While the time after the birth of a new baby can be exciting and fulfilling, being a new parent can also be extremely stressful and tiring. Continually changing hormones, stress and a lack of sleep can all take their toll on your skin. Although it may be difficult to find the time when juggling life with a newborn baby, a good skin care regime will help get your complexion back to its pre-pregnancy radiance. One positive aspect of this phase is that many of the skin issues faced during pregnancy begin to improve post birth, though some will require specific treatment to fully resolve.
Many new mothers complain of sallow, dull, blotchy, dry, puffy or reddened skin with poor texture. While there may be specific skin conditions involved which require professional care, much of this comes down to fatigue, stress and your body adjusting to myriad physical and hormonal changes. A nourishing skin care routine will help revitalise your skin, returning it to full health. This includes:
- Cleansing your face twice a day with a gentle, oil-free cleanser.
- Applying a mild, oil-free moisturiser to keep skin soft and supple. Many mothers choose to use the same lotion they apply to their child. This is a safe and gentle option, but it is important to note that some baby moisturisers contain ingredients which can be comedogenic (pore clogging) and therefore are unsuitable for oily, acne-prone skin.
- Applying sunscreen (SPF of at least 15) daily to protect from UV damage.
- Drinking plenty of water and eating a varied, nutritious diet.
- Getting as much rest as possible to help your body, including your skin, recover.
Acne which appears or worsens during pregnancy usually disappears shortly afterwards, yet, often unsightly scars remain. Your physician will be able to recommend the best treatment option for your particular type of scars, some of these include: topical treatments (corticosteroids, silicone gel dressings, azelaic acid and hydroquinone), injections (corticosteroids, dermal fillers), procedures (laser treatment, chemical peels, dermabrasion/ microdermabrasion, cryotherapy) and surgical procedures (punch excision/grafting, excision/revision, subcision). The majority of these treatments are not suitable for lactating mothers, as they can affect the health of a breastfeeding child. Therefore, it is imperative that you discuss the safety of any treatments you intend to undergo with a qualified physician. In the meantime, sun protection and cosmetic camouflage can help to minimise the appearance of acne scars.
Hair loss post birth (telogen effluvium)
Telogen effluvium is an excessive hair loss experienced by many women within a few months of giving birth. This temporary shedding is caused by the physical shock of childbirth and subsequent hormonal changes. For women who find this sudden loss of hair distressing, it may be reassuring to learn that while telogen effluvium can thin the hair, it does not cause baldness.
The physiological stress causes a large number of hairs to enter a resting phase, called telogen. When new hairs beneath begin to grow again, they push the telogen hairs out of the scalp, resulting in the loss of a large volume of hair. The hair loss usually only occurs as a single episode and will decrease over a few months. In most cases the hair returns to its previous thickness within six to nine months, though this recovery is not always complete.
Melasma is a condition where patches of brown pigmentation appear on the face, these result from fluctuations in hormones during pregnancy. The pigmentation usually fades in the following weeks and months, often completely reverting to normal, even skin tone. Occasionally melasma continues beyond pregnancy. In these cases, there are a variety of treatment options available including: chemical peels; microdermabrasion, laser surgery, tretinoin, corticosteroids and creams containing whitening ingredients such as hydroquinone, retinoic, azeleic or kojic acid. It is important that melasma treatment be overseen by a qualified physician or dermatologist as some of these methods are not suitable for use during pregnancy and lactation. Further sun protection will help to prevent melasma worsening.
Stretch marks incurred during pregnancy usually fade to a lighter, pearly shade of pink or white over time, however they may never completely disappear. Bronzers and sunless tanners can disguise stretch marks and spider veins, however treatments are inconsistent, with varying effectiveness from individual to individual. The following may help to minimise the appearance of stretch marks; moisturising oils, topical retinoid therapy, chemical peels or pulsed-dye laser therapy. As with many of the conditions described here, some treatments for stretch marks are not safe for use whilst breastfeeding, consult with your doctor before commencing any new treatment. For many women, it is comforting to learn that ninety percent of mothers have stretch marks; they are a common and natural consequence of carrying a child.
American Academy of Dermatology n.d., ‘Melasma: Diagnosis, treatment, and outcome’, retrieved 5 September 2011, <https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/color-problems/melasma#treatment>.
DermNet NZ 2011, ‘Acne scarring’, retrieved 2 September 2011, <http://dermnetnz.org/acne/acne-scarring.html>.
DermNet NZ 2011, ‘Telogen effluvium’, retrieved 5 September 2011, <http://dermnetnz.org/hair-nails-sweat/telogen-effluvium.html>.