How new mum skin is affected by hormones and ways to get your glow back
Mum hormones and sleepless nights taking their toll? Rebecca Howard Dennis on modern ways to look glowing and refreshed.
Coping with sleep deprivation and a crying baby is on a par with a high-pressured job,’ says cosmetic dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting. ‘The stress results in the release of the hormone cortisol, weakening skin and causing issues including loss of radiance and dryness. Add to this the skin-sapping effects of breastfeeding and the reliance on energy props (hello, sugar and caffeine) and there’s no wonder skin suffers.’ But don’t despair – here’s how to tackle those classic pregnancy and new-mum complexion woes.
PROBLEM: Many women develop patches of darker skin in pregnancy, caused by a temporary increase in the production of melanin, the substance that gives skin its colour. This pigmentation, called melasma, tends to occur on cheekbones, upper lip, chin and forehead – hence its nickname, the ‘mask of pregnancy’. You may find that existing moles, as well as the areola around your nipples, darken too, and some mumsto- be develop a darker stripe, known as a linea nigra, down the centre of their bump. Don’t be shocked if your nether regions are affected too, as the labia and perineum are also susceptible to these changes.
SOLUTION: Sometimes melasma will fade, if not completely disappear, on its own. But if it persists for longer than six months after birth or once you’ve finished breastfeeding, dermatologists can help. ‘I get excellent results with the prescription skincare regime, Obagi Nu-Derm,’ says Sam. ‘It contains a broad-spectrum sunscreen and zinc oxide. For me, using physical sun filters (such as zinc oxide) instead of chemical sunscreens is key to treating this condition.’ For nationwide Obagi clinics, visit obagi.uk.com
Don’t be tempted by laser therapy, says Annie Chiu of The Derm Institute in California. ‘Melasma can get worse with heat, so lasers can be risky. I favour topical skin preparations or even a chemical peel, but the bottom line is committing to home maintenance and using sunscreen every day, whatever the weather.’
TIP: A theory links melasma to a folic acid deficiency, so keep taking your pregnancy vitamins even after delivery, and especially while breastfeeding. And don’t wax your top lip – it’s thought to make pigmentation in this area worse. Switch to threading.
Acne & Spots
PROBLEM: Hormonal acne is caused by rocketing progesterone levels combined with fluctuating oestrogen. This leads to an increase in production of sebum which clogs pores. ‘Acne and breakouts are a classic sign of hormonal sensitivity and can flare up at any time during pregnancy and in the postnatal period,’ explains Sam. ‘This is another condition that may not truly settle down until several months after breastfeeding has stopped.’
SOLUTION: Simplify your skincare regime, and check out products containing niacinamide (also known as vitamin B3) that has natural anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. If you doublecleanse, stop and use a glycolic-based wash instead, such as Nip & Fab Glycolic Cleansing Fix (£7.95, nipandfab.com). Don’t use muslin cleansing cloths and ease off on the sonic brushes – both can harbour blemish-causing bacteria. For live acne breakouts, Freederm Gel (£5.25, boots.com) works wonders.
Hydrating congested skin is crucial. ‘If you let acne-prone skin dry out, it will break out,’ explains Sam. The secret is to opt for non-clogging formulas; she swears by Cetaphil Moisturising Lotion, (£8.99, boots.com) or La Roche-Posay Effaclar H Soothing Moisturiser (£9.50, feelunique. com). Or try a serum containing hyaluronic acid or glycerin, such as Skinceuticals Phyto Corrective Gel (£36, skinceuticals. co.uk). Stick to non-clogging foundations and concealers too – Sam recommends Estée Lauder Clear Difference BB Creme SPF 35 (£34, boots.com).
TIP: Consider upgrading your suncream to EltaMD UV Clear Sunscreen SPF 46 (£36, amazon.co.uk). Designed with acne-sufferers in mind, it combines a physical filter (zinc oxide) with blemish-fighting niacinamide.
PROBLEM: The hormonal changes of pregnancy and birth can strip skin of its natural oils, causing dry, flaky patches on the face. And, explains Dr Lars Lindmark, nutritional expert and spokesperson for skin supplement Imedeen, ‘Unfortunately, ongoing fatigue can worsen dermatitis. New mothers rarely get the rest they need.’
