Goodbye skin glow—hello skin woes. This may be how you feel when that radiant pregnancy glow and the beautiful blush of success immediately after giving birth quickly fade away, leaving your skin with hormonal change-induced problems that make you cringe away from the mirror.
It’s an unfortunate biological reality that just when you are already feeling less than your best while you adjust to the demands of a new baby, your skin also lets you down, causing you to look as bad as you feel. During this time when you can hardly find five minutes for a shower, you are living in pajama bottoms and a splotched nursing tank, and you smell like milk, among other fluids. The final blow is the outbreak of acne on top of dull, dry skin, and maybe even brown splotches of melasma. So very not-cute.
Why does this happen to postpartum skin, and what can we do about it, other than focus all of our Instagram photos on the adorable new baby and leave our own image away from social media?
Not since puberty has your skin been so lumpy, bumpy, and spot-covered. Acne, and even cystic acne, are unfortunately a common skin reaction after giving birth. This is the result of the sudden change in hormones that accompanies the end of pregnancy. You may even notice some newborn acne on your baby as infants also experience a change in hormones after leaving the mother’s body.
Adding to the hormonal changes is the fact that the stress and strain of a demanding newborn causes a rise in cortisol, which is associated with increased oil production and acne breakouts. And all of this occurs during the time in your life when you have the least time for skincare and may not even be able to find the time or energy to wash, much less cleanse, tone, and moisturize your skin.
New moms should try to find a few minutes for self-care by cleansing with a good facial cleanser formulated to balance acne-prone skin and treat their skin with some of the great acne products available over the counter today.
Talk to your doctor about your acne if it becomes a more serious problem, and if you are breastfeeding, make sure that any topical or oral acne medications are safe for use in lactating mothers.
Where did the Glow Go?
Postpartum skin may appear dull, grayish, and lacking in luster. This is because stress, strain, and sleep deprivation all result in increased cortisol production, which not only increases acne but also slows down skin cell regeneration. When cell turnover slows down, it results in the buildup of dead skin cells on the surface of the face, which causes a dull, flat appearance.
You can get your skin’s glow back by using a mild exfoliating product.
Common exfoliating products include mechanical scrubs containing sugar, ground nuts, seeds, or microbeads, or chemical exfoliants with enzymes to remove dead skin cells. Or more simply you can achieve mild exfoliation with what you probably already have at home. Using a washcloth and a mild facial cleanser can effectively exfoliate your skin if you use small circular motions and apply gentle pressure.
Retinol products are also great for promoting cell regeneration and brightening skin. Using a moisturizer with retinol is ideal for dealing with postpartum skin. Retinoids not only promote skin cell regeneration, but they also reduce acne breakouts.
Sometimes known as the mask of pregnancy, the brown splotchy patches that may develop on the cheeks, forehead, upper lip, temples, or jawline don’t always fade away immediately after giving birth. Melasma is the result of increased melanin production, which also causes the brown naval line which often develops during pregnancy. Melasma may take several months after giving birth to fade away, and even longer in some breastfeeding moms.
Avoiding sun exposure will help melasma to fade more quickly. Furthermore, weekly gentle exfoliation is also beneficial for fading melasma.
Some topical skin treatments target the discoloration of melasma, but some are not considered safe while breastfeeding, so be sure to check with your doctor before using any treatment.
Stretch Marks Smarts
While most women develop at least a few stretch marks during pregnancy, many women develop a great number of very vivid stretch marks and may really struggle with accepting the appearance of the jagged red and purple lines on the abdomen, breasts, thighs, and buttocks. These lines will eventually fade from the dark or vivid hues into faint silvery lines, but this process can be hastened with the use of a great stretch mark cream during and after pregnancy.
Packing Your Bags
You may also notice dark under circles and puffiness in your eye area. This generally results from the combination of postpartum hormonal changes and the lack of sleep that comes with your new bundle of joy.
Dark circles can be treated with caffeine—And not just in your favorite mug. Many eye creams are formulated with ingredients like caffeine from green coffee beans and green tea. This works to diminish under-eye bags, puffiness, and discoloration. Keeping your eye cream refrigerated and applying it in the morning will give your whole eye area an instant life for a brighter, more awake appearance.
Freckles, Moles, and Skin Tags—Oh My!
Added to the other indignities of pregnancy and childbirth is often the development of skin tags, as well as the darkening of freckles and moles. Skin tags may develop during pregnancy as a result of an increase in the hormone leptin, responsible for the growth of epithelial cells.
Common places to develop skin tags are the neck, chest, armpits, and groin.
Freckles and moles may darken during pregnancy due to increased melanin production—the same issue that can cause melasma.
While skin tags are permanent, they can be safely removed by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.
Darkened freckles and moles should be examined by a dermatologist, since any change in a mole should be examined; however, in most cases the freckles and moles will fade again in the months after giving birth. Protecting the skin from the sun will increase the speed at which your freckles and moles will lighten.
While the joy of new motherhood tends to override any anxieties about negative changes in the skin, it’s important to remember to take some time for self-care during these busy and overwhelming months. The skin is the largest organ in the body, and it’s literally what keeps us together. Getting your glow back may be just the boost you need to feel like yourself again after giving birth.