Looking Good

Do'’s and dont'’s of pregnancy primping


Yes, we know. On some days you're positively glowing; on others, one look in the mirror is enough to send you diving back under the covers. To make matters worse, you're not sure which parts of your usual beauty regimen are pregnancy-sanctioned and which are nine-month no-no's. And even if a product like, say, stretch mark cream is maternity-approved, is it really going to work? Well, wonder no more: Our definitive list of do's and don'ts (and product recommendations) will help you safely look your best for the next nine months.

Do mask the "mask of pregnancy" The technical term for the suddenly darker skin on your forehead, upper lip and chin is melasma. "We're not completely sure what causes this discoloration, except that it can be brought on by hormone fluctuations," says David J. Leffell, a professor of dermatology and surgery at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., and the author of Total Skin: The Definitive Guide to Whole Skin Care for Life (Hyperion, 2000). Avoiding the sun and wearing SPF 15 lotion is a good way to keep this condition from becoming more obvious. Sweep some bronzer over the non-masked portions of your face to help even out your complexion.

Don't invest in stretch-mark creams Unless you're blessed with magical (OK, genetic) stretch mark-resistant powers, your chances of developing those purplish red lines along your belly, breasts and upper thighs are pretty high no matter what cream, lotion or potion you put on your skin. Thanks to the slow stretching of the skin's elastin and collagen fibers, the majority of pregnant women will get stretch marks in the third trimester, says Leffell. While they may never vanish completely, stretch marks do fade substantially over time. In the meantime, keep your skin well-lubed with a luxurious cream or oil.

Don't get a major dye job "The data for hair dye and pregnancy are still not clear-cut," says Leffell. The fear is that ammonia, peroxide and other chemicals will be absorbed through your scalp and enter your bloodstream, potentially harming the fetus. So Leffell's (and most doctors') thinking is, "Why take the risk?"

Highlights generally get the thumbs up because the dye rarely touches your scalp. Nonetheless, check in with your OB-GYN; some doctors feel that even highlights should be avoided until the third trimester. If you do decide on highlights, leave the job to a pro; in inexperienced hands, dye can easily stray scalp-ward. Or sidestep color and simply accessorize your hair. This fall has been a banner season for hip, grown-up barrettes, ponytail holders and headbands.

Do pass on the polish While there's no medical consensus on using polish and polish remover during pregnancy, a recent study by the Environmental Working Group found that dibutyl phthalate (or DBP, a chemical contained in many leading brands of nail polish) caused birth defects in lab animals. So keep your nails free of polish, or look for products that are DBP-free.

Don't use strong acne treatments In your heightened hormonal state, you may experience intensified breakouts, but most of the usual treatment options are off-limits during pregnancy. "Accutane is definitely not allowed since it has been proven to cause birth defects, and you should also avoid other vitamin A treatments, like Retin-A, Renova and Differin, until after you're done breastfeeding," says OB-GYN Allan Lichtman, M.D., clinical professor at the University of Southern California School of Medicine in Los Angeles. He also suggests you steer clear of oral acne medications (the tetracycline family of antibiotics, in particular, can discolor your unborn baby's teeth). Even seemingly benign drugstore remedies (benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid) are potentially harmful, so stay away. Also avoid "natural" acne treatments that contain herbs or oils; these ingredients aren't monitored by the Food and Drug Administration, so there's little information on their safety. Drying mud masks and alpha hydroxy acid lotions are safe.

Do indulge yourself at a day spa Tell the spa that you're pregnant when you book an appointment, as there are some treatments that you should avoid — and others that are perfect prenatal treats. "A pregnancy massage feels heavenly to most women, especially during the third trimester," says Tanya Handling, a licensed massage therapist at Skin Spa in Encino, Calif. "There are special tables with holes cut out of the middle, so an expectant mother can lie face down — something she may not have been able to do for months."

Stay away from anything that involves a lot of heat (such as hot baths, whirlpools, steam rooms, even paraffin wax treatments). Also request only unscented or mildly scented products; you may be sensitive to fragrance, and some essential oils are unsafe during pregnancy. At home, try a de-stressing mist.