Pregnancy Safe Clean Beauty
During pregnancy, a woman’s body adapts and changes to the extraordinary process of growth and creation taking place in her womb, starting literally, from the moment of conception. These changes allow for the miracle of development of a new life and involve alterations to normal hormone levels, blood flow and our immune systems. Not surprisingly, this can have widespread effects, some of which, directly affect our skin, hair, and nails. Here, we explore the most common changes that tend to occur and look carefully at the most natural way to deal with them.
Skin, Hair and Nails in Pregnancy
A holistic and natural approach is vital because we all live in a world where our bodies are exposed day-by-day to a wide mix of synthetic chemicals. Fire retardants in home furnishings, plasticisers in packaging, pesticides and additives in foods and solvents in cleaning products.
And of course, there are the raft of chemical substances added to personal care and cosmetic products. The list is long and complex including phthalates, parabens, and polycyclic musk’s. There are antimicrobials, organic solvents, pigments, formaldehyde, and heavy metals, to name just a few.
The bottom line is that these molecules enter our bodies, and some may affect not just our own health, but, it appears, that of a developing baby as well. Absorbed from skin creams and foundations via the skin, ingested via mucus membranes in the case of lipstick and lip glosses and inhaled in aerosols and when applying nail varnish and deodorant's, pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to the potential risks of these such chemicals, which scientists know can disrupt normal hormone balances in the body.
Check out ten of the most well-known impacts that pregnancy can have on skin, hair and nails and consider carefully, the safest way of dealing with them.
The specific marks that develop when pregnant are due to the rapid stretching and partial tears in structures of the of skin in the stomach as it accommodates the expansion of the uterus and deals with sudden weight gain during the later stages of pregnancy. These marks can appear elsewhere on the body, as it grows and expands too. While rarely a cause of medical concern, stretch marks can be incredibly itchy and it can be tempting to turn to well marketed products that claim to reduce their appearance. Better for Mum and better for baby is an approach that helps to keep skin well moisturised, nourished, and hydrated through eating healthy meals and snacks and drinking plenty of water as a natural starting point and opting for plant based, soothing creams and oils to manage itching and future skin repair post-pregnancy.
Extra levels of oestrogen and progesterone during pregnancy lead to higher production of the pigment melanin in our skin. Starting in the first three months, freckles and scars can become enlarged and darker during pregnancy as a result, with this effect increasing, as the months go by. Rather than turning to skin lightening products, which may contain chemicals such as hydroquinone, steroids and heavy metals, a safe suntan cream, a wide brimmed hat and keeping skin covered where possible, make a safer approach. A natural, tinted beauty cream can also be used to even out skin tone.
Higher levels of progesterone can lead to oil glands in our skin ramping up secretions in the, especially in the last three months of pregnancy, upping the chances of developing acne or making it worse, if already coping with this skin condition. The temptation is to turn to acne treatment creams containing ingredients like glycolic acid and retinoids, but the European Medicines agency warns that retinoids in creams or tablets may be harmful to an unborn baby and are advised against during pregnancy. Remember that skin will be likely to settle down after birth and keeping it clean with gentle products that are free of anti-bacterial preparations, and well moisturised with natural products is a sensible approach during pregnancy.
Changes to our immune systems during pregnancy can lead to eruptions of eczema in the face, neck, upper chest and in the creases of elbows and behind the knees. For many women pregnancy will be the first time they have experienced the development of common eczema symptoms such as red, crusty, itchy patches. Often treated with creams containing steroids, it is important to discuss any such treatment with a doctor before using in pregnancy. A more natural approach is to use very gentle soaps and bath products, natural body creams and oils. Feeding the immune system from within with a plant and wholegrain based approach to eating, along with foods rich in probiotics, is a further sensible step.
Known as ‘prurigo of pregnancy’, small itchy bumps can develop on hands and legs and trigger dry skin, which itches intensely. These patches can spread to the thighs, breasts and buttocks and tends to be most common in first pregnancies. Antihistamine or steroid creams or gels may be advised, but you can seek a more holistic approach. Eating a diet rich in foods containing the plant compound ‘quercetin’ may help. Quercetin helps to stop histamine from being released and is found in apples and onions, red grapes, and citrus fruits. It is also available in supplement form. Soothing creams containing chamomile may provide comfort and it is good to know that these tiny, red bumps should go away after you give birth.
Mild to moderate and in some cases patches of complete hair loss can occur in pregnancy especially in the second half, again down to fluctuating hormone levels. This can be upsetting and distressing but hair growth usually recovers spontaneously within three to 12 months of birth. Avoiding over-the-counter products that claim to combat hair loss is advisable and only take prescription products if your doctor is aware that you are pregnant. Better still, adopt a gentle and natural approach towards maintaining the health of your scalp and the remaining, healthy hair. An expert hair cut can also help to disguise patches of lost hair, as can the subtle use of headwear.
Nails often become brittle in pregnancy and sometimes, fungal infections can occur, leading to changes in nail colour, shape, and texture. This is a time to avoid standard nail varnishes, which contain chemicals such as plasticers and varnish removers and to stick with a regular, simple, nail care routine. A daily, 10 microgram supplement of vitamin D is advised by the Department of Health during pregnancy. It helps absorption of calcium, needed for healthy nails. Eating wholegrain foods, vegetables, fruits, and products containing probiotics can help the immune system to deal better with fungal infections.
The effects of hormones released from the placenta and various organs can stimulate changes to blood vessels throughout a woman’s body while carrying a baby and trigger development of so-called ‘spider veins’. These tiny red veins often become obvious on women’s faces, neck, upper chest, and arms. In addition, around one third of black women and two thirds of white women notice redness of the palms of the hands during pregnancy, which can be itchy. Both spider veins and the reddening of hands tend to disappear gradually after pregnancy but use of a natural foundation matched to skin tone on the face can help to diminish their appearance. Try to include foods that help to maintain good circulation, including particularly blueberries, pomegranate and pomegranate juice, garlic.
The weight and pressure of the uterus pushing down through gravity during pregnancy, can reduce blood flow from the lower body, leading to the formation of varicose veins in the legs with veins becoming swollen, sore, and blue. Usually diminishing or disappearing after pregnancy, to help ease the swelling and soreness and prevent them from getting worse, it is usually advised to move around and not sit or stand for long periods, to not sit with legs crossed, to prop legs up on a chair as often as possible and to have regular exercise and try wearing supportive tights to encourage good blood flow. It is also important to try and avoid constipation by eating balanced meals and snacks that include wholegrains like porridge, Bircher muesli, wholemeal bread, and wholegrain pasta along with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and water. A well-balanced probiotic can also help gut health. Looking after your blood pressure is also important by lowering salt intake and foods rich in salt such as processed products and again, eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, especially those know to support the health of veins and circulation, including blueberries, beetroot, and pomegranate juice.
Registered Nutritionist AFN
PG Dip Dietetics,
Associateship King's College (AKC)