elevated estrogen and progesterone levels combine to create a darkening of skin on lighter-toned faces and lighter patches in the darker skinned.
What it looks like: Otherwise known as the “mask of pregnancy,” pigment typically collects around the cheeks, forehead, eyes and sometimes around the mouth.
Is it long-term? While some of the hyperpigmentation will fade post-delivery, the discolouration never completely goes away.
Treatment options: Beyond slathering your face with a generous supply of SPF 30 daily – you’ll need to reapply if you’re sitting near a window or outdoors for hours at a time – to minimize existing melasma, Holly Sherrard, Canadian education manager at The International Dermal Institute, says looking for products containing ingredients like kojic acid (speak to your doctor if you are breastfeeding), rice bran and vitamins C, E and A (safe for nursing mothers) in lower concentrations will help brighten and refresh your complexion. For a fast-acting, in-office solution, Toronto-based dermatologist Dr. Paul Cohen, suggests Cosmelan, a non-invasive chemical peel that uses potent ingredients to encourage pigment-producing cells to slow down while also encouraging surface pigment to peel away.
2. Hormonal acne after pregnancy
Cause: Skyrocketing progesterone and estrogen fluctuations lead to increased sebum production and clogged pores.
What it looks like: Typically affecting the neck and lower area of the face, hormonal acne varies between mild and severe, but often presents itself as raised red bumps that can be painful to touch.
Is it long-term? It can disappear within a few months, but for some, breakouts may linger.
Treatment options: Cohen suggests products with benzoyl peroxide, to penetrate clogged pores and extracts impurities, as a safe option during and after breastfeeding. But for women experiencing painful, cystic acne that won’t go away, visiting a dermatologist is your best bet. “For breakouts like these, taking prescription medications that kill acne-breeding bacteria or unclog pores, or starting the birth control pill that regulates hormones may be most effective option,” he says. (Of course, let your dermatologist know if you are nursing.)
3. Facial spider veins after pregnancy
Cause: Increased blood circulation and hormone levels highlight facial veins in a spider-like effect.
What they look like: Small reddish blood vessels branching out around the face (commonly around the nostrils and cheeks), neck and upper body.
Are they long-term? Many women notice a diminished effect four to six months post-birth, while some may need to seek treatment to lessen their appearance.
Treatment options: Try red raspberry extract, a bioflavinoid- and plant hormone-rich ingredient that works to strengthen vessels, recommends Sherrard (and it’s safe if you are nursing). She also advises using emollients like shea butter and olive or plant oils to keep skin soft.
4. Postpartum dry skin
Cause: Hormonal changes can sap skin of lipids during and immediately following pregnancy, leading to moisture-sapped patches on the face.
What it looks like: Sections of dry, red and somewhat leatherish skin, on cheeks, nose and mouth.
Is it long-term? Because skin is lacking hydration, the sooner you restore moisture levels, the sooner your complexion
will return to normal.
Treatment options: Reduce dryness and inflammation is by using mild cleansers and lots of moisturizer, says Cohen. Read the ingredient label to make sure they’re fragrance-free, additive-free and non-comedogenic, and always protect skin from damaging UV rays with broad-spectrum protection. For especially raw areas, says Sherrard, use a hydrating lotion with natural lipids like shea butter or jojoba seed oil, and for very red patches, look for products containing sea buckthorn.