Pregnancy beauty and skincare as told by a doctor

Endota's scientific advisor Dr Hayley Dickinson answers all of your maternity beauty questions.

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Pregnant woman holding belly

Is it safe to use hair dye while pregnant? How about fake tan? If you've googled these questions before, you're not alone. Many women worry about the impact their beauty routine may have on their baby and trying to find answers can be a frustrating process.

To help you out, we caught up with Dr Hayley Dickinson, a leading Australian research scientist with extensive knowledge in reproductive physiology, pregnancy and perinatal health. Now working as a scientific adviser for luxury day spa, Endota, she answered all of our questions around pre- and postnatal beauty, and told us how Endota is helping women to stay safe and feel beautiful with its new Nurture range.

How does the skin change during pregnancy?

In terms of skin, some women will experience changes such as they might get more pimples. That's because of some increased activity of the sebaceous glands that can occur because of that increased progesterone during pregnancy. It doesn't happen to everybody and there are a lot of lifestyle factors that are wrapped around all of these things for women. If women are careful about their diet and think about the things that they're putting on their skin as well, they can have some control over these skin concerns. But for some women, it is just hormonal.

There can also be changes in the pigmentation of women's skin. Again, because of those hormones, we can produce more melanin in our skin so we can get darker patches. For some women, it can be in totally random places. Some women will get what's described as the "mask of pregnancy", which is a pigmentation across their face. Some women get it across the strip of the abdomen, the linear alba. Again, like with most things during pregnancy, once those hormones settle down after birth that will fade and, in most cases, go away completely. Some women will maintain the darker patches on their skin long term, for instance the nipples may darken. But it's a badge of honour for growing a human.

What are the biggest skin concerns during breastfeeding?

I think the main thing during the postnatal stage is that the skin in the abdomen needs to come back. The uterus gets to support essentially an entire watermelon, so it's very big. It is a muscle so it is able to stretch and also contract and come back in, but that takes time. Of course the skin has stretched out a lot too and it can take time for the hormones to return to normal so the elasticity of that skin can come back to "normal".

For breastfeeding mothers, the biggest skin complaint can be in the nipples. There can be really dry, painful, cracked skin. It's a myth that we automatically wake up one day and know how to breastfeed. It's not like that. You don't get a dry run of "what's this going to be like?". Skin takes time to toughen up and so it's important to keep the skin hydrated and try to maintain the barrier.

Can products you put on your skin during pregnancy affect the foetus?

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The things that we put on and in our bodies can affect our babies, no doubt. Our skin is designed as a barrier, so not everything that we apply to our skin crosses all of the different layers of our skin and then enters our circulation. It's actually very difficult for chemicals to do that because our skin is designed to protect us from that. But cosmetic products can be formulated in such a way to overcome that barrier, for some that's the primary objective – to get the product as far into the skin as you can.

Within the pregnancy environment, there is a placenta that provides nutrients for the baby and removes waste for the foetus because its organs are still developing. But it's not a completely effective barrier. There's only one layer of cells between the mum's blood and the baby's blood, so things can get through. Some things can't, bigger things can't, but there are spaces between those cells and some things can. So it's important for women to think about what they're putting on their skin. It's certainly not a free passage across the skin, but there are some things we should try to avoid.

Which kind of beauty and skincare ingredients should be avoided during pregnancy?

There are some groups of chemicals, parabens, for example, that have been used in cosmetics for quite some time but can act as endocrine disruptors. They can behave like our hormones do in our bodies, they can bind to the receptors in our bodies. They can trick our body into thinking they are hormones but they're not regulated the way our natural hormones are. So they can build up in our bodies and can be quite toxic for us. It isn't even a pregnancy thing, we should really be avoiding parabens in general.

Skin can also become more sensitive during pregnancy, so things that may not have been particularly irritating before can become irritating to the skin. Things like surfactants, so SLS and SLES, they're quite irritating so you should try and stay away from those. We don't want women fearing everything that they're doing, but if you can understand what's on that ingredients list and recognise the ingredients, I think that's a really good place to start.

It is generally advised that you don't use vitamin A or retinols while pregnant as there hasn't been adequate research into how they may affect the foetus. However, some brands have recently come out with what they're calling "pregnancy safe" vitamin A and retinols. What is your view on retinols and vitamin A during pregnancy?

