What You Need to Know About Postpartum Skin—And How to Clear It

I’m over a year postpartum with my second son and currently dealing with acne. Shouldn’t everything be back to “normal” by now? What in the world is going on?

I had that so-called “pregnancy glow” with my first pregnancy: radiating skin, flowing locks. I became pregnant with my second son fairly quickly after my first and knew almost immediately that this pregnancy would be a bit different. Acne sprouted across my face right away and totally threw me off. I figured hormones were to blame and that they’d go away on their own, and sure enough, by the second trimester, those annoying red spots disappeared. 

But here we are months later, the baby has been born, and I’m dealing with skin issues once again. 

I know I’m not the only one. Get any group of mamas together and we’ll be trading skincare problems and products within minutes. From melasma to redness, pimples to plain old dullness, the skin situations are troublesome in the least, confidence-boosting and painful at their worst. It’s time we get to the bottom of this, so we can get glowing again and proud of our skin pronto.

 

What’s behind the blemishes?

Long (scientific) story short: throughout your pregnancy and the months after, your hormones ride a wild rollercoaster of ups and downs. This shows up on your face – and oftentimes all over your body as well – in the form of acne and other skin ailments that are far from desired. Then, both progesterone and estrogen take a nosedive after you give birth and often don’t level out until your period returns. If you are breastfeeding, that often doesn’t happen until after you wean. Even then, your period and your skin can take months to find a happy place and return to any sort of “normal.”

Acne isn’t the only postpartum skin problem that gets dealt in your direction. Melasma, also known as the “mask of pregnancy,” is another common occurrence, caused by the increase in production of melanin, your skin’s pigment, during those nine months. Dark splotches can appear all over your face and remain there until after weaning as well. 

Hormones may be the main culprit behind all this mayhem, but there are additional factors during the fragile postpartum period that wreck havoc on your skin as well. It’s most likely you aren’t sleeping as soundly as you used to (#newbornlife) and your energy isn’t the only thing that’s suffering. Sleep deprivation leads to lackluster skin, and when you’re so tired you can barely function, your nightly skincare routine is more likely to get pushed to the backburner. 

While caring for a newborn, it’s often hard to remember to drink enough water, so your skin isn’t as hydrated as it used to be, causing more dryness and overall irritation. The various causes keep coming and the problems continue, from new skin sensitivities to spider veins. Add in all the newfound stress in your life, and skin just keeps getting worse, which leads to even more stress.

It’s a cycle that’s tough to get out of.  

 

Source: @lizziehulston via #sharetheeverymom

 

Just because you’re dealing with a bucketload of baby-induced blemishes and more doesn’t mean you have to struggle in silence for the foreseeable future. There are key products and ingredients, and plenty of tips and tricks, to help return that smile to your face. 

 

Care and consistency are key

Start treating your skincare routine with the same level of commitment as you do with everything related to your new little one. You wouldn’t ever skip a feeding, so no more skipping out on your skin.

A gentle cleanser is ideal for both morning and night, followed by a moisturizer with SPF. Many women find their skin to be extra sensitive after giving birth, so sticking with fragrance-free, noncomedogenic (meaning they won’t clog pores) products is best. If you are breastfeeding, it’s recommended that you use milder formulas and avoid salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, but glycolic acid is considered safe to use while nursing. If you are concerned with any ingredients or products, please check with your own doctor or dermatologist. 

Gentle exfoliating scrubs are a great option to help rid your face and body of excessive, dead skin, but always err on the side of caution. Scrubs that are too rough or intense can make acne and irritation worse more often than not. 

The key point in all of this? Sticking with it. In order for products and ingredients to work, you gotta use them – consistently. So morning and night, hop into the bathroom and give your skin a little love. 

 

Say no to the sun

The absolute best way to avoid melasma, and reduce its severity, is to avoid the sun’s rays, and when in its presence, protect yourself. Slather on sunscreen every single morning, even if you plan on being inside most of the day; sitting in a car can amp up the ultraviolet rays that hit your skin. Having a daily SPF is key to keeping the dark splotches at bay and preventing them from getting worse month after month. 

Even after the splotches have faded (usually a few months postpartum), continue with daily sunscreen use. Once you have these dark areas, you’re more prone to get them again. Additionally, gentle scrubs can help with the fading process – and so can some products with bleaching agents – but you must wait until after breastfeeding to use these.

 

Hydration in every form

I didn’t deal with acne until after my second son, but when my first baby was born, I was hit with a hefty dose of redness on my face. I ended up seeing a dermatologist who diagnosed me with adult rosacea. Come to find out, redness, sensitivity and nonspecific dermatitis (red, flaky areas on the face) are more postpartum and aging symptoms. Among other recommendations (a new twice daily gentle cleanser and a medicated ointment), the dermatologist also highly recommended upping my lotion and hydration ante. 

I had always been a bit hesitant about going overboard with moisturizer for fear it’d lead to clogged pores and thus, pimples, but my dermatologist told me that was totally untrue. I started using CeraVe’s AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion with SPF, and my skin is starting to glow once again, pimples not included. 

In addition to lotions and potions, overall hydration is essential. Drinking water all day long is not only is a skin savior but beneficial to your whole body – especially if you’re breastfeeding. So mamas, pour yourself another glass (and take the time to drink it)!

 

Source: @cetaphilus

 

Sleep and self-care

Water isn’t the only daily ritual that has profound effects on your skin: sleep is a magic ingredient. But we all know that 10 hours isn’t exactly reality during the postpartum period. Do the best you can; we totally get it. In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to have a really great concealer

But by prioritizing yourself and your skin in the most basic of ways (consistent morning and night skincare routines), you reap benefits. Consider it part of your self-care and enjoy those five minutes alone. It’s over a year postpartum, and I still love my nightly routine, treasuring that time in the bathroom as I wash, massage and soothe my skin. 

 

Be open to new ideas and help

I didn’t want to have to use a prescription to deal with my redness situation, but both dermatologists I saw over the past couple of years recommended it. In the past, I had tried all sorts of higher-end cleansers thinking they’d yield better skin, but then the dermatologist recommended a simple, gentle cleanser (like the Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser), I tried it and am never going back. Price tag does not reflect results. 

Being open to new products and giving them a committed try is key to finding a solution to your skin problems. That includes being willing to go to a dermatologist if you need more insight and advice. Ongoing hormonal imbalances and other situations may call for more assistance than just finding the right cleanser and only a doctor can truly recommend the best next steps for your unique needs. 

Additionally, there are various in-office treatments and procedures available that your doctor can decide if you’d be a good candidate for, from laser light therapy to oxygen treatments to help with melasma, redness, acne, and more.

Since giving birth to my two boys, I put away my harsh acne face washes and switched to Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleanser and made my morning and nightly skincare routine an absolute must-do. I use sunscreen every morning via CeraVe’s AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion with SPF, slather on moisturizer with hyaluronic acid every night with my eye cream, and apply the medicated ointment prescribed by my dermatologist. I resist picking any flaky spots on my face, and I chug as much water as I can. 

I’ve started seeing results and that alone has motivated me to continue. Pregnancy may have changed my skin (and not exactly for the better), but I’m willing and eager to keep working at it to bring that self-assured smile back to my postpartum self. 

 

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