SOLUTION: Removing dead skin cells is important, but don’t exfoliate to the point of damaging your skin’s natural barrier; try Avène Extremely Gentle Cleanser (£10.50, boots.com). You might also want to invest in a moisturiser rich in hyaluronic acid and phytosterols, to help calm irritation and replenish dry, tight-feeling skin.
For a light and instantly soothing everyday moisturiser that also helps repair the skin’s barrier function, try Eucerin Dry Skin Replenishing Face Cream 5% Urea (£11.50, boots.com). If you need extra protection, layer a facial oil under your moisturiser such as The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rosehip Seed Oil, (£9, victoriahealth.com).
TIP: Studies show that upping your intake of omega-3 fatty acids can make a huge difference to skin, reducing inflammation and the signs of dryness and dehydration. Try to eat salmon – ideally wild rather than farmed – at least twice a week.
Loss of radiance
PROBLEM: If you were lucky enough to experience that pregnancy glow, the reality of a postnatal complexion can be quite a comedown. ‘Most women experience dull, sallow skin when they have a young baby,’ explains Debbie Thomas, an advanced skincare therapist. While it’s tempting to try faking a fresh face with foundation, make-up often leaves skin looking even more lifeless – it’s better to tackle the root cause and focus instead on rediscovering your skin’s natural dewiness.
SOLUTION: Here is where a mechanical cleansing brush really comes into its own. While there are plenty of options, we still favour the original Clarisonic (from £99, clarisonic.co.uk) to boost circulation. Use it with a mild exfoliator such as Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant (£41.75, dermalogica. co.uk) and home masks that help to restore radiance. Sam recommends Alpha H Instant Facial (£37, cultbeauty.co.uk) as a daily perk-up before moisturising. Just a word of warning though: as this formula contains glycolic acid which exfoliates, do apply sunscreen after each use. Other skin-brightening options include The Organic Pharmacy Enzyme Peel Mask with Vitamin C and Papaya (£49.95, johnlewis.com) that transforms skin in just ten minutes by gently removing dulling dead skin cells and other surface debris.
TIP: Once your skin is revitalised, revel in your new complexion with a lightweight tinted moisturiser rather than a full-on foundation. Top picks include Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Tinted Moisturiser SPF20 (£27, uk.caudalie.com) and Olay Total Effects 7 in 1 CC Cream (£9.99, boots. com) for a natural glow combined with super-sheer coverage.
Super (mum) supplements
Giving your skin a boost through good nutrition and carefully selected supplements makes perfect sense but, with so many formulations available, trying to find the right beautyboosting cocktail of vitamins and minerals can be downright confusing. Here’s our pick of the bunch, perfect for giving postpartum mums a lift.
Tired of looking tired?
‘Skin is much thinner around the eyes than anywhere else,’ says Sam. ‘This means any changes in routine, especially sleep, can send the ageing process into fast forward.’ Try tackling fine lines with an eye product packed with collagen-boosting antioxidants, such as SkinCeuticals AOX+ Eye Gel (£56.50, effortlessskin.com) and if you’re breastfeeding, compensate for any dehydration by upping your water intake to two litres a day. If your eye area itself feels dry and tight, try This Works No Wrinkles Tired Eyes (£42, thisworks.com). Target puffiness and under-eye bags with Soap & Glory You Won’t Believe Your Eyes Eye Brightening Moisture Serum (£13.45, amazon.co.uk); the nifty rollerball applicator helps to physically drain away toxins, reducing dark shadows and creating a more wide-awake look.
Time not a healer?
Skin and hair problems aren’t the only after-effects of pregnancy you may struggle with. If you’re still experiencing unwanted emotional or physical symptoms after birth (or having stopped breastfeeding), maybe consider having your hormones checked. This is not always available on the NHS, but private clinics can provide testing and support. They will look at the complex interplay of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone and may prescribe bio-identical hormones to help mums deal with concerns ranging from exhaustion to postnatal depression. At the London Hormone Clinic (londonhormone clinic.com) you can expect two appointments; a face-to-face consultation and blood test, and a follow-up (by phone or Skype) to discuss the results and a tailored treatment plan. Prices start from £275 for a consultation.