There is inadequate research and there is a long story wrapped around why there is inadequate research on things like that. For retinols, there is evidence that they can affect the development of the face of a foetus at high concentrations and that's where the recommendation to stay away from them comes from. High doses of things can have very significant effects so, to be conservative, the approach is let's just avoid them. But the evidence of low dose exposure of retinols during pregnancy seems to show that they are safe. But despite the lack of evidence for harm at low doses, the experts, those working in the space of women's health and pregnancy health, still strongly discourage women from using retinols during pregnancy.

At the end of the day, I think it's a conversation for women to have with their healthcare provider and with their skin specialist to weigh up the risks and the benefits. There will be guidelines that will almost always err on the side of caution, but it needs to be a woman's own decision whether she's willing to take that risk, albeit very small, but whether they're willing to do that for the benefit that they get. Women have got to take responsibility for those decisions but wrap themselves in a team of people who have the expertise to help them make those decisions because they are very personal choices.

Is it safe to use fake tan while pregnant?

I think the evidence would say that if you've been using fake tan without any problems in the time before you were pregnant, and you continue to behave the same way and use the same fake tan, the evidence would say that your risks are probably pretty low. Fake tan isn't designed to get all the way into your skin, it's designed to create that darkening up on the top so they aren't created for deep penetration into the layers of the skin. So we're not looking at the risk of things getting into the circulation, it's more about that topical irritation. So, if the woman is experiencing increased sensitivity during her pregnancy in her skin, she may be more likely to have a reaction using her fake tan. But, generally speaking, the evidence suggests that women can carry on fake tanning if they have already been doing so for sometime. It wouldn't be something that you'd start doing. If you don't have a history of fake tanning, it's probably not the time to try it out.

How about hair dye?

Woman getting her hair dyed

It's a similar answer. If you have been dying your hair with the same hairdresser or the same kit at home for a while and you've not had any issues, you're unlikely to start having issues during pregnancy. Again, the only issue that might arise would be around that sensitivity of your scalp skin. There can be some less-than-ideal chemicals in a hair dye, but the amount of those that are in contact with your hair and your scalp skin, and the duration of that exposure, they're so low that the risks are also incredibly low. Again, your skin might become more sensitive because you're pregnant, so you might find that what was normally a perfectly comfortable hair dying experience may be a little bit more irritating. But in terms of risks to the baby, the evidence would suggest that no, there is no risk.

Which types of sunscreen are safe to use while pregnant?

Physical sunscreen sits on the surface of the skin, while chemical goes in a little further. Because of what we've discussed in terms of products crossing the skin's barrier, physical would be my recommendation during pregnancy. In saying that, I am not familiar with any research that has compared the rate of absorption between the types or their affect during pregnancy. Just because the science isn't there doesn't mean something is or isn't safe, we just don't know. But physical would be my recommendation.

How can women safely tackle acne during pregnancy?

The reason we get acne during pregnancy, obviously there are those hormone triggers, but also we get increased activity of our sebaceous glands which then produce more sebum. There are dietary things that women can do like making sure that they are getting plenty of omega-3 and omega-6 in their diets. This can help to balance those fatty acids which can really help with skin health. You should also keep your skin clean, but don't clean it so much that you over-dry your skin because then your skin will produce more oil to replace what has been washed away. So gentle cleansers and maintaining hydration are key.

What's in the Endota Nurture range?

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For the mothers we've got the belly butter to really support that stretching skin with lots of hydration. Then we've got the nipple balm which is a nice multi-purpose product – some of us have actually been using it as a lip balm! So it's nice for any dry, cracked open skin and it really just provides a barrier so that the skin can heal underneath.

Then there are four baby products. There's the protecting barrier balm which is really important for the nappy area because the skin barrier can get broken down in that area and can become quite irritating and painful. There's also a bath and body wash that anybody can use as their daily cleanser and a baby lotion that anyone can use as a moisturiser. The calming sleep mist is also for everybody and has a relaxing lavender scent that features throughout the baby range because it's incredibly calming.

The whole range has been dermatologically tested on people with sensitive skin. This was important for mothers and babies, especially with that increased sensitivity during pregnancy and the transition that babies' skin needs to go through to transition from a warm, wet environment to the dry, self-regulated temperature of the outside world. Because it is dermatologically tested though, it can be used by others as well. The Nurture range is not only for mums and bubs, but also very much for the sensitive skin type.

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Main image: Instagram user endotaspa